Category Archives: Archives

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.

Cartoonists, Dramaturgs and Old Testament Feminists: An Archivist’s First Months at the Burke

Hello Burke world! I joined Union’s library staff this February, filling a vacant Project Archivist position whose previous occupant guided the successful processing of the William Adams Brown Ecumenical Library Archives, the Missionary Research Library collection, and more with the support of the Henry Luce Foundation and other grant-funding organizations and individuals. I’m originally from New Mexico (a place with an aridity that I’m sorely missing during my first summer on this swampy island), and recently completed my M.L.I.S. in Archival Studies from McGill University in Montreal. Coming into this community has been in many ways a rigorous crash course in ecumenical studies, but happily a smooth process of folding into and keeping step with the everyday work of a small academic archive situated in an expansive research university. The learning curve I’ve ridden this spring has been notable given my status as a new archival professional with interests both in academic librarianship, special collections and rare books and archives. Prior to coming to the Burke, my background in archival practice had been situated in the U.S. and Canada, and primarily saw me leading small survey and processing projects in cultural heritage, art and academic settings with an acronym-riddled arsenal of best practices and archival theory at my disposal.

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Phyllis Trible at work. Trible’s archive consists of text-based, visual materials and realia reflecting Trible’s historic career in Biblical criticism, feminist studies and the Old Testament. Her papers bridge the UTS Archives to the Archives of Women in Theological Scholarship, and is an actively growing collection now available for on-site consultation. 

The extent of my religious studies acumen prior to joining the Burke was limited to my middling knowledge of the Presbyterian beginnings of the small Midwestern town where I lived during college, the particular dryness of Eucharistic hosts during my Catholic adolescence, and a fairweather interest in the eternal consequences of my meager mortal actions. I come from a literary studies and critical theory background, and have always been drawn toward the nuanced, less visible ways in which people and communities of people make sense or chalk up their experiences of this life, those experiences of religion and spirituality that respectively become occasions for world-making, diasporas, rituals and art forms that seem endlessly abundant in relief and hope. Part of what compels me toward the humanities, history and narrative has been the particular privilege and work of acknowledging my own ignorance of the world beyond my own, the limits of individual perspective, but also of the ways in which knowledge is produced to bind our subjectivities to one another. In the process of memory-making and historicization, I am equally interested in the erasures and violences that also constitute a part of the ways in which we understand our spiritual and social worlds.  Theology, perhaps more than any field I’ve taken up so far in my life and nascent work, attests to this pervasive knee-jerk desire to balance sense-making with reverence, critical thought with faith, silence with articulation. This process of coming to know, even in silence and subjectivity, is what drew me to library science, and archival practice in particular.

The projects that met me at the Burke did not disappoint. As the Project Archivist responsible for the processing, housing, and long-term preservation of the UTS 1 Archives – an aggregate of archival collections stemming from faculty, alumni, and other Union-affiliated individuals acquired by the library – I have become a sudden steward of a world steeping in interdisciplinary, interdenominational discourse. From my first day in the library, I realized that I had entered a space that, though a slim five-block walk north of Columbia’s Morningside Heights campus, is unique in its historical and academic context. As one of my colleagues told me on admiring the crucifix-emblazoned doorknobs leading into our on-site archival space, “The divine is in the details”. It’s indeed astonishing to be a custodian of archival collections outside my formal background and to learn so quickly and richly about the haptic space the seminary is situated in, the gargoyles that greet me in the stairwell, the filigreed doorknobs evoking Union’s denominational past, the engraved edifice on the neighboring Jewish Theological Seminary (…“And the bush was not consumed”), or the limestone gauntlet of the neighboring Interchurch Center (a.k.a. the God Box).

The variance and allure of the people and spaces I’ve had the privilege of connecting with since arriving at the Burke has been matched only by the archival collections themselves. With the invaluable assistance of library school interns, Columbia and UTS student employees, and the support of my colleagues and mentors, I have been bolstered in processing the papers of people like Phyllis Trible, a beacon of Union’s community and bracing feminist Biblical scholar; Max Coots, a Unitarian Universalist minister and Union graduate whose joint Master’s in religious education in 1953 between Teacher’s College at Columbia and Union was fulfilled with a brilliant full-color cartoon thesis depicting the politics of post-war activism, racism and redemption through the UU tradition; and the papers of Bob Seaver, Union’s beloved late professor of Speech and Drama, whose papers include audiovisual evidence of his singular teaching style as well as his extensive work in religious drama in the ecumenical and theater communities. Perhaps one of my favorite things about Seaver’s papers so far have been his extensive notes used when preparing for his courses in preaching. In these notes, Seaver’s approach to vocal exercise and tuning the human voice become a form of scrawled language poetry. One undated note card reads:

We’ve been dealing with how to release breath
F U L L Y
Breath — The source of sound
Work on the jaw
Tongue, concerns
Throat
How to free the channels
Through which sound travels
Jaw — widens the exit
When some deep emotion
Is the impulse for sound

Tongue — shapes sound 
Articulation
Throat — the main channel
The task — relax the channel

Stimulate the source.

***

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Two frames of Max Alden Coots’ cartoon thesis submitted in fulfillment of his M.Div./M.Ed. in 1953 from Teachers College and UTS. Coots, an artist and Unitarian Universalist Minister, is one exemplar of the visually and conceptually compelling approaches to religious education that Union alumni and faculty have practiced throughout their careers. 

Processing collections coming from individuals like these is not only a privileged sort of intellectual labor, but one that begs to be curated and made accessible to researchers beyond the auspices of Union’s immediate audience. Drawing on the talents of our in-house staff and from the support of our larger organization, I feel confident that new knots of researchers, students, scholars, and armchair theologians will find themselves as intrigued by the gems to be found at the Burke as I have become only six months into this new role through a mix of digital curatorial work, on-site exhibitions, cross-institutional collaborations, and streamlined practices for uploading and curating finding aids.

As I scythe through the work accomplished and the projects that I’ll undertake over the next two years, I am becoming pinchingly aware that I’ve just begun to skim the surface, to scratch the bed of all the intellectual and physical labor that lies ahead. As we approach our goal of 30-35 linear feet of processed archives per month, and as the steamy heat lamp of New York City summer settles in, I could hardly feel more energized to embark on the remaining mountain of collections. Where do you even begin to excavate the history of glory? Flick light, switch on dual monitor. Select Start.

 

Letters between a Prisoner and a Soldier: The Houser-Shinn Correspondence from the Roger L. Shinn Collection

 

“I’ve never had the experience of writing to anyone in the army before. I suppose you’ve never written to anyone in jail before, so I guess we’re even.”  George Houser, July 17, 1941

George Houser and Roger Shinn first met as students at Union Theological Seminary, living across the hall from each other on the fifth floor of the dorms. The two young men, both sons of pastors, bonded in their early years of graduate school, frequently stopping by each other’s rooms for long conversations and playing on the same basketball team. As World War II escalated, they together began to question the role of Christians in matters of war and peace, and co-wrote an editorial in The Union Review about their correspondence with Canon Raven, a British pacifist. They shared admiration for Raven’s expression of his pacifism, and wrote together in the spring of 1940 that “in the ultimate analysis, the Christian must stand for the way of the Cross, and the problem of war is the place for our age to take the stand.”

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Credit: UTS1: Roger L. Shinn Papers, 1920-2010, Series 3D, box 1 folder 1, the Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary, Columbia University in the City of New York.

Ultimately, however, the two friends took quite different stands. Houser decided that it was his duty as a Christian to reject war and consequently refused, along with seven other students at Union, to register for the draft. He was subsequently arrested and served a year at Danbury Federal Prison instead of completing his degree at Union. Shinn not only registered for the draft, but waived the exemption he could have taken as a theological student. Rather than continue on with his doctoral studies after graduating from Union, he began basic training for the Army. Throughout Houser’s imprisonment and Shinn’s training, the pair maintained a steady correspondence. The conversations that had once taken place in their fifth-floor dorm rooms now occurred in letters as they continued to wrestle with their respective positions. Shinn held onto copies of the letters he typed to Houser, along with Houser’s handwritten responses from prison:

“I’ve been sending out Christmas cards this week. The two-cent stamps which I got at the post office have pictures of big guns on them and the words ‘National Defense.’ It seemed a terrible irony to be putting those stamps on Christmas cards… Reconciliation is so much more wonderful than fighting. I just don’t see how it can be accomplished until some other forces are crushed.”
– Shinn’s letter to Houser, Dec  22, 1940

“In the abstract-that is, in principle-you and I agree pretty much. But the more I think about the world situation, the more I feel that I would have to become a complete defeatist and cynic in order to support one side or the other in the war… The cycle has to be broken somewhere, and I think one of the important points at which to break it is at the point of the method of war.”
– Houser’s reply to Shinn, Dec 26, 1940.

Even as their differing positions took them further and further from each other, Shinn and Houser diligently reminded each other of the shared aspects of their convictions. The tone of their letters remained light even as they disagreed, with friendly banter and frequent apologies for not having the time to write more. As Shinn’s number came up in the draft he wrestled with whether or not he should join the Army or take advantage of his exemption as his mentors, Reinhold Niebuhr and Henry Sloane Coffin, advised. When he decided that, given his support for the war he felt compelled to serve in it, Houser was one of the first people he told. Houser wrote back disagreeing with his friend but supporting his decision to accept the consequences of supporting the war.

“To me it is impossible for a person to accept comfort and luxury for himself while others are suffering and deprived. This is an eternal criticism of the faculty of Union Seminary as far as I am concerned. How Reiny [Reinhold Niebuhr] can do it is more than I can see. The danger of his position is just that of not ceasing to compromise. Of course I expect nothing different from Uncle Henry [Henry Sloane Coffin]. So I think from this angle, your choice is right…”
– George Houser, Feb 20, 1940

Neither friend shied from challenging  the other to change his mind. As Shinn prepared to go to war and Houser realized that he would not be able to return to Union, their letters tell their sadness about how their paths, and those of their community at seminary, had diverged. This sadness and the strength of their differing convictions only made their theological and ethical debates more urgent.

“…It is not like a year ago, when we could brush past our differences by simply saying of the other fellow, ‘he’s sincere,’ or ‘he’s a good fellow.’ When you actually believe thoroughly that the other man, if his policies were carried out, would plunge the world into turmoil and chaos, or remove any possibility of historical justice, then the differences cannot be reconciled breezily. Unity, then, must lie in a faith more profound than the church has usually preached.”
– Roger Shinn, July 4, 1941

A letter from the Danbury, Connecticut prison where Houser was incarcerated, notifying Shinn that he is not authorized to correspond with Houser.

A letter from the warden of the Danbury, Connecticut prison where George Houser was incarcerated, notifying Roger Shinn that he is not authorized to correspond with Houser.

After 1941, the correspondence between the two men appears to stop. No more letters to or from Houser appear in the Shinn collection. Their lives continued to head in different, though related, directions. Houser moved to Chicago to work for the Fellowship of Reconciliation, a pacifist anti-war organization, and then turned his attention to civil rights issues within the United States. He helped to found the Congress for Racial Equality in 1942 and participated in the original Freedom Ride before devoting the rest of his career to abolishing apartheid and colonial rule in Africa.

Rev. George Houser with fellow CORE member and civil rights fighter at a sit-in in Ohio. Credit: Congress of Racial Equality, the New York Times.

Rev. George Houser with fellow CORE member and civil rights fighter Bayard Rustin at a sit-in in Ohio. Credit: Congress of Racial Equality, the New York Times.

 

 

Shinn, meanwhile, served in World War II and was held as a prisoner of war. Upon his return, he completed his doctorate at Columbia and enjoyed a long career at Union as a faculty member, dean of instruction and, briefly, acting president. His participation in later political activities at Union is particularly notable in light of his earlier friendship with Houser. When Union students again refused to register for the draft during the Vietnam War, Roger was one of the faculty members who wrote a letter supporting them. He also was among members of the Union community who published a statement regarding apartheid in South Africa in 1967, and worked through the 1980s to divest the Seminary’s endowment of shares in companies profiting from apartheid. Although the former hallmates chose different ways of living into their convictions as Christians, it seems that throughout their lives they continued to “agree pretty much.”

Hanging Out With Ulanov

Since the beginning of 2016, I have been working to finish up some processing projects in the archives. In particular, I have taken over the initial processing of the papers from former Union alumna and Professor Ann Belford Ulanov. These papers start with her work from her student years at Radcliffe College and end as faculty at Union Theological Seminary. A much larger portion of the collection covers Dr. Ulanov’s career within the Psych and Religion Department at Union as well as the manuscripts she produced.

Erin blog post

Although it is always such a wonderful feeling to finish up a project, continuing to process another person’s work can at times be difficult. Sometimes you have an outline of what to expect and others you will just have to dive right in and see for yourself. For this collection, a fair amount has already been processed and what I have been doing is tackling sub-series, piece by piece, to make sure that what it contains does not belong elsewhere. This has been my first collection where I am using my judgment in such a way and it has been very educational.

Of course archivists cannot really read while doing this initial level of processing. I just have to peruse enough to figure out what each piece is and put it with similar items in large folders. Yet still, I love that I get a sense of who a person is by their papers. What kind of correspondence did they keep? What voice did they use with students, peers, and members of the community? What mementos did they keep years later? How did they organize it all?

With the portion Dr. Ulanov’s papers that I have been working through, I have been able to get an interesting portrait of who she was during her time here. It spans decades and I even saw hints of old arguments that are still alive on campus today. As I write this, I am winding down to the last box out of 7 in the last sub-series to be accounted for. There is still quite a ways to go, but I feel getting it all done will leave me with a lovely sense of accomplishment.