Category Archives: Union Theological Seminary History

“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).

 

Alums CAN Access the Library!

‘Tis the season of graduations—from our college undergraduates to the newly-minted PhD’s, this month has been full of brilliant now-former students becoming a part of the extended alumni network.  As alums, you continue to have access to the Columbia Libraries System, in modified ways.

Photograph of happy graduating students at Columbia University Commencement 2018

Columbia University graduates, May of 2018. http://library.columbia.edu

Do not fear—your access to beloved library materials does not end with your matriculation from Barnard, Columbia, Teachers College, or Union Theological Seminary.

You can go onto the Columbia Libraries homepage and learn about access privileges at http://library.columbia.edu/services/using-libraries/alumni.html

Some of the highlights of alumni access privileges:

  • You can access E-Resources from the comfort of your own home!
  • You may come in and utilize the library and look at materials in person for the rest of your life!
  • You have the opportunity to pay for borrowing privileges for $30/month.  Borrowing privileges may be purchased over in Butler Library at the Library Information Office.

 

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.

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.

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. 

#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.”