Category Archives: Collections

Burke’s Religious Education Collection

Not much is known about how or why this large collection of college catalogs came to Union Theological Seminary except we did find postcards stuck into a few of them that tells us these were intentionally being sent and collected.  One such postcard included in this small exhibit dated from July 29, 1913, states:

 

We publish our Catalogue only once in two years. We are using 1912 with a supplemental slip, a copy of which I am sending you.

Fraternally,

Alfred Theol[ogical] Sem[inary]

  1. E. [last name illegible]

Ranging in years from approximately 1826 to 1983, this assembled collection is collectively referred to as the Burke Religious Education Collection and consists of school catalogs, registers, announcements, and bulletins mostly from seminaries and each have been cataloged and are findable through the library’s online catalog – CLIO (http://clio.columbia.edu).  

From plain beginnings to robust examples of graphic design, these catalogs offer a lot of information.  From names of students enrolled, to the names of professors teaching, to the courses being taught — numerous lines of inquiry can be drawn from these information-packed booklets.

 

 

This small exhibit will be on display on the 1st floor of the Burke Library through till the end of the fall 2017 semester.

All of these catalogs are cataloged and findable through the library’s online catalog (CLIO), to see all of the records just do a series search for “Religious Education Collection.”

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.

 

***

 

 

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.

Behind the Stacks: You had me at “charts”

Since my last “Behind the Stacks” entry on R. C. Shimeall’s A Complete Ecclesiastical Chart, I have been noticing more charts, awkward formats, and too-large items within our special collections. As a redux of that post, here featured is another circular chart of history and yet another exhaustive production from Shimeall. Enjoy the images!

Cover — James M. Ludlow. Ludlow’s concentric chart of history. New York : Funk & Wagnalls, [c1885]. (Union Rare HH95 L94)

Spread of leaves charting B.C. history and “Modern Quarter Centuries” — Ludlow’s concentric chart of history.

Spread of leaves charting A.D. history; chart is approximately 23 cm in diameter — Ludlow’s concentric chart of history.

Title vignette of chart “exhibiting in one view the… Posterity of every Person mentioned in Scripture” — R. C. Shimeall. A complete historical chronological geographical & genealogical chart of the sacred Scriptures from Adam to Christ. Philadelphia : Published by H.S. Tanner, 1832. (Union Rare CU S55)

 “Explanation of characters” and “Directions for the proper method of reading this map” — A complete… chart of the sacred Scriptures from Adam to Christ.

Full view; chart is approximately 50 x 61 inches — A complete… chart of the sacred Scriptures from Adam to Christ.

To learn more about viewing special collections material at the Burke Library, please visit our website at Burke Rare Books & Manuscripts.

Exotic Travel, Biblical Geography and Tragedy in 1904: The Lewis Bayles Paton Papers

Among the many collections of personal papers held at The Burke, there is a small cache of materials belonging to Biblical geographer Lewis Bayles Paton and his first wife, Suvia Davison Paton. The Patons traveled throughout the Middle East in the early 20th century and Lewis led the American School for Oriental Study and Research in Palestine (based in Jerusalem) from 1903-1904. I was particularly interested in the documents written by Suvia Davison Paton, as they are mostly personal correspondence and diaries from her travels in Europe and the Middle East. Such travel accounts are invaluable in helping historians reconstruct Americans’ experiences abroad over 100 years ago but they are also poignant since they record how places change over time and how they remain the same despite the passage of many decades. Below are some anecdotes from the letters and diaries of Lewis and Suvia that really resonated with me. They offer a window into the lives of intrepid theologians and travelers in the early 20th century.

Lewis Bayles Paton in the early 1930s

Suvia’s description of a June 1890 visit to the Blue Grotto at Italy’s island of Capri is remarkably similar to the experience of a 21st century traveler on the island. Suvia and her husband visited Capri from Naples, traveling by ferry the 26 miles from the mainland to the island. “We were taken to the blue grotto first & left the steamer in row boats to enter the grotto as it is only 3 ft. high at the entrance. Everyone was obliged to get down in the bottom of the boat as we passed through the grotto but the grotto is 40 or 50 ft. high in the centre. A dozen boats were in it at the same time as all the passengers entered the cave & only 3 are allowed in one boat beside the boatman.”

Some years later, in the early 20th century, while they visited Venice, Italy, Lewis and Suvia attended Sunday morning mass at the Scotch Presbyterian church and she describes a quaint, intimate service: “About 40 people were present. The Scotch minister and his wife are earnest people & very pleasant. Afterwards there was a communion service to which we were all invited. 25 remained. The minister passed the one silver goblet of wine & a small plate of bread. It was a simple but impressive service which we all enjoyed. It reminded us of the gathering of the disciples in an upper chamber.”

When Lewis and Suvia journeyed to the Middle East in June 1903 so Lewis could continue his studies and lead the American School for Oriental Study and Research in Palestine, they landed first in Beirut. Geopolitics have changed significantly since the Patons’ arrival, as both Lewis and Suvia describe Beirut as being a city in Syria. Lebanon didn’t even exist as an independent nation! The Patons spent time in Damascus, Beirut, Smyrna, Palestine, and Egypt, visiting ancient sites like Jericho, the Sea of Galilee, and the Cedars of Lebanon.

A letter from Lewis to his mother-in-law from Cairo in January 1904. Their hotel boasted electricity and an elevator!

A flower collected and pressed by Suvia in Haifa in February 1904.

According to Lewis’ Report of the Director, 1903-04, written for the Managing Committee of the American School of Archaeology in Palestine (which included representatives from both Union Theological Seminary and Columbia University), his own studies were “devoted chiefly to the topography of ancient Jerusalem. I investigated all the archaeological remains that were accessible, and obtained a large collection of excellent photographs. …At the request of the Trustees of Hartford Theological Seminary [where Paton taught] I took advantage of my residence in Jerusalem and my trips to other parts of the country to make a quite complete collection of objects illustrating the life of the Bedawins and of the Fellahin. This collection is now on exhibition in the Museum of Hartford Theological Seminary, where it is open to the inspection of the public.” One wonders where these artifacts are today!

Lewis and Suvia led a very full life during their time in Jerusalem, participating in archaeological excavations and socializing with other scholars and diplomats residing in the region in this period. Tragedy struck in March 1904 when Suvia fell off the horse she was riding near Amman, Jordan and died shortly after, never regaining consciousness. Lewis touchingly records the incident in his report to the Managing Committee:

“Late in the spring, just before the end of the School year, we planned a tour in company of Dr. Masterman of Jerusalem, to make a more thorough study of ‘Araq el-Amir, then to visit Amman, Jerash, Pella, the Decapolis, and to return by way of Beisan and Nablus. We had gone as far as Amman, and were just starting on the road to Jerash. It was a cool, cloudy morning, and we were riding slowly over a level, grassy spot, when suddenly, without any warning, and without uttering a cry, Mrs. Paton fell from her horse. Her head struck on a sharp stone, and she never regained consciousness. We were able to move her to the Amman station on the new pilgrimage railway from Damascus to Mecca, and to take her in a train to Damascus. She died on the train within two hours of Damascus, and I was obliged to bury her body in Damascus. She was the constant companion of my travels, and whatever success may have attended the work of the School during the past winter is due to her enthusiasm and brave willingness to put up with the inconveniences of life in Palestine.”

It must have been so shocking and so awful for everyone involved, particularly Lewis, to have lost his beloved young wife suddenly and unexpectedly. Their young daughter had already gone back to the United States several months earlier but one feels, even more than a century later, so much sympathy for the family at such a devastating loss. The Paton collection at The Burke includes several carefully snipped and pasted obituaries and newspaper articles documenting Suvia’s death.

Lewis Bayles Paton went on to marry two more times before his death in 1932 and he enjoyed a successful career teaching and writing on diverse theological subjects. Anyone interested in Biblical geography, Western perceptions of the Middle East in the early 20th century, or personal travel accounts from a pair of adventurous Americans, should look to the Paton papers for illumination.

A Window into a Life’s Work: The Eddy Papers

N.B.: The following post was written by Bo Reynolds, a recent M.Div. graduate from Union and current archives assistant processing the papers of Norman and Margaret Eddy with the generous financial support of the Eddy family. Read more to learn about Bo’s spring working with this collection at the Burke! And congratulations to Bo and the rest of Union’s Class of 2017!

Since November 2016 I’ve been working as an intern in the Burke Library, specifically hired to process the Norman and Peg Eddy papers. The collection is a large one, with their photos, journals, correspondence, and personal archives filling 86 banker’s boxes which, when lined up side to side, extend over 118 linear feet. Norman and Margaret (Peg) were both Union alumni, members of the class of 1951, and dedicated their lives to ministering in East Harlem, initially through involvement with the East Harlem Protestant Parish and continuing with the different ministries and churches which were the heirs of EHPP’s spiritual legacy. Norman and Peg’s family, particularly their daughter Martha Eddy, continue to be actively involved with the collection as they work on compiling a biographical narrative of their parent’s faith and service.

Peg and Norman, May 30, 1951, shortly after their graduation from Union. UTS1: Norman and Margaret Eddy Papers, The Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary, Columbia University in the City of New York

 

I have a greater grasp on Norman’s life than I do Peg’s by virtue of his many varied autobiographical efforts and his meticulous preservation of his journals, essays, work-related materials, and correspondence dating back into his year spent as an exchange student at The Stowe School in 1937-1938 (where he became acquainted with Christopher Robin, son of AA Milne, author of Winnie the Pooh). Norman later studied at Yale, while Peg studied at Smith. Norman completed his course of study at Yale early, leading the class effort to acquire their degrees ahead of schedule in order to be able to serve in the war effort; he volunteered for the American Field Service as an ambulance driver.

 

Peg’s Union Diploma, May 22, 1951. UTS1: Norman and Margaret Eddy Papers, The Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary, Columbia University in the City of New York.

 

Both Norm and Peg were drawn to pursue theological study by the experience of a

spiritual vision: His was in the Syrian desert, hers at a light house in Nantucket. They both sensed that the Holy Spirit was at work broadly within the world, drawing people of faith and goodwill into cooperative efforts to address social ills; they both entered Union Theological Seminary in 1948, married in 1950, and graduated and were ordained in Congregationalist churches in 1951. They had become individually aware of the ministry efforts in East Harlem by the East Harlem Protestant Parish during their time at UTS and became co-pastors of the 100th street storefront church for the first five years of their ministries.

Norman and Peg lived and worked in East Harlem for the entirety of their ministries, with a deep commitment not only to their parishioners, but to the neighborhood itself and its citizens. I am not studying archival science; I came to Union Theological Seminary in order to prepare myself for parish ministry in the Episcopal Church. As I spend time organizing, preserving, and reading the materials left behind by Norman and Peg Eddy, I am continually inspired by the work and faith of the Eddy family. Their energy seems boundless as they tackled school reform, local elections, the formation of a credit union, the construction of two new church buildings, a committee to assist those addicted to Narcotics, global travel, interfaith work, and numerous sermons and essays. Their love for their neighborhood and their neighbors is immediately evident the amount of support, tangible and intangible, that they gave through reference letters for first-generation college students, advocacy and pastoral support for the incarcerated, anonymous donations to families in need, housing and shelter for those who had none; the list goes on.

Some of Norman’s letters from WWII (January, April, June 1943). UTS1: Norman and Margaret Eddy Papers, the Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary, Columbia University in the City of New York.

I am mindful, however, not to stray into writing hagiography. Their life’s work came with great personal cost at times and there are many instances of setback, heartbreak, and frustration present in their letters and journals. For me, though, the Eddys represent a life of true solidarity with those that they served. They lived in the community alongside their parishioners and made the cares and struggles of East Harlem their own. I read and handle their materials with deep gratitude for their race well-run and for the opportunity to encounter their ministries and stories in such a deeply personal manner. As I graduate and move on from Union towards a life of ordained ministry, I will remember the example and faith of Norman and Peg Eddy as I seek to walk in solidarity with people of faith and goodwill in service to ‘the least of these’.

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. 

Missionary Research Library Pamphlets: 3,000+ Now Available Online!

Global in scope and including materials from as far back as the 18th century, the Missionary Research Library (MRL), housed at the Burke Library, chronicles world history and the efforts of Protestant missionaries both in the United States and abroad. The MRL contains over 20,000 pamphlets (among other items) and now, thanks to the hard work and dedication of Columbia’s Libraries Preservation and Digital Conversion staff, more than 3,000 have been fully digitized and are freely accessible online!

An outcome of the World Missionary Conference, Edinburgh, 1910, the MRL was founded in 1914 by John R. Mott (with funding from John D. Rockefeller, Jr.) in connection with the Foreign Missions Conference of North America. In 1929, the MRL was housed in the Brown Memorial Tower of Union Theological Seminary, its Board of Trustees composed of FMCNA (later DOM-NCCCUSA) and UTS members. In 1976, its unique collections, the documentary heritage of Ecumenical Protestantism, were transferred into the care of the Burke Library.

The MRL Archives contains collections of named missionaries’ papers and institutional records within 12 geographic divisions:

Series 1. Africa
Series 2. Near/Middle East
Series 3. South Asia
Series 4. Southeast Asia
Series 5. East Asia
Series 6. China
Series 7. Japan
Series 8. Korea
Series 9. Latin America
Series 10. North America
Series 11. Australia and Oceania
Series 12. Ecumenical/World Mission

The digitization work will continue this year as we look forward to sharing even more pamphlets from the MRL collection with the world. For anyone interested in MRL, please see the finding aids for the 12 archival series and Columbia’s catalog, CLIO, for individual pamphlets within the collection.

Ethiopian Holdings at the Burke

The Thompson Collection — 77 printed works as well as 9 manuscripts acquired in 1923 as a gift from philanthropist Mary Clark Thompson — comprises a small but important section of the Burke Library’s special collections, containing several of its most celebrated printed Bibles. These include the 1611 King James Version, the 1661 Algonguian Bible (sometimes called the “Eliot Indian Bible”), and the Hebrew and Greek testaments owned and annotated by poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning.

Mary Clark Thompson (1835-1923), from the Sonnenberg Gardens and Mansion State Historic Park

The Thompson Collection includes a copy of the first book printed in the Ethiopic: the Psalterium Aethiopicum(The work is also known as the Psalterium David et cantica aliqua in lingua Chaldea, reflecting the erroneous belief on the part of its sponsor and publisher that Ge’ez — ancient Ethiopic, now used primarily as a liturgical language — was related to the near eastern language Chaldean.) In order to print the work, the Ge’ez type had to be designed and cut, an important moment in the history of printing technology. King’s College London has digitized their copy of this work as an online exhibit well worth further exploration.

Psalm 1 in the Burke Library’s copy of the Psalterium Aethiopicum (Thompson CB46 .4 1513)

The Burke Library also holds 5 Ethiopic manuscripts, dating from the 18th to the 20th centuries. Ethiopic Manuscript 5 was partially digitized, showing here both an illumination of Christ as the Lamb of God as well as its maḫdär, a leather satchel used for transport.

A passage from the 2005 Columbia University Libraries exhibition of which it was a part provides further some context:

This collection of Ethiopian magical prayers includes those that can be used against demons for each day of the week, and prayers for overcoming enemies. It also includes “images,” an “image” being a hymn in honor of a saint in which the different members of his or her body are addressed in successive stages. The book is bound in wooden boards covered in reddish tooled leather in which crosses have been worked. The leather carrying case was used to facilitate easy and safe transport. The manuscript’s elegant script is enhanced by two kinds of decoration: abstract, linear motifs that highlight textual transitions and figural representations. This is a fine example of an African-Christian culture to which the African-American community has, from earliest days, looked as a source and model.

Behind the Stacks: “At a single view” – Shimeall’s A Complete Ecclesiastical Chart

Close-up of the 15th and 16th century sections in Shimeall’s A Complete Ecclesiastical Chart, showing proximity of the advent of printing and the Reformation

One of the joys of my job as Collections Services Assistant is the ability to browse the closed stacks where we store our rare books and special collections. One item I happened to find recently was too large and unwieldy to simply peek at, and since there’s no telling when some reader will next request this item for it to see the light of day, I brought it down to our conference room to spread it out and admire the scale and detail of this chart.

Full view of the 3.5 feet wide circular chart

 

Created by Richard Cunningham Shimeall in 1833, and revised at the latest in 1853, this item may be best described by listing its full title:

A COMPLETE ECCLESIASTICAL CHART, From the earliest Records, SACRED AND PROFANE, DOWN TO THE PRESENT DAY; SHOWING ITS CONNECTION WITH CIVIL HISTORY AND PROPHECY: And exhibiting at a single view, the IDENTITY AND PERPETUITY of the CHURCH, IN HER ADVERSE AND PROSPEROUS STATES, UNDER THE Mosaic and Christian Dispensations, And embracing a detailed account of the Political Events, External History, Internal Government, Religious Observances, and growing corruptions of the Church; and of the REFORMATION: AND EMBRACING THE NAMES OF REMARKABLE PERSONS; Viz. Bishops, Popes, Martyrs, Writers, Doctors, Philosophers, Emperors, &c. And a general survey of Doctrines, Sects, Councils, and Prevailing Philosophy; The comparative Rise, Revolutions, and Fall, of the PRINCIPAL EMPIRES IN THE WORLD, And a complete Nucleus to the FULFILMENT OF PROPHECY OF THE WHOLE.

Section of chart showing figures and events of the “Æra of the Jewish Church”

In the accompanying key to the chart (also available in digitized form), Shimeall describes how the chart is to be read and how he has used shapes, colors, and placement to indicate the changing size or influence of the Church in relation to civil and political events.

Data visualization, 19th century-style: section of chart showing the “Æra of the Christian Church” and the use of widths of color bands to show comparative social forces in time.

Truly a feast of type, decoration, and illustration, the chart was engraved and printed by Samuel Styles of New York. Imagine composing and proofing for this job!

Close-up of the 1st century section, showing a box that seems to have been mistakenly left blank

Calling the chart his “Great Circle,” Shimeall chose the circular shape to “serve as an intimation of [the Church of the living God’s] final recovery to a state of eternal peace and glory.”

Close-up of vignette in the 19th century section, depicting an angel and a broken hourglass, seeming to herald the “Prelude to the close of time.”

The Burke Library’s copies of the key to the chart come with pages of contemporary testimonials and reviews, and many of the reviewers express the sentiment that they could not do justice to the exhaustive detail of the chart and recommend that the work be viewed in person. And indeed, we welcome and invite you to view this or other rare books held by the Burke Library.  To learn more about visiting our library or to make an appointment please visit our website.

“Our Spiritual Industry Will Go on Uninterrupted…”: The Construction Fire at Riverside Church, 1928

In an earlier blog post about Rev. Harry Emerson Fosdick, a Union alumnus/professor and the founding pastor at The Riverside Church, I described his ministry to American servicemen and women during WWII despite his fierce commitment to pacifism. The Burke’s collection of Fosdick’s papers covers most of his adult life and prolific career as a leader in liberal theology, spanning the first six decades of the 20th century. Given the significance of The Riverside Church in Fosdick’s life and work, there is a substantial amount of material in his papers relating to the church’s history. One of the more fascinating stories (among many) is the enormous construction fire in 1928 that delayed the church’s opening.

Financed by John D. Rockefeller Jr.’s vast fortune, construction on The Riverside Church began in 1926 and by the end of 1928 great progress had been made. A published photo taken on Dec. 18, 1928 in the January 3, 1929 issue of The Church Monthly shows the 300-foot steel framework of the church’s massive tower (that would still rise another 100 feet) ready to be encased in Indiana limestone.

Just three days after this photograph was taken, however, a fire broke out on the night of December 21, 1928 that set the entire wooden scaffolding inside the church ablaze, calling out hundreds of firefighters and thousands of aghast spectators to the scene of the conflagration. The fire was so large and so intense that it could be seen miles away across the Hudson River in New Jersey (the below image is from the same issue of The Church Monthly, Jan. 3, 1929).

The Fosdick papers include a clipping from the UK’s Daily Mail from December 24, 1928 that reports:

“In bitter winter weather more than 100,000 people gathered round the flaming building as hundreds of firemen vainly tried to subdue the blazing cauldron. Fanned by an icy wind, the flames fed on a forest of timber scaffolding and spread to the framework of the 400ft. Tower, which would have carried the world’s finest carillon from a famous English foundry. The woodwork disappeared like matchwood, while a pillar of fire shot hundreds of feet into the air. As streams of water were pumped into the flames it quickly froze into icicles, hampering the firemen in their work.”

According to Fosdick’s 1956 autobiography, The Living of These Days, the cause of the fire was a carelessly strung electrical wire that wrought enough damage to delay construction and the church’s opening by a full year. Luckily, because the fire started at night, no one was injured or killed; had the flames erupted during the day, when hundreds of construction workers were busy inside, the casualties could have been catastrophic. Two other photos from the same issue of The Church Monthly show the smoldering ruins of the church’s interior and the charred skeleton of its once mighty tower.

 

In his Sunday sermon following the fire, Rev. Fosdick addressed his parish from the pulpit of the Park Avenue Baptist Church (Riverside’s predecessor): “You will understand without my going into details that the church is involved in no loss in this matter save loss of convenience and time. This postponement of our entrance into our new building is a source of great disappointment, but it is the part of a Christian congregation, as of a Christian man, to face such exigencies with fortitude and good-will. In the name of the ministers and responsible officers of the church I wish publicly to express the appreciation which we feel for the outpouring of sympathy and good-will from every side.” The Fosdick papers include sympathy notes, cards, and records of donations from well-wishers around the globe including letters from Scotland, Greece, Japan, Switzerland, Canada, and a heartfelt note from Dean Howard Robbins of Riverside’s Morningside Heights neighbor, The Cathedral of St. John the Divine.

Given the fire’s size and proximity to Union Theological Seminary, it is no surprise that UTS sustained some damage.  Rev. Fosdick and then President of UTS, Henry Sloane Coffin, exchanged letters in January 1929, in which Coffin declined Fosdick’s offer to pay for the damages. Fosdick declares himself “not easy in conscience about the Seminary having to carry the reimbursement of individuals at 99 Claremont Avenue who lost possessions during the fire” and urges Coffin to reconsider the church’s offer. There are no records, however, in the Fosdick papers to suggest that UTS ever accepted any financial recompense from The Riverside Church following the fire. One tangible (and lasting result) of Riverside’s fire was a change in New York City building laws requiring that scaffolding be made of metal rather than wood to prevent another disaster of the size and scale of The Riverside Church construction fire of 1928.

If you are interested in Rev. Fosdick, The Riverside Church, or liberal theology in the 20th century, I encourage you to explore the Burke’s collection of Fosdick papers. I certainly plan to dig deeper so stay tuned!