Category Archives: Archives

Surprise from Japan: Encountering Toyohiko Kagawa

Several months ago, the Burke Library received an unexpected visitor, a researcher from Japan. She said she was from the Kagawa Memorial Center in Kobe, and she wanted to see some archival items in the collected papers of Toyohiko Kagawa. Although her visit was unscheduled, I helped her set up a reader account and request the materials via our online Special Collections forms, and luckily we were able to fit her in for an appointment that day. As it happens, Kagawa has stuck with me since that day — I have become fascinated by his life and work, and have worked with other researchers who make use of his papers in the library who study him too. I even read a biographical graphic novel about him, two pages of which are shown below (more on this further on…)

Scenes from a graphic novel about the life of Toyohiko Kagawa, depicting his life as a student, coming to New York from Japan as a young man circa the early-1900s.

(Click for full size image.) Fujio Gō and Ōsaki Teizō, translation by Timothy Boyle. “Beyond the Death Line: The Society of Love and Cooperation Envisioned by Toyohiko Kagawa.” Kagawa Memorial Center, Kobe, Japan (2015).

I had never heard of Toyohiko Kagawa before. (I am still fairly new to the Burke; actually, I was a student at Union Theological Seminary after earning my MLS, and I know the Burke’s circulating collection and research databases very well, but I still have a lot to learn about its Archives and Special Collections holdings.) It turns out that Kagawa’s papers are held in the Missionary Research Library, held at the Burke. He visited the United States many times, and his papers eventually came to be collected at the Kagawa National Center, headquartered nearby in Brooklyn — UTS professor Harry Emerson Fosdick was on the sponsoring committee. Toyohiko Kagawa was a pretty impressive person, and an inspiring subject for seminarians to study.

Newspaper clipping from the Akron Beacon Journal, 1954, announcing that Toyohiko Kagawa would preach there.

(Click for full size image.) Author unknown. “Toyohiko Kagawa, Noted Japanese, To Preach Here.” Akron Beacon Journal, Saturday, Sept. 11, 1954. (From the Missionary Research Library Section 7, Toyohiko Kagawa Papers, Series 1, Box 9.) From the collections of the Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary

 

Toyohiko (given name) Kagawa (family name), born in 1888, was a theologian, activist, labor reformer, and pastoral caregiver, who worked in service of improving the lives of farmers and workers in Japan and internationally throughout his life. (He struggled with health complications and died in 1960, having been nominated once for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1955.) What strikes me most about his life and work is the incredible range of activities his leadership touched in Japan — from building medical hospitals in the “slums” of Kobe to founding cooperative farms to organizing labor unions, he accomplished a great deal towards empowering farmers and laborers. He spent a brief time in prison after being arrested following a labor demonstration. As well as being a gifted writer and theologian, he was a shrewd economic thinker and researcher — for example, he studied horticulture while forming his cooperative farms, and from reading about farming practices in Greece he got the idea of planting chestnut trees in the grazing areas of pigs in mountain farms, so that the roots would prevent rock slides while the trees provided food for the animals. Not to mention his prolific scholarly and literary life. He is said to have missed a lot of class while he was a student because he spent so much of his time in the library. (You can see why I find his personality so endearing.) He became a prolific writer, and his constructive activities were funded in large part thanks to sales from his books and speaking engagements. Having studied at Kobe Theological School, he eventually made several trips to the United States, including to earn an MA and MDiv at Princeton. Later in his life he made several speaking and churchgoing tours of the U.S., including in 1954, which are well documented by correspondence, newspaper clippings, and other materials in the Toyohiko Kagawa Papers.

A section of a speech given by Toyohiko Kagawa in 1954, including the phrase: "I would help the laborers to help themselves, acting as good Samaritans through their own organizations..."

(Click for full size image.) Toyohiko Kagawa. Remarks at the World Council of Churches meeting, Aug 17, 1954. (From the Missionary Research Library Section 7, Toyohiko Kagawa Papers, Series 1, Box 6.) From the collections of the Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary

I learned a lot about Kagawa by studying the materials we have here in the Burke Library, and from reading this biographical graphic novel that our surprise visitor gave me after her visit. It is called Beyond the Death Line: The Society of Love and Cooperation Envisioned by Toyohiko Kagawa. The Kagawa Memorial Center produces and distributes these books, drawn by Fujio Gō and written by Ōsaki Teizō, and I cannot find another copy in any library catalogs in the United States. She gave it to me personally, but perhaps I will donate it to the Burke Library’s collections so others can continue to study Kagawa like I did.

A Chance Encounter with Hans Holbein the Younger — published by Rebecca Potts, Archives Assistant (c/o Carolyn Bratnober)

These images are from a printed collection of woodcarvings designed by the famous Hans Holbein the Younger and carved by Hans Lutzelburger. By chance, I encountered a copy of Dance of Death in the Special Collections of the Burke Library — where I am currently working on Archives-processing projects as a student at Union Theological Seminary — and this unique volume opened my eyes to the world of Holbein’s woodcarvings.

"The Husbandman," woodcut engraving by Hans Holbein the Younger

“The Husbandman,” from Dibdin, Thomas Frognall, 1776-1847, Francis Douce, and Hans Holbein. Holbein’s Dance of Death Exhibited In Elegant Engravings On Wood: With a Dissertation On the Several Representations of That Subject. London: H.G. Bohn, 1858.

"The Child," and engraving by Hans Holbein the Younger

“The Child,” from Dibdin, Thomas Frognall, 1776-1847, Francis Douce, and Hans Holbein. Holbein’s Dance of Death Exhibited In Elegant Engravings On Wood: With a Dissertation On the Several Representations of That Subject. London: H.G. Bohn, 1858.

"The Abbess," an engraving by Hans Holbein the Younger

“The Abbess,” from Dibdin, Thomas Frognall, 1776-1847, Francis Douce, and Hans Holbein. Holbein’s Dance of Death Exhibited In Elegant Engravings On Wood: With a Dissertation On the Several Representations of That Subject. London: H.G. Bohn, 1858.

Holbien was a 16th century German artist and printmaker who, over the course of his life, did work for Erasmus, Thomas More, Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII, and Thomas Cromwell. After working for More—who resigned over Henry’s desire to divorce his first wife, Catherine of Aragon—Holbein began to work directly for Anne Boleyn, More’s political and theological rival. Holbein was able to weather Anne’s famous downfall and in 1536, the year of her execution, he was officially employed as the King’s Painter. He went on to paint Henry, his third wife Jane Seymour, their child Edward, and many different courtiers. Holbein was also working for Cromwell during this time, creating images for Cromwell’s reformist, anti-clerical agenda. Following Jane’s death, Holbein returned to Germany under commission to paint Anne of Cleaves, the woman Cromwell was promoting as Henry’s next wife. As history has it, Holbein’s picture was highly flattering and Henry, distraught that his wife’s true face did not match Holbein’s picture, divorced Anne and beheaded Cromwell. Is it surprising then that a man who had witnessed and survived some of the most famous intrigues and downfalls in western history, would take as his subject, the fleeting nature of life and the constant, smiling certainty of death?

 

The images in this book depict the Dance of Death, or Dance Macabre, as drawn by Holbein. Dance of Death imagery was popularized long before Holbein, appearing in churches, monasteries, and illuminated manuscripts in the European Middle Ages. Ecclesiastically, Dance of Death imagery—people from all stations and ages confronted and called away by the personification of death as a skeleton—functioned as an allegory urging Christians to repent in the face of certain and, in those days, likely immanent death. Yet, as the essays in this 1858 book by Francis Douce demonstrate, the use of skeletons and stories of dancing death have much longer histories and more complex meanings. Douce tells how, according to Herodotus (a 5th century BCE historian), at Egyptian banquets, a dead body was brought out and presented to all the guests while the hosts proclaimed “Behold this image of what yourselves will be; eat and drink therefore, and be happy” (Douce, 2). Later Romans apparently adopted this tradition at their feasts (Ibid., 3). Thus the face of death can be used to call sinners to the church or diners to revelry. This ambiguity is somewhat captured in the once popular stories Douce recounts in which, though the characters and locations alter in every retelling, some group of people are loudly singing and dancing in direct defiance and mockery of priests, who are trying to conduct a religious service. The priest then asks God to force these dancers to continue their dance without stop for a year. God grants this request and the dancers gradually die, starved and exhausted, dancing themselves to death.

 

Holbein’s woodcarvings seem, to me, located within the space between allegory and ambiguity. Some of the images appear to clearly chastise immoral or corrupt behavior, such as the Judge, who is called by death as he prepares to take a bribe from a from a rich man, or the Advocate, which is similar. Yet others, such as the Husbandman, the Child, and the Abbess, illustrate that death comes for us all, regardless of virtue, age, or hard work. What then is the point of placing an image death before the unjust, as if in punishment, if later images demonstrate the unsettling and incontrovertible fact that death has little to do with justice? Sadly, these woodcarvings, exquisitely crafted and famous though they may be, do no more to answer that question than the mountains of philosophy and theology that came before and since. Therefore, in lieu of an answer to this question, I will leave you with my favorite image from the set: the Nun, kneeling in prayer, yet still able to cast flirtatious glances over her shoulder at the lute player in her room. Though this image was perhaps meant as a warning or a satire against the Catholic Church, I see it as the perfect marriage between the ancient Egyptian and European Middle Ages imageries of death. If life is fleeting and uncertain, why choose between prayer and merriment? Get it, girl.

Coloring in the Burke With #ColorOurCollections

Coloring has long been, for me, a way to relax and unwind during stressful periods of my life–which is why I was intrigued to hear about a fun and fascinating global outreach initiative called #ColorOurCollections when Myong Jin, our Collections Specialist, forwarded me an email from the Ex Libris listserv. The New York Academy of Medicine started the initiative in 2016 as a way for libraries, museums, and cultural institutions around the world to take part in a collective week of coloring and exploring each other’s collections.

Original #ColorOurCollections promotion template, from ColorOurCollections.org (2018)

The way it was designed is simple: institutions share images from their books, archives, and other items in the form of black-and-white coloring pages. This year over 180 institutions participated in uploading coloring books, including libraries like Andover-Harvard Theological Library and the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, as well as fascinating international museum sites like the National Iron & Steel Heritage Museum and academic institutions like Universidad de Buenos Aires. Anyone with an internet connection can go to ColorOurCollections.org and download free coloring books from these world-wide repositories, to be filled in with markers, colored pencils, or even paint. Coloring, long a beloved pastime for children, has recently become a trendy crafting hobby for adults, who find shading in the spaces of intricate images to be a relaxing and meditative activity that provides a nice respite during the day. Institutions can host coloring events as a way to engage with the public, and guests have an incentive to visit the museums and libraries to take part in the coloring activities. Participants can then upload photos of their coloring creations on social media platforms with the hashtag #ColorOurCollections. This way the public can “explore, color, and connect with libraries and their collections.”

Myong and I thought it would be fun to join this initiative and have our own day of coloring at the Burke Library. We have had coloring events here in the past (we really like coloring here at the Burke; living in New York can be stressful, and finding ways to unwind is important!) so we already had digital folder of coloring pages ready to go. Plus we uploaded some new ones too. Making a coloring page involves selecting an image from our collections — such as a photo in the archives, a folio of a rare book, and even (in this case) a hand-drawn cartoon that was submitted as part of a student’s thesis in the 1970’s — and scanning it into a digital file. Then, using PhotoShop to make the image black-and-white and adjust the Brightness and Contrast levels, we can turn the scanned image into a graphic with black outlines and white empty space to be filled in by our users.

“How a Coloring Book Page is Made,” Sample from photograph of Brown Tower, at the Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary (c. 2016)

We held our coloring event “Color In the Burke” (pun intended… get it? “Color In”?) on February 8th during the lunch hour, and our staff promoted it on Instagram, Facebook, the Union Theological Seminary Student Digest, and on paper flyers and digital signs throughout the building. We had lots of enthusiastic feedback from the community members who heard about the event, although we had lower attendance than expected on the actual day. Those who attended enjoyed coloring in images from some of the Burke’s rare folios. Our printed coloring books are still available at the Circulation Desk, and anyone who wants to see the Burke’s or any other coloring book can go online to ColorOurCollections.org and download any of the hundreds of books available online. They’re fun to look at — I like engravings and woodcuts myself, and I especially like the anatomical drawings from the medical libraries. We’ll gladly participate in #ColorOurCollections again next year.

Sample page from the Burke Library #ColorOurCollections 2018 Coloring Book

Mr. Smith Goes to Berlin: German Learning in the Papers of Henry Boynton Smith

Below is a blog post written by the Burke’s current Primary Source Intern, Andrew McLaren. Andrew McLaren is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Religion at Columbia.Andrew McLaren is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Religion at Columbia University. His dissertation research focuses on a historiographical text about conquests and politics in the first three centuries of Islam, as well as its reception in various geographical and linguistic contexts and understandings of history. More broadly, he is interested in the function of the writing of texts in social history, particularly in historiography, theology, and law.

The staff at the Burke is thrilled that Andrew will continue to work with us into the next academic year, and we’re thrilled to make this special collection available for research. You can also read Andrew’s post on the Columbia University Libraries Internship Program blog.

 

Henry Boynton Smith (1815-1877) was professor and librarian at Union Theological Seminary from 1850 to 1874, joining the faculty at UTS after serving as a Congregationalist minister (1842-1847) and teaching philosophy at Amherst College (1847-1850). Smith is perhaps best remembered for the active role he played in the reunion of the Old and New Schools of the Presbyterian Church, beginning with his election as moderator of the General Assembly of the New School denomination in 1863. He also wielded significant influence in the growth of the study of church history in America.

Photo 1. Steel plate of H.B. Smith by Ritchie.

Before joining the faculty, however, Smith spent a long time in pursuit of education, including three years passed in Paris, Halle, and Berlin studying with several prominent theologians, philosophers, and Orientalists. Smith’s time there appears to have been incredibly productive. In a letter (dated April 30, 1839) to his parents, Smith describes a class schedule to make even the hardiest student blush:

My lectures are 8-9, Logic, with Gabler, five times a week ; 9-10, Jewish History, Hengstenberg, five times; 10-11, Job, Hengstenberg, five times ; 11-12, Neander, Acts, six times ; 12-1, History of Christian Doctrines, Neander, three times a week ; 4-5, Criticism of Hegelian Philosophy with Trendelenburg, four times; a lecture on John, twice a week; Homiletics, once; History of German Philosophy, twice a week; Twesten, Introduction to Christian Morals, once a week, and one or two others; one in Goethe and Schiller, twice a week. So you see my time is likely to be full

 

Photo 2. “So you see my time is likely to be full…” H.B. Smith’s class list. Spring 1839.

European philosophy in the lifetime of Henry Boynton Smith is usually thought of as sliding into stagnation, its energy sapped by the rise of the natural sciences. But as Frederick Beiser argued in a recent book, that narrative is largely incorrect; rather, the time between 1840 and 1900 actually saw a flourishing among philosophers desperately grappling with a confounded sense of purpose: what role should philosophy play in modern intellectual projects, like the natural sciences?

In this flourishing landscape, Beiser argues, many different stories can and should be told. One story has been recently related by Annette Aubert in her work on the influence of German theologians on their American counterparts, where she argues that H.B. Smith and other students who studied in Europe played a key role in the interpreting those ideas and translating them to America.

 

 

 

As the documents in H.B. Smith’s papers show, the thoroughfares and the byways of his career crisscrossed through the verdant intellectual landscape sketched by Beiser and Aubert. For instance, one of Beiser’s main characters, Adolf Trendelenburg (1802-1872), is one of the teachers mentioned in Smith’s course list, and Smith left behind a notebook full of detailed notes on Trendelenburg’s lecture course entitled Kritik des Hegelischen Systems (“Criticism of the Hegelian System”).

Photo 3. “Criticism of the Hegelian System, according to his [i.e., Hegel’s] Encyclopaedie. A. Trendelenburg.”

Among the papers are also several notebooks from classes with Friedrich August Gottreu Tholuck (1799-1877), a theology professor at the University of Halle and prolific author and preacher. With him, Smith studied Christian ethics, dogmatic theology, the Pauline letters (about which Tholuck wrote a famous commentary), and theological literature more generally. Smith maintained a lifelong relationship with many of his teachers, including Tholuck—12 letters from him are found among Smith’s correspondence.

Photo 4. Spine and page from notebook for Tholuck’s Christliche Sittenlehre (“Christian Morals”). The opening lines read, “Introduction. §1. Concept of the Moral.”

Of further interest are the notes of Smith’s own students at Union in the 1850s and 1860s, which were used in the posthumous publication of three volumes of Smith’s lectures in systematic theology. Even a quick perusal of the pages reveals that Hegel and other German thinkers are not absent from Smith’s work, but their appearance here alongside a broader swathe of philosophers (including English and French thinkers, from David Hume to Auguste Comte) reveals both Smith’s own erudition and the space of interaction into which he carried his German education. All of these intellectual currents are addressed within the broad gaze of Smith’s theology.

 

 

Photo 5. Page from Systematic Theology notebook, giving Hegel’s definition of spirit.

The history of philosophy in the late 19th century took many roads, some less-travelled than others. The papers and publications of Henry Boynton Smith show how one of those roads, travelled by a precocious young man from Maine, passed directly through Union, marked by a collection of signposts and waypoints in the Burke archives.

 

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Further reading

A.G. Aubert: “Henry Boynton Smith and Church History in Nineteenth-Century America,” Church History 85, no. 2 (2016), 302-327.

A.G. Aubert, The German Roots of Nineteenth-Century American Theology. New York: Oxford University Press, 2013.

  1. Beiser,After Hegel: German Philosophy, 1840-1900. Princeton, NJ and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2014.
  2. Smith,Henry Boynton Smith: his Life and Work. New York: Armstrong and Son, 1881.

Organizing for Racial Justice, 1960s and Today: A conference recap

The public-facing work of #LoveInAction:Voices in Social Justice culminated on May 3rd with a one-day conference held in Union Theological Seminary’s Social Hall, “Organizing for Racial Justice, 1960s and Today.”  The conference, an inter-school (Columbia and Union), inter-departmental (the Burke Library, the student fellows, Union alumni/ae, the Office of Alumni/ae Relations, and the Office of Student Affairs), inter-generational collaboration (I believe the ages of those involved with the planning ranged from 20 to 90!), featured Union alum that were involved in the Student Interracial Ministry in dialogue with current Union students and faculty.  Consisting of four panels, the day’s events were so rich, so charged with energy, that now upon reflection two weeks later, my words seem lacking in comparison.  Luckily for us, all of the panels were taped and will be available soon!

Flyer for “Organizing For Racial Justice, 1960s and Today.”

The conference started off by a welcome and general introduction by yours truly.  I made sure to scoot off the scene quickly so Rev. Dr. James A. Forbes, Jr. (’62) and storäe michele (class of 2017) could open  the conference.  Each read powerful poems they had written at different points in their lives.  The poem Dr. Forbes shared was written shortly after the legal integration of lunch counters in the South, where he had suffered an unfair and unjust encounter.  storäe read a powerful poem she had written in response.  The second panel, “Setting the Context: Racism and Student Activist in the 1960s,” was led by Dr. David Cline, author of From Reconciliation to Revolution: The Student Interracial Ministry, Liberal Christianity, and the Civil Rights Movement, 1960 to 1970, who gave a brief history of the Student Interracial Ministry.  After which Rev. George D. McClain (’64), Rev. Charles M. Sherrod (’66), Petra Thombs (M.Div. candidate), Benjamin Van Dyne (class of 2017), and Virginia Wadsley (’67) gave their responses.  All focused on their own personal experiences, for Rev. Sherrod, Rev. McClain, and Wadlsey these centered around their involvement with SIM.  Thombs and Van Dyne offered a critical lens from their own personal experiences at and around Union.

Rev. Dr. Douglas during her presentation, “White Supremacy in the Age of Trump.”

The afternoon sessions were started off with a talk by Rev. Dr. Kelly Brown Douglas (’82) based on her book Stand Your Ground: Black Bodies and the Justice of God, “White Supremacy in the Age of Trump.”  Union student and #LoveInAction fellow, Tabatha Holley (M.Div. candidate) and Director of Alumni/ae Relations, Dr. Marvin M. Ellison (’81) co-moderatored the session, with Dr. Ellison introducing Dr. Douglas.  After Dr. Douglas’ talk, Holley asked some questions to get the conversation started.  Last but certainly not least was the final panel of the day, “White Supremacy and Student Activism Today,” which featured a mix of current Union students and professors including, Associate Professor of Ecumenical Studies, Dr. Chung Hyun Kyung (’87); Jessica Halperin (M.Div. candidate); Yazmine Nichols (class of 2017); Kaio Thompson (class of 2017); Assistant Professor of Homiletics, Dr. Lisa L. Thompson; and Wesley Morris (class of 2017). The panel was introduced by one of the SIM founders, John Collins (’61), and the questions moderated by #LoveInAction fellow, Kristine Chong (MA candidate). Each panelist gave extremely poignant and personal stories about where they were coming from with regard to social activism, both inside and outside of the classroom.

Shirley M. Sherrod speaking at the Union Medal ceremony, James Chapel, Union Theological Seminary, May 3, 2017.

The conference was followed by a Union Medal ceremony that honored Rev. Charles M. Sherrod (’66) and Shirley M. Sherrod for their lifetime of work for racial justice in Southwest Georgia.  As with the entire day, the ceremony is hard to justly give summary to.  Opening with the remarkable documentary about the Sherrod’s tireless efforts, Arc of Justice: The Rise, Fall and Rebirth of a Beloved Community, the Sherrods were individually presented with the Union Medal.

 

 

 

 

 

Stay turned for more blog posts about the various components of #LoveInAction: Voices In Social Justice!

Meeting “Pit”: Processing the Henry Pitney Van Dusen Papers

N.B.: The Burke Archives had the good fortune of inviting Olivia Rutigliano to be our Intern in Primary Sources for the 2016-2017 year. During this time, she has processed the papers of Henry Pitney Van Dusen, one of Union’s most well-known presidents. Read below to learn about Olivia’s first experience processing a large archival collection, Union’s history, and Van Dusen’s legacy.

In my capacity as Columbia’s Primary Source Intern for the 2016-2017 academic year, I have been working at Burke Library, processing an exhaustive collection of documents once belonging to Henry Pitney Van Dusen (1897-1975), who served as president of Union Theological Seminary from 1945-1963. The wide-ranging collection includes material concerning his teaching and academic responsibilities, his many book and article projects, his ministry and outreach, and his work for various international and domestic ecumenical committees and conferences, as well as his personal correspondence, and other materials or publications relating to his life as a public intellectual.

Portrait of HPVD. UTS1: Henry Pitney Van Dusen Papers, the Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary, Columbia University in the City of New York.

In short, it is a huge collection. In fact, before the collection had begun being processed, it took 72 banker’s boxes to hold the entire thing. Throughout the fall and spring semesters, my chief responsibilities principally included sorting through these boxes — organizing and classifying this large volume of materials within various definitive categories, removing them from packaging that might be chemically or physically hazardous to their preservation, locating dates and other identifying information for the contents, and producing a clear and intuitive Finding Aid, to help future researchers navigate the collection with ease.

Now, after nearly all the materials have been organized and sorted into (smaller, sleeker, and clearly delineated) manuscript boxes, we estimate that the collection physically spans around 100 linear feet (archival collections are measured the total width of every box in the collection). The collection contains letters, memos, sermons, lectures, photographs, magazines, pamphlets, programs, index and business cards, and entire book manuscripts, as well as countless drafts of both chapters and individual essays. It also contains several children’s illustrations completed in crayon on construction paper (likely made by Van Dusen’s children), messages from such longtime pals as John Foster Dulles (who filed a legal brief on his behalf, arguing that Van Dusen, who caused an outcry by admitting that he did not believe that Christ was literally born of a virgin, should not have his his minister’s ordination questioned by the Presbyterian General Assembly), and several copies of the 1954 Time, with Van Dusen as the magazine’s cover story.

A letter from Eleanor Roosevelet to HPVD. UTS1: Henry Pitney Van Dusen Papers, Series 8, Box 15, Folder 1. The Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary, Columbia University in the City of New York

A PhD student in Columbia’s English and Theatre departments, specializing in Victorian entertainment, I barely had any exposure to Van Dusen’s prolific and distinguished career prior to processing his papers. As I began to read and sort through his documents, I learned about the depth of his various worlds, and the impact of his tremendous influence. Indeed, Van Dusen was a prominent thinker and sought-after academic, whose expertise and engagement was vast — spanning very many contemporary issues. I processed many files of sermons and articles directly addressing contemporary theological and socio-political debates, as well as his own personal ruminations on ethical matters. He was the engineer behind many massive organizations of which I had heard, such as the World Council of Churches. He was also, I learned, an entrenched New Yorker — a descendant of one of New York City’s oldest families, who had been here since it inhabited a few hundred people and was called New Amsterdam. (Personally, I can claim three generations of family in the city — he could claim ten.) The Van Dusen family has, in its family tree, U.S. Presidents Martin Van Buren and Franklin Delano Roosevelt, as well as, I just found out, the Brooklyn-based clothing designer Dusen Dusen.

Letter from John Masefield on the birth of John George Van Dusen. UTS1: Henry Pitney Van Dusen Papers, Series 8, Box 2, Folder 1. The Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary, Columbia University in the City of New York

Recently, I had the pleasure of meeting two members of the Van Dusen family, Hugh, Van Dusen’s second son, and Hans, his grandson. They stopped by Burke to check out the collection, and I was delighted to show them a few items from it: birth announcements, letters of congratulations (including from UK poet laureate John Masefield) and a baby photo of Van Dusen’s oldest son, John George, as well as (a personal favorite of mine) a series of letters exchanged between Van Dusen and Eleanor Roosevelt, in 1954, through which Roosevelt enlisted Van Dusen’s help to work the Membership Drive Committee for the American Association for the United Nations. 

It was wonderful to meet Van Dusen’s family, who were excited to look at the documents and glad to chat about them; spending weeks upon weeks organizing and filing his material legacy, it was both lovely and uncanny to meet the people who had known him the best, during the life that he had documented so well. 

Left of the Middle – the Donald Laverne Benedict Papers

Don Benedict was many things — a Union alumnus, a founder of the East Harlem Protestant Parish, a WWII conscientious objector-cum-Air Force sergeant (retroactively pardoned by Truman in 1947), a staunch criminal justice reform advocate/prison abolition activist, a minister in the United Church of Christ, an ally and advocate to people of color targeted by the police from New York to Chicago, a devout Midwesterner, and husband to Ann, a fellow activist and EHPP founder whose own tireless work could span volumes.

Just some light reading… an annotated first edition of DLB’s autobiography alongside a typescript of his 1994 essay, “Will America Self-Destruct?” Series 3, box 2, folders 1 and 24.

This particular reverend was also what I like to call a “keeper”. Like many writers, he tirelessly drafted, annotated, and held onto versions his writing as if they were precious food in wartime. When I first passed over the fifteen-plus record boxes that have been waiting in the Burke’s basement since we first received Don Benedict’s papers in 2010, I steeled myself for extensive weeding to uncover the thread of a cohesive life story.

DLB circa 1960s. Series 4, box 1, folder 2.

Don Benedict’s life doesn’t seem like it was one that took kindly to order and intuition, though. A white middle-class boy raised in Michigan, Benedict could easily have taken a more or less intuitive road in life – gone to seminary, served in the war when he was asked to, married when he supposed he should, settled down with a single parish and perhaps one day gather up his sermons and correspondences to donate to the appropriate historical society or library. Instead, Reverend Benedict seemed pulled (from a remarkably early age) to something greater, messier and far more transformative for himself and for people and communities walking the same streets as him, but whose life experiences were riven by systemic oppression because of racism and poverty.

The numerous drafts and excerpts of memoirs that I organized in Reverend Benedict’s papers do justice to winter sleigh rides with his father in Canton and Don’s diffidence in school, but also to his early observations of social injustice that undergirded urban American life. I was happy to find so little to weed in Reverend Benedict’s writings — he was a keeper, but an exceptionally wry, generous and illustrative memoirist. It was as if his autobiographical impulse stemmed not so much from the need to be remembered himself, but from an understanding that his work and life was bearing witness to a dream for change that was much bigger than one person. As such, it didn’t seem possible or ethical or do away with the traces and passages Benedict wrote, since so much of it tells a personal history, a history of Union, and a cultural history of activism in 1940s America at the same time. In one passage recounting his Union admission interview with Dr. Henry Sloane Coffin, Benedict writes:

With my B- college grade average I hesitakenly [sic] walked into his office. I talked a bit about my background and admitted that I had not spent much time on my college studies. I talked about my interest in relating the church to questions of race and poverty. At this point he warmed up a bit and said that they might find some small tuition help if I decided to come to Union. The warmth and understanding of this man really impressed me […] about two weeks later I received a letter from him saying that I was admitted to Union Seminary. Little did he know that within two years he would be visiting me along with others in the federal jail at West street in New York City but that comes later in the story. [“Early Years”, Series 3, Box 1, f 7]

Don Benedict (second from the front on the right) and his Union classmates after their arrest for resisting the draft in 1940. Series 4, box 1, folder 8.

 

Paragraphs like this one – irregularly paginated and stuffed among mottled clippings – made me feel like I was listening to Don while taking a walk near his family home in Chittenden, Vermont. Most of us have had experiences like this, when someone’s freeform thoughts are written in such a way that the words almost seem to pop. Reverend Benedict’s memoirs have this quality, and create a compelling real-life bildungsroman of a middle-class Midwesterner whose calling was anything but middle-of-the-road. Indeed, Benedict’s autobiographical impulses eventually did take a relatively concise form in his 1982 memoir, Born Again Radical, which recounts Benedict’s upbringing in Detroit (including witnessing the race riots there), to Union, to his brief time incarcerated at Danbury, to Iwo Jima in 1945, back to Union, to the storefront churches of East Harlem, to some of the numerous (truly, so many) community organizations founded or in some way led by Don and Ann, to the intimate relationships Don maintained with members of the many communities he moved in.

Some of the most glimmering materials I had the privilege of organizing came from Don’s longstanding correspondence with people whose lives were/are affected by the criminal justice system. When he couldn’t fight alongside someone, Benedict fought for them, and this realization lent particular credence to the work of handling his papers. As I was researching this collection/googling, I came across an expired IndieGoGo fundraiser organized by one of Don and Ann’s grandchildren, Agnotti Cowie, who was creating a documentary about Ann and Don called “A Dangerous Pair”. In the project trailer, one of Don’s friends attempts to summarize Don and Ann’s life’s work: “[He] would go into a neighborhood, talk to the people, find out what’s troubling them, convince them that those troubles are a consequence of powers greater than they are, then organize people to exercise their organized power against the powers that were oppressing them.”

I’d been excited to dig into Reverend Benedict’s papers since I began working as an archivist at the Burke. This collection adds to our still-deepening collection of archival material from the postwar years, situated somewhere between the East Harlem Protestant Parish papers processed before my arrival, and the Norm & Peg Eddy papers being processed by a current Union student this semester. In Don Benedict’s papers, I was delighted to take a proverbial walk with a humble, driven, devoted person who embodied the spirit of allyship in urban ministry and in community building.

Appropriately, the linear extent of this newly-processed collection is about equivalent to the height of an exceptionally tall person.

The U.S. Naval Reserve Midshipmen’s School at Riverside Church in WWII

Reverend Harry Emerson Fosdick, a Union Theological Seminary graduate and professor as well as the founding pastor of Riverside Church, was a pioneer of liberal theology, an outspoken opponent of racism and injustice, and a fierce pacifist. The Burke Library is very fortunate to have been the archival recipient of Rev. Fosdick’s personal papers, some 67 boxes containing sermons, lectures, correspondence, drafts, reviews, and bibliographic material spanning his life and career. (For more information on the Fosdick collection at the Burke and a link to its finding aid, see here.) Given Rev. Fosdick’s importance as an American theological leader for more than half a century, the papers in his archive are all fascinating and worthy of examination but for the purposes of this post I chose to focus on his support of American servicemen and women during WWII in spite of his pacifist objections to war.

Having witnessed the horrors of WWI firsthand on a visit to the European trenches under the auspices of the Y.M.C.A., Fosdick returned to the United States with an altered view of his theology and an impassioned commitment to a lasting peace. In a 1921 sermon, “Shall We End War?”, Fosdick preached that “we cannot reconcile Christianity with war anymore,” as war continued to divide rather than unite the world. Fosdick continued to rail against war from the pulpit, refining his pacifist stance and leading the swelling Protestant anti-war movement in the 1920s and 1930s. His pacifism reached its apotheosis on November 12, 1933, when he delivered an impassioned sermon from the Riverside Church pulpit, “Unknown Soldier,” concluding dramatically by declaring, “I renounce war and never again, directly or indirectly, will I sanction or support another!”

Rev. Harry Emerson Fosdick, courtesy of The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Photography Collection. The New York Public Library.

When WWII erupted in 1939, Fosdick remained a steadfast pacifist, and even after the bombing at Pearl Harbor in 1941, when anti-war sentiment plummeted in the face of patriotic support for American involvement in the war, Fosdick never abandoned his pacifism. In spite of his moral opposition to the war, however, Fosdick and the entire congregation of Riverside Church opened their doors to the U.S. Naval Reserve’s Midshipmen’s School, based at Columbia University, from 1942-1945. In the Fosdick papers, one sees an incredibly warm, respectful correspondence between Rev. Fosdick and Captain (later Commodore) J.K. Richards, the Commanding Officer of the Midshipmen’s School, as the two men discuss how best to support the midshipmen and even what it means to be in the military but not to idealize war.  In one of his earlier letters to Rev. Fosdick, dated March 15, 1943, Captain Richards describes his thoughts on soldiers’ views of war:

“We, of the military, have never idealized or glorified war. Having been trained in war, it is to us a grim, harrowing tragedy; but to safeguard the doctrines of Democracy and our way of life is a sacred trust. Called by our Country to its defense, it becomes a “Sacred Cause.” And we further believe that those of our citizens, who sacrifice themselves for those principles we hold to be self-evident, should be idealized.”

Captain Richards goes on to implore Rev. Fosdick “to help guide and fortify our young fighters; so that when this war is over the peace won will be a proper peace.” In 1944, after receiving a check for $2,000 from Captain Richards to support the church’s community efforts, many of which were aimed at the midshipmen, Rev. Fosdick wrote gratefully:

“We are so happy here to be of use to you, and would so gladly do it from our own funds that we all of us feel as if you ought not to contribute to our budget. Nevertheless, of course, a check of this kind is very convenient in these days when we are trying to carry on a piece of work that sometimes strains our resources, so that I suspect our gratitude will, as last year, overcome our embarrassment. I do want you to know, however, that the privilege of serving the Midshipmen’s School is a very dear treasure to all of us here at Riverside Church. A finer group of men never were gathered together, and anything that we can do for you we do with all our hearts.”

The folder with materials on the Midshipmen’s School in the Fosdick collection also includes letters to and from members of the public who are interested in Riverside’s services for the midshipmen (particularly the Saturday night dances held in the church’s gymnasium) and even clergymen who question how Fosdick, as a staunch and vocal pacifist, could permit the military to use the church, particularly for their graduation exercises. In a letter to Rev. Donald R. Lemkau of Little York, Illinois, dated Dec. 7, 1942, Fosdick defends Riverside’s hospitality to the midshipmen, whom he describes as “grand fellows, the pick of our homes, schools and churches,” and a “magnificent body of American young men; many of whom of course have been fighting and are still fighting a difficult battle in their own consciences with reference to participation in the conflict.” He also refers to a statement published by fellow theologian Dr. Lathrop in a recent issue of Fellowship, “where a pacifist minister must say not, This is my church, but, This is our church, and must recognize the right of his non-pacifist brethren to their judgment.”

At the conclusion of the war, the Midshipmen were so grateful to Riverside for being their home away from home throughout the war that they inscribed a message of thanks at the back of the nave to commemorate the kindness and hospitality shown to them during such a difficult period. Rev. Fosdick, in spite of his unwillingness to support the war itself, was a compassionate and devoted servant to those who served in the war, ensuring that Riverside Church, founded on ecumenical principles, was a sanctuary to all during the trying years of the 1940s.

I encourage anyone with an interest in liberal theology, Riverside Church, or Rev. Fosdick himself, to spend some time with this archival collection. I certainly plan to dig in deeper in the near future so stay tuned for more blog posts on one of Union’s most illustrious alumni!

 

All Roads Lead Back to Brooklyn

Matthew and I had the pleasure this summer to work with Dr. Henry Goldschmidt in having a library and archives session with the Religious Worlds of New York Summer Institute 2016 fellows.  In addition to giving an overview of the resources at the Burke Library and elsewhere, we also had them look through the Department of Church Planning and Research records, 1855-1985.

This was a great collection for them to look at since it contains a ton of reports largely compiled between 1930 and 1980 on practiced religions in New York City.  Needless to say the uses of this collection are infinite in possibility!  This collection is such a rich resource on the history of NYC’s demographics.  One fun fact: the surveying tactics that the organization used were adopted by the U.S. Federal Census!

There are many reasons why I love working with students who are doing archival research, but one reason in particular are the discoveries they make — which if it were me going through the boxes, might have been details I would have overlooked.

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One such discovery (well there were several during this class session, but the one that stands out in my memory) was within this 1946 publication titled Brooklyn U.S.A. by John Richmond and Abril Lamarque, which I am pretty sure I came during my tenure at the Brooklyn Historical Society’s library and archives.

 

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Inside this unassuming but eye-catching publication we are introduced to Sidney Ascher, the president and founder of the “nondues-paying” Society for the Prevention of Disparaging Remarks Against Brooklyn.

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Looking some online I found this awesome interview with Sidney about his club from the WNYC Archives from August 4, 1948.  In this interview he proclaims that there were half a million card carrying members and when asked what one had to do to become a member, Sidney states “Just love Brooklyn.”

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Image from http://onlytheblogknowsbrooklyn.com/2012/09/05/the-society-for-the-prevention-of-disparaging-remarks-about-brooklyn/

 

#LoveInAction: Voices in Social Justice

 

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The Burke Library is excited about the start of it’s newest outreach project, #LoveInAction: Voices in Social Justice.  This project will train two Union Theological Seminary students in the theory and practice of oral history and archival research.  The students will be doing extensive research in the Union archives in order to prepare and conduct oral history interviews of alums during the Student Interracial Ministry reunion, a program that will happen in May 2017 (details TBD).  The participating students were selected through a competitive application process and we are thrilled to announce them here:

Kristine Chong
Tabatha Holley

We are so excited to have Kristine and Tabatha working with us on this amazing project for the next academic year!  We will be sure to post updates along the way.