Author Archives: Virginia Pastor

Final Thoughts on My Last Day at Burke

As I sat on the subway during my commute this morning, it occurred to me that this is the last time I will be heading uptown and entering the doors of the Union Theological Seminary and finding my way to the Burke Library. Interning at the Burke Library Archives this summer has been an incredibly rewarding experience. Throughout the summer I processed five collections; arranging and rehousing the material, writing finding aids, uploading them to Burke’s website, editing Voyager catalogue records, and creating EAD versions. Along with these five collections, I have also worked with Brigette and my fellow interns to tackle the immense collection of administrative files created by the Missionary Research Library (MRL).

Throughout the summer I worked on three collections from MRL 12: Ecumenical/World and two from the WAB collection. The first collection I processed was the Ecumenical Conference on Foreign Missions Records, which documented the largest international missionary conference held in New York in 1900. This was the most extensive collection I independently processed this summer, with a total of six manuscript boxes as well as an oversize item. After the Ecumenical Conference collection, I worked on the Board of Foreign Missions of the Netherlands Reformed Church Records, Preparation of Missionaries Records, the John Ferguson Moore Papers, and the Hendrik Kraemer Papers. Hendrik Kraemer was a Dutch Reformed missionary leader and professor who gave a series of lectures on The Christian Faith and Non-Christian Religions at the University of Geneva in 1954. The collection consists solely of that lecture series. Similarly, the John Ferguson Moore Papers document the Protestant author and Y.M.C.A railroad secretary’s research on Roman Catholicism and the Church’s opinion towards secret societies through an incomplete typescript and reports.

I personally found the two other MRL collections to be slightly more challenging than the Moore and Kraemer Papers. The Preparation of Missionaries Records is an artificial collection that was created by the Missionary Research Library by gathering information and material from a variety of sources on the subject of missionary and personnel training. Since the material was collected by MRL as a subject file it was necessary to keep the material together, even though some of the material comes from organizations found in other Burke collections. Another challenging collection was the Board of Foreign Missions of the Netherlands Reformed Church. Not only was much of this material written in Dutch, forcing me to utilize online translators to determine the subject matter, it was originally two separate collections. Series 1 of this collection was originally called the Netherlands Missionary Society Papers, but in researching the organization and discovering that the society eventually merged with the Netherlands Board of Foreign Missions, I determined that the documents should be brought together into a single collection.

When I first started this internship I had already had some experience processing collections, but working with Brigette and the MRL and WAB collections provided me with the opportunity to really hone those skills. These collections document organizations and individuals that have left lasting impressions on missionary and religious scholarship, and I am excited that the work I have done to arrange and document the collections will contribute to a future researcher’s work.

Working with Brigette has been an invaluable experience; she truly wants her interns to have the best experience possible and always takes time to answer questions, teach new skills and discuss best practices and strategies for tackling challenging material. Not only did Brigette impart her knowledge of processing, she also took the time to discuss professional development with me and my fellow interns. Brigette encouraged us to utilize Web 2.0 technology to our advantage, and she showed us her online portfolio and gave us a tutorial on how to create one ourselves. Though I will miss coming to Burke twice a week and working with Brigette and my fellow interns, I am grateful for the experience and the knowledge I have gained from the opportunity.

Surprises in the Archives: Reflecting on My First Month at the Burke

A month has passed since I started at Burke as a summer intern, and I now find myself reflecting upon the last four weeks. While I came into this internship with previous processing experience, I have found that I am constantly learning something new at Burke, whether it’s learning how to wrap a book in acid-free tissue or to avoid using the word “miscellaneous” in a finding aid. Perhaps the greatest lesson I’ve learned is that the archive holds many surprises that are just waiting to reveal themselves.

For the first half of June, I worked on a collection documenting the 1900 Ecumenical Conference on Foreign Missions. This conference ran from April 21 to May 1, 1900 and was held at Carnegie Hall and local churches in New York City. It was the largest formal religious event ever held in the United States and the largest international missionary conference ever. It brought together missionaries from around the world to discuss various topics, including evangelism, education, and geographical surveys of missionary work. One of the most fascinating aspects of this collection is the vast amount of documentation related to female missionaries, particularly in regards to “Women’s Work” sectional meetings. Processing the collection was relatively straightforward, as it largely consisted of two types of records: stenographic reports (essentially transcripts of entire meetings or sections of the conference) and conference papers (reports, papers, and addresses presented at the conference). As I began to arrange the collection chronologically, it became apparent that certain dates were not represented in the material. Particularly troubling was the absence of material from April 21, the opening day of the conference. I knew from the conference program that several notable people had given opening addresses on that date, and I was interested to read the addresses given by William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt but resigned myself to the fact that these records appeared to be lost.

For the last two weeks I have moved on from the Ecumenical Conference and have been working on the vast array of administrative records from the Missionary Research Library. When I arrived at Burke today I expected to continue with this. However, Brigette informed me when I sat down at my desk that she had found more material related to the Ecumenical Conference. As someone who loves to cross things off to-do lists, having to return to my first project was, as Brigette said when she informed me, “bad news.” However, I quickly came to realize that this surprise was in no way bad. As I sat at my desk reading President William McKinley’s opening address to the Ecumenical Conference, I realized that my previous definition of complete is insufficient to working in an archive. There are always going to be surprises and magically appearing material needed to be dealt with. I am looking forward to seeing what other surprises the Burke Archives have in store for me this summer. The completed finding aid for MRL 12: Ecumenical Conference on Foreign Missions, NYC, 1900 is now available online.

New Intern Thoughts and Expectations

This past year has been an exciting one; last May I graduated Rutgers University with a B.A. in History and English, and I can now say that I have successfully completed my first year of graduate school. Looking back, I remember thinking about my post-college plans and how unsure I was. Pursuing a career as an archivist wasn't an obvious path for me until my final year at Rutgers. During the summer between my junior and senior years, I completed a rewarding and ultimately invaluable internship with an autograph dealer. Though I had previously been introduced to archives through a class at Rutgers, this experience was my first hands-on interaction with primary documents. It was through this internship that I learned to love paging through old letters and documents and deciphering 19th century script. During that summer I had the opportunity to view firsthand some truly remarkable documents, but this was also something that I found problematic. Due to the nature of that business, I was going to be one of the few people who would be able to see these historically important items, and after that summer, I began to seriously consider how I might be able to work with primary documents in a public setting. That experience led me to the Masters program in Archives and Public History at New York University and this internship at the Burke Library Archives working on collections from the Missionary Research Library Archives and the William Adams Brown Ecumenical Library Archives. 

As part of my coursework at NYU, this past semester I completed an internship at Rutgers University Special Collections. This experience was my first true experience working in an archive, and I was fortunate enough to be able to process an entire collection from beginning to end. That experience was truly formative and has motivated me to take the path of a processing archivist. The initial fear of manipulating original order and removing important documents gave way to wonder and a sense of confidence, as I discovered new avenues to the collection and fit them together within the overall scope of the collection. The collection itself was large enough that it kept me busy for an entire semester; I am now able to say that I processed the Mohegan Colony Association Collection and completed the finding aid for it as well.

Though I now have experience processing a complete archival collection, I believe that I still have much learning to do. I am looking forward to working with Brigette this summer and learning from her. In order to be a successful processing archivist, I need to gain confidence in my skills. For the first month or so at Rutgers I was hesitant to rearrange the collection and tended to second-guess myself. When I first spoke to Brigette about this internship, she advised that she would initially provide hands-on guidance and have me start by processing a smaller collection. Though I am interested in learning about the materials within the collections, it is Brigette's willingness to teach and help me gain that confidence in my abilities that has me excited for my summer at the Burke Library Archives.