Category Archives: Archives

The Burke Library Goes International

One of the great joys of working at an educational institution is the chance to meet and interact with students, teachers, and researchers from all over the world. At the Burke, that kind of interaction usually takes place when people come to visit us in New York City. But recently I had the distinct pleasure of bringing a little piece of the Burke overseas to the wonderful town of Provins, France.

The Fonds ancien et Archives de Provins. (Photograph by Jeffrey Wayno, 2019)

The Fonds ancien et Archives de Provins. (Photograph by Jeffrey Wayno, 2019)

Provins, which is situated a little more than 50 miles to the southeast of Paris, is a town of about 12,000 people. Since 2001, it has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of its remarkably well preserved medieval architecture, which includes its twelfth-century walls, a massive fortified tower at the center of the Upper Town, and several beautiful medieval churches. The town is also home to the Fonds ancien et Archives de Provins, the local municipal library and archive which houses, among its many treasures, a magnificent collection of medieval manuscripts and documents. In 2009, Columbia University and City of Provins forged a special partnership, which has given students and scholars at Columbia access to Provins and its many historical sites and cultural artifacts.

Workshop participants examine medieval documents and liturgical manuscripts held in Provins (photograph by Jeffrey Wayno, 2019)

Workshop participants examine medieval documents and liturgical manuscripts held in Provins (photograph by Jeffrey Wayno, 2019)

In the summer of 2010, just after the first year of my doctoral program in medieval history, I had the good fortune to be among the very first researchers to visit Provins from Columbia. I spent three weeks in July exploring Provins’ archive and the manuscripts it contained. Two weeks ago, after almost a decade-long absence, I had the good fortune to return to that same archive to help lead a special workshop on medieval documents and liturgical manuscripts. Organized by Susan Boynton, Professor of Historical Musicology at Columbia, the workshop brought together eight graduate students past and present (from Columbia and Union Theological Seminary!) who share an interest in the history, music, and religious culture of medieval Europe. Over eight days, we dug into the contents of more than a dozen medieval manuscripts, learned from one another, and shared laughs and a good helping of fellowship over many meals.

Jeffrey Wayno (standing) with graduate students from Columbia and Union Theological Seminary (seated) during the workshop. Photograph by staff at the Fonds ancien et Archives de Provins (2019).

Jeffrey Wayno (standing) with graduate students from Columbia and Union Theological Seminary (seated) during the workshop. Photograph by staff at the Fonds ancien et Archives de Provins (2019).

The entire week in Provins was great success, in large part due to the organization and tireless hospitality of two individuals: Susan Boynton and Luc Duchamp, the longtime director of the Fonds ancien et Archives de Provins. But as the week progressed, I was also reminded how the best kind of intellectual experiences are often determined by the people who take part in them—and how the best kind of learning is often communal—and collaborative—in nature. What made this workshop both special and also productive was the group itself. Yes, our daily work sessions in the archive were always interesting and thought-provoking, simply because of the manuscript material displayed before us. But it was also our conversations over dinner or while walking around town in search of the best almond croissants, that we bonded over our shared love of a remarkable period in history. By the end of the week, our discussions, which were as wide-ranging as they were interesting, flowed freely from the library to the restaurant, from the work table to the dinner table.

Participants on the last day of the workshop. Photograph by staff at the Fonds ancien et Archives de Provins (2019)

Participants on the last day of the workshop. Photograph by staff at the Fonds ancien et Archives de Provins (2019)

Many people who pass through the halls of today’s universities never realize how the very word university (from the Latin “universitas”) is imbued with the idea of community and shared experience. The university is a product of the medieval world, a time when collectivism in many ways trumped the individualism that has become the norm today. Even as someone who studies the Middle Ages, I am not sorry that the medieval period is behind us. But I do hope that the very medieval notion of a shared intellectual community—universitas—lives on. In our busy lives, it is easy to lose sight of the importance of making the process of intellectual discovery a truly shared enterprise. Two weeks ago, in Provins, a group of us did our best to keep that torch of intellectual discovery aflame. And we are already hoping to plan a second installment of this workshop next year. -JMW

Students enrolled in CE 223 "Queering Ethics" taught by Prof. Sarah Azaransky at Union Theological Seminary, examining an archival document folder at the Burke Library

Queering the Archives at Union Theological Seminary

Students in the course Christian Ethics 223, “Queering Ethics,” taught by Prof. Sarah Azaransky at Union Theological Seminary, visited the Burke Library on Wednesday, March 6th, to discuss queer frameworks of power, authority, and queer subjecthood in relation to archives. The class and I delved into hands-on archival inquiry with the papers of emilie m. townes, a former professor at Union and currently the Dean of Vanderbilt Divinity School, a self-identified lesbian and a leading figure in womanist thought. We framed our activity with discussions of archival theory, with readings from Derrida and Foucault among others. The students debated the ethics of archival acquisition processes and research — especially as it affects the history and lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) persons today. For several of the students, this encounter at the Burke Library was their first time handling archival documents.

Students enrolled in CE 223 "Queering Ethics" taught by Prof. Sarah Azaransky at Union Theological Seminary, examining an archival document folder at the Burke Library

Students enrolled in CE 223 “Queering Ethics” taught by Prof. Sarah Azaransky at Union Theological Seminary, examining an archival document folder at the Burke Library. This photo appears on the Burke Library’s Instagram account @BurkeLibraryUTS

In preparation, the eighteen masters-level students in the class read a literature review of theoretical views of the archive by Marlene Manoff titled “Theories of the Archive from Across the Disciplines” (Libraries and the Academy, 2004, 4:1). We framed our discussion around ethical issues at play in critical archive studies when it comes to the custodianship of both literal archives as well as the proverbial collective archives of social memory. If, as Derrida says, “There is no political power without control of the archive,” who decides what is kept in the archive, and how is their political power sustained? When it comes to topics in LGBTQ studies, especially in art, literature, and political movements, key figures often defy typical organizational frameworks, and resist categorization. How do researchers identify a gay or transgender writer, for example, who spent their early life in the closet, and was not labeled as such or recognized for their work (or their identity) until later in time? What are the power dynamics at play for archivists, in curating and making primary-source materials of these figures available and searchable for scholars? How do researchers with questions pose their inquiries without being imposing on, or intrusive to, queer subjects? Hefty questions indeed. After a break, we shifted gears from discussing archival processing to handling materials from the emilie townes papers first hand.

The students worked in pairs to examine the contents of one document folder each from the emilie townes papers, including some manuscript writings from early in her PhD program. One group found that some of Dr. townes’s personal research notes had been typewritten on the back of what appeared to be event flyers or inserts for church program booklets. The students speculated it may have been to save paper, but the reason was not readily apparent; we were unable to tell from the Finding Aid whether the existence of these flyers had been previously documented at all. One of the event flyers (pictured below) advertised a 1987 event called “Homosexuality and the Church” at Faith United Methodist Church, in Downers Grove, Illinois — a particularly eye-catching object, given the present ongoing debates concerning homosexuality in the UMC denomination. (Leaders at the recent UMC General Conference in St. Louis, MO, debated and voted to reaffirm the current stance of the denomination, that “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.” But the debate continues, as numerous LGBTQ-affirming UMC churches around the world maintain the contrary stance, in welcoming solidarity with their LGBTQ communities.) It is truly a pressing issue, one that is deeply personal to me and to many students at Union. Yet, from a cursory look, without apparent information about this document, we cannot know how it came to be among her papers, nor what role this event played in Dr. townes’s life and education. A key takeaway from this exercise, predictably, was that archival documents often raise more questions than answers.

"Homosexuality and the Church" event description page, on the verso of a typewritten document of research notes, from the emilie m. townes papers, series 2, box 2, folder 3, Archives of Women in Theological Scholarship, the Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary, Columbia University in the City of New York.

“Homosexuality and the Church” event description page, on the verso of a typewritten document of research notes, from the emilie m. townes papers, series 2, box 2, folder 3, Archives of Women in Theological Scholarship, the Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary, Columbia University in the City of New York.

Some of these masters-level students are beginning to consider the possibilities for continued graduate study, and possible projects for future archival inquiry. Some students are even considering collaborating on a potential project on the LGBTQ history of Union Theological Seminary together, requiring extensive time in the UTS records held at the Burke archives. Such a project would be a hefty undertaking, but one of great value to the community here, I have no doubt. In the end, the session received a greatly positive response, and it seems these intrepid students thoroughly enjoyed their close encounter with the archives.

Color Our Collections at the Burke Library

For the second year in a row, the Burke Library participated in a worldwide weeklong initiative to spread awareness and engagement with Special Collections known as Color Our Collections.

Poster for Color Our Collections, February 2019. Image resembles a colored-in picture from a medieval manuscript of two people drawing.

Poster for Color Our Collections Week 2019 (http://http://library.nyam.org/colorourcollections)

In this series of events, initiated by the New York Academy of Medicine, libraries and museums around the world upload black-and-white versions of images in their Special Collections to create unique coloring books for users to color-in with pencils. (Coloring, traditionally an activity associated with young children, has grown in popularity among adults of all ages in recent years, for its relaxation effects and impact on mindfulness and calm; many bookstores now carry coloring books for adults, and lately I have seen multiple people my own age coloring in coloring books on airplanes.) During Color OurCollections Week, many institutions host coloring events and offer printed versions of their coloring books. Guests can attend these coloring events or visit ColorOurCollections.org and download coloring books from libraries and museums around the world. Participants can upload photos of their creative coloring to social media using the hashtag #ColorOurCollections and see others’ posts and explore the collections from far-flung institutions. This lets users explore and engage through hands-on experience with their collections from home. The Burke Library uploaded a coloring book chock full of images from the archives, rare books and manuscripts.

Image is the cover of a student publication called The Plastic Bag from 1968, image shows a rhinoceros being lifted by balloons with the title "the free university: lifting the weight"

Image from the Burke Library 2019 #ColorOurCollections Coloring Book, “The Plastic Bag” student literary publication, circa 1968 (from the Union Theological Seminary Records, Archives of the Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary, New York)

There are many wonderful coloring books available on this year’s Color Our Collections page from other libraries and institutions; our colleagues at the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Yale University uploaded a very fine selection of images, and the New York Academy of Medicine (the original founders of Color Our Collections) always include intriguing health-related and scientific images from their special collections. From outside the U.S., the Escuela Superior de Artes de Yucatán and Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg coloring books were both beautiful. Having been raised going on canoe trips in the north woods of Minnesota, I was intrigued by the coloring book from the Grand Portage National Monument Archives, featuring images of Ojibwe artwork, birch bark canoes, and the region’s natural features.

Page from the Color Our Collections 2019 coloring book of the Grand Portage National Monument Archives. Image is a black-and-white edited photograph of a room in a museum featuring a birch bark canoe and indigenous artwork from Minnesota.

Page from the Color Our Collections 2019 coloring book of the Grand Portage National Monument Archives (https://library.nyam.org/colorourcollections/grand-portage-national-monument-archives-collection-coloring-book-2019)

The Burke Library’s own on-site Color Our Collections event, featuring complimentary tea and snacks, drew about a dozen guests, including students from Union Theological Seminary and Columbia University, as well as a few library staff members who saw a poster for the event and decided to drop in on their lunch break to do some coloring.

Photograph from the Color Our Collections 2019 coloring event at the Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary, Columbia University. Image shows a table with popcorn and people's hands holding pencils and coloring in images on paper

Photograph from the Color Our Collections 2019 coloring event at the Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary, Columbia University

Participants seemed intrigued by the images from the Burke’s collections, engaged in lively conversation about the history of the Burke and its role in the university, and appreciated the fact that we hosted such a nice event open to the community. Some of them took extra coloring books to give to friends. We promoted the event on social media, and some of our remote followers commented requesting links to the site so they could download their own coloring books. Having been alerted to the existence of Color Our Collections last year by Myong Jin, the Collections Assistant at the Burke Library, I was very glad to have collaborated with her again put on our second such successful event this year, and look forward to hosting it again in 2020.

“Spirit of ’68” Part II: Research in the Administrative Files

By Jake Hearen, Student Research Assistant for the “Spirit of ’68” Exhibit

(Posted c/o Carolyn Bratnober, Public Services Librarian)

I came to Union a bit behind the power curve. My formal involvement within a theological framework is relatively new. I had not heard of James Cone until I visited in the spring; I promise his books are near the top of my reading list. So, I jumped at the opportunity when I heard about Special Collections needing assistance with researching for the upcoming exhibit.

I realized how daunting the project as I became oriented to the particulars of the project. At its focus was the Union Commission and its predecessor organization, The Free University of Union Theological Seminary. These initiatives resulted in response to the tensions between Columbia students and the administration brought about by the Vietnam War and the gentrification brought of Columbia’s expansion affected the Union community.

In its entirety, the project was a single archival box stuffed with materials mostly from the 1968-69 school year but other documents appeared to include several that came from far beyond the walls of Morningside Castle. There were a few student publications from Columbia regarding the student protests. There were even a few standout pieces such as an international gathering of college students and a manifesto from the 1969 National Black Economic Development Conference.

Archival folders in UTS2 Records, Administrative Files, Series 4B, Box 2, The Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary, Columbia University, New York NY

Archival folders in UTS2 Records, Administrative Files, Series 4B, Box 2, The Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary, Columbia University, New York NY

But what stood out most came from within the seminary. One letter, drafted by a student who witnessed seminarians severely injured while mediating between police and Columbia students, noted how our unique role as future chaplains and ministers allows us to instill change from within power structures more than any other vocation. Another document from the Union Commission itself highlighted the values of the seminary such as looking at the potential application of computers as technology evolves and the importance of the Burke Library.

This institutional memory clarified the gaps I felt between an earlier Union with activists like Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the later of James Cone. Those seminarians stood defiant with their peers before the atrocities beset upon an Eden and said no more. Their spirit of coming together against the destructive will of institutional corruption with compassion in their hearts is something that I pray I embolden over my next few years and the many more to come. -JH

“Spirit of ’68” Part I: Building an Exhibit…

The year 1968 has been memorialized recently with a slough of exhibits, events, new books, and other testimonials marking the 50th anniversaries of that year’s revolutionary upheavals, movements, and protests — Union Theological Seminary of course has a long history of resistance activism, and librarians at the Burke thought that Union should have its own display of archival materials from that historic year.

Recent memoirs and history monographs on the year 1968. Photograph by Carolyn Bratnober, The Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary (2018)

Recent memoirs and history monographs on the year 1968. Photograph by Carolyn Bratnober, The Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary (2018)

Little did I know, at the start of creating this exhibit, that Union underwent its own revolutionary changes that year, and indeed Union played a pivotal role in Columbia’s infamous 1968 student protests. My research for the 1968 exhibit unearthed some of this history, which I am excited to share via the Burke Blog as part of this series.

I knew about Columbia’s student protests from reading James Kunen’s memoir The Strawberry Statement many years ago. In April of 1968, students at Columbia occupied university buildings in protest of Columbia’s involvement in recruitment and weapons research for the War in Vietnam, and in the gentrification of Harlem in general. Columbia’s administration sought to quell the protests, which lasted several days and drew significant media attention, by calling law enforcement — whereupon, predictably, the police used brutal tactics against the students, throughout several days of violence. When I consulted the archives of Union Theological Seminary’s president’s office files, community photographs, and student publications from that time period, to see what I could find for our 1968 exhibit, I was heartened to see news coverage showing Union students involved in resistance during the Columbia protests, and even doing nonviolent interventions with the police. What surprised me was the fact that Union students and administrators came together on this issue, agreeing to cease all UTS classes for the remainder of the school year; there is a letter from President John C. Bennett included in the exhibit, officially halting classes and forming a series of alternative revolutionary teach-ins called the Free University in which students could assemble and strategize to build revolutionary momentum around the protests. I and my co-curators thought these events should definitely be the focal point of our exhibit on Union in ‘68. We conducted a great deal of research to get a closer look at these resistance efforts, which in fact catalyzed a series of liberatory changes at Union (which will be described in greater detail in subsequent blog posts by my collaborators) and we decided to call this exhibit “Spirit of ‘68: Revolution and Resistance at Union Theological Seminary.”

"Union Students Strike for Columbia" banner, UTS 2 Records, the Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York

“Union Students Strike for Columbia,” photograph (1968) UTS 2 Archive Records, the Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York

The whole exhibit was a team effort. Staff from the UTS Development Office, Emily Odom and Kevin Bentley, who possess extensive knowledge of Union alumni, helped with curation. It was their idea to host an event during the 50th Reunion of the UTS Class of 1968 in early October, when many alumni would be coming to town, which was truly a stroke of genius. We organized a nice reception to mark the opening of the exhibit on October 4th, and extended invitations throughout the Union community. Background research was a major part of putting the exhibit together, and the files from this time period in the UTS archives are extensive; thankfully, a Union student, Jake Hearen, offered to pitch in on the reading and research, and he became our indispensable Research Assistant for the project.

"Spirit of '68" exhibit display on level L1 of the Burke Library. Photo by Carolyn Bratnober, The Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary (2018).

“Spirit of ’68” exhibit display on level L1 of the Burke Library. Photo by Carolyn Bratnober, The Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary (2018).

Prior to starting the research for this exhibit, I had thought putting the physical display together was going to be the most challenging part; however, as it happened, members of the Conservation & Preservation Department for the Columbia University Libraries were happy to help construct photograph frames, book cradles, and display mounts for each of the items we selected. (After all, these materials are both unique and extremely fragile, and they deserve utmost care in their handling and display.) The entire team worked hard to create this exhibit, it was a massive undertaking and could definitely not have been done by one person alone.

For the opening reception, we also had the idea to involve the guests in collecting memories and metadata about the items on display– we put up a projector screen and projected a slideshow of images of documents and photographs from the time period, and invited guests to note in a nearby notebook if they recognized individuals by name, and dates and place info for events featured in the slideshow. We also included a table of books about 1968 for guests to browse (some of which are pictured here). It turned out to be quite an event, attended by alumni, faculty, librarians, and students, with sparkling conversation over desserts and champagne, and everyone seemed to enjoy the evening very much. Eventually I hope that research around these events will lead to broader understanding of this time period– I hope to include some of this crowd-sourced metadata in the archival Finding Aid, and to have many of the exhibit’s materials digitized for an online exhibit that will offer researchers the chance to see these items remotely in the years to come, and to continue exploring this revolutionary era in our community’s history.

Students and alumni at the "Spirit of '68" Exhibit Opening Reception (October 4, 2018). Photo by @UnionSeminary on Instagram (2018).

Students and alumni at the “Spirit of ’68” Exhibit Opening Reception (October 4, 2018). Photo by @UnionSeminary on Instagram (2018).

 

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!