Tag Archives: Luce

From Archives to Indonesia: Living a Luce Legacy

In January 2012, I began working with the archival collections of the Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary, helping to preserve, process, and make available the materials contained within the now-inoperative Missionary Research Library and William Adams Brown Ecumenical Library, both housed in Brown tower.  These collections included a large number of unprocessed rare materials gathered from all over the world by missionaries, missionary boards, and ecumenical councils that played a major role in shaping the international vision and spread of Christianity during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

What began for me as a curious but agreeable part-time work-study job to accompany my academic studies at Union and my career as a folk singer and songwriter, over the course of a year has come to play a significant role in my theological education and vocational development.  My encounters with hundreds of diary entries, letters, reports, news clippings, and pamphlets from the height of colonialism to the fall of communism and everything in between have forced me to reckon with the complexity surrounding the question of “Christian missions” within the real history of international ecumenical and interreligious relations, a history that is much richer and more nuanced than any secondary accounts on the subject would seem to suggest.

Every finding aid that I publish bears the name of Henry R. Luce, president, founder, and editor-in-chief of Time, Life, Fortune, and Sports Illustrated magazines.  This man who built a multimedia empire seems to have become something of a benefactor to me through the philanthropic foundation he established in 1936, in honor of his parents who were both missionary educators in China.  The Henry Luce Foundation not only funds my archival work for the Missionary Research Library, but it is also now sending me, through a separate grant, to live in Indonesia for the summer, where I will have the opportunity to live out my own story of discovering what it feels like to travel into the midst of an utterly different cultural and religious context and try to make sense of my encounters with humanity and with God as a minority and a stranger.


Gadjah Mada University, Yogyakarta, Indonesia

From June-July 2013, I will be living in the ancient city of Yogyakarta on Java, conducting a research project through the Center for Religious and Cross-Cultural Studies Graduate School at Gadjah Mada University.  In a Western context, my academic work has tried to highlight the theological depth in a diversity of artistic approaches to meaning-making across multiple genres and contexts, to complicate our notions of the categorical distinction between “the sacred” and “the secular,” a vocabulary that is often used by religious and non-religious people alike in Western culture to reinforce the perception that these two spheres of life are radically distinct and opposed.  Indonesia offers an opportunity to research how these categories do or do not apply in this particular non-Western and non-Christian context. 

This will mean getting to know the diverse cultures and people of Yogyakarta in order to understand perceptions about music and the relationships between the arts, religion, culture, and the Divine.  It will mean allowing myself to grow as an artist by listening carefully to the sounds of the region and letting them influence my ears and and inspire new thinking about the arts, the creative process, and what music in particular can do.  It also means confronting questions of cultural assimilation, artistic appropriation, and exploitation as they arise, and learning to navigate issues of power with relation to my ethnicity, nationality, and gender.

One of the most profound insights resulting from my work with the Missionary Research Library archival collections has been the humanization of history.  It is important to look back at the choices and decisions of our ancestors to see in retrospect how those choices have contributed to cycles of oppression and violence that have played out in our world.  The missionaries who worked “on the field” in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries were, in many ways, terribly short-sighted and as a result made decisions that helped contribute to genocide, oppression, cultural imperialism and other forms of violence.

Yet, that is not the entire story of missionary work.  I have not found in the stories and writings of history the wholly arrogant, ignorant, racist, condescending people of my postcolonial imagination, but people who were also in many ways humble, compassionate, thoughtful, radically self-aware, and critical of cultural imperialism and those in power.  At the end of the day, I noticed, people then were not very much different from people now: conflicted, confused, and frustrated with the limitations of their situation…yet still hopeful, basically well-intentioned, and striving in the best way they knew how in order to achieve positive outcomes in their lives and in the lives of others.

Thanks to my work in the archives I will go to Indonesia aware that I am likely to be not very much different from them: a representative of my culture and a product of my moment in history, limited, and imperfect, but still intent and hopeful to encounter That Which I Know Not with all the humility and grace I can muster.

Henry R. Luce Makes an Appearance


Credit to: MRL5: United Board for Christian Colleges in China Records, box 1, folder 2,
The Burke Library Archives (Columbia University Libraries) at Union Theological Seminary, New York.

If you recall from an earlier post detailing the relationship between the Burke Library and the Henry Luce Foundation, the press release which announced the funding included the following statement:

We are delighted that the Luce Foundation can play a part in The Burke Library's preservation of these important collections, so that they can be readily accessible to a wider readership," said Michael Gilligan, president of the Henry Luce Foundation. "Although these collections are distinct from our own archives, they are clearly linked to two parts of our history—Henry R. Luce's intention to honor his parents, Presbyterian missionary educators in China; and the foundation's early support for Christian ecumenism.

Henry Winters Luce and his wife, Elizabeth Root Luce, were Presbyterian missionaries in China during the early part of the twentieth century. Their children – Henry, Emmavail, Elizabeth and Sheldon – were all born in China. According to the Luce Foundation Website, "Luce made his first major gift in 1935, an endowment at Yenching University in Peking to honor his father’s work, and he intended his foundation as a lasting tribute to his parents…"

I always keep a special eye out for the Luce name, and I have found material where Henry Winters Luce had an association, or was perhaps a member of an organization or board.

Today I was excited to come across THE man himself, Henry Robinson Luce, in a new collection.

MRL5: East Asia, United Board for Christian Colleges in China (UBCCC) Records, 1931-1959 was the collection. The UBCCC was established to support and coordinate the activities of Protestant colleges and universities in China. It would later focus efforts more broadly across Asia and change the name to the United Board for Christian Higher Education in Asia. The collection includes annual reports and supporting information such as correspondence and budgets relating to overall activities.

Among the annual reports are lists of members who attended the meeting, as well as full lists of those who were on specific committees. Henry R. Luce appears to have been an active member of UBCCC, attending not only the annual meetings but serving on multiple subcommittees.

A great find indeed for this dreary Tuesday.

Luce + Archives

While processing the materials in MRL and WAB, we try to keep a special eye out for any collection which includes materials related to Henry Winters Luce. Henry W. Luce and his wife Elizabeth Root Luce were Presbyterian missionaries and educators in China during the early party of the twentieth century. Henry R. Luce, who started magazines such as Life and Time, created the Luce Foundation to honor his parents' legacy.

One such collection which we have that shows Henry Winters Luce activities is in MRL12: Eastern Fellowship of Professors of Missions Records, 1932-1965. HW Luce was secretary of this organization.


Credit to MRL 12: Eastern Fellowship of Professors of Missions Records, box 1, folder 8, The Burke Library Archives (Columbia University Libraries) at Union Theological Seminary, New York.

The Teachers of Missions Group was established to promote the fellowship, spiritual life and professional usefulness of its members through papers, discussion, prayer and social intercourse. Membership consisted of people in New England and the Mid-Atlantic area. The earliest records in this collection, recorded by secretary Henry Winters Luce, date from 1932; however the group began to meet informally in 1917. Early discussions included those on Laymen’s Foreign Missions Inquiry; interacting with International Missionary Council; and the discussion of training missionaries.


Minutes of the Meeting of the Teachers of Missions at Princeton Seminary, October 29, 1932.
Credit to MRL 12: Eastern Fellowship of Professors of Missions Records, box 1, folder 8, The Burke Library Archives (Columbia University Libraries) at Union Theological Seminary, New York.

The constitution was officially adopted April 1940 and stated their name as “The Fellowship of Professors of Missions.” Regular meetings were held twice per year with annual dues set at fifty cents. By 1954, the updated constitution changed the name to “The Association of Professors of Missions.” Membership was opened to professors of missions in the member institutions of the American Association of Theological Schools and by invitation. The meetings were also changed to once every two years.

In 1964, the name again changed to “The Eastern Fellowship of Professors of Missions” to show its region, as the group was a faction of the national Association of Professors of Missions. The national group became closely allied with the American Association of Missiology beginning in 1972. Both the Association of Professors of Missions and the American Association of Missiology are still in existence today.

We were excited to see Henry W. Luce and Henry R. Luce mentioned in the Foreign Missions Conference of North America collection, which is currently being processed. We will have more to share with Luce + Archives in the near future.

The Why

Now that you know a little more about the MRL and WAB collections, as well as the Luce Foundation, I thought it would be useful to explain the reason behind needing this project in the first place.

Most, if not all, archives and libraries have what we call "backlog." Our collections are continually growing: we gather historic documents; professors, alumni, etc… donate their records; people leave material to us in their will; things like that. Unfortunately we don't always have the time (or the funding) to fully process and make available collections as soon as they come into our possession. We give them basic care, security, and the proper environmental conditions and control, but physically arranging and intellectually describing materials can be very time-consuming.

Enter the first reason for this project.

A second major reason for this project and the need to care for MRL and WAB specifically is due to the damage suffered during a major water incursion disaster in the Burke's modern archives stacks in June 2003. Water from a plumbing accident in the Brown Tower (this Brown is not the same as William Adams Brown!), two floors above, saturated materials from the WAB and MRL collections.

The wet papers in disintegrating boxes were quickly removed, relocated, shipped out as an emergency, recovered by vacuum freeze drying, and returned. These collections, which had already experienced a variety of temperature and humidity changes from being used throughout the world by missionaries and ecumenists, became even more fragile and disordered. There was approximately 300 linear feet returned in a state of disarray, with WAB and MRL collections intermixed and much of the original order lost.

The MRL Archives present the special challenge of fragile acidic materials. Various climates combined with being stored for almost a century in acidic boxes in over-heated conditions throughout the history of the actual Missionary Research Library added to their fragile nature. Many unique items are tightly folded and require time, patience and preservation techniques to unfold and care for the items in the long-term.

Throughout the duration of the Luce Project at the Burke Library, which just passed the one-year mark, we will arrange, describe, and provide wide access to a total of 573 linear feet of hidden archives. This project will process the collections so that they are organized and described, with basic preservation treatment through stabilization in acid-free containers, ordered arrangement, and removal of corrosive metals and other materials. This arrangement will enable more advanced preservation treatment and the potential for surrogate copies and selective digitization on those materials which have been stabilized.

For the first time, researchers will have access to many first-hand descriptions of cultural conditions documented by missionaries, physicians, and social workers in Asia, Africa, Australia, North America, Oceania, and South America throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. This project will also be the first to provide access to the records of some of the most important events and institutions in the history of the worldwide ecumenical movement, with especially rich documentation of the religious and cultural history of New York City.

Aided by the Henry Luce Foundation

The Henry Luce Foundation is generously supporting the Burke Library Archives processing grant. As quoted on the press release:

"We are delighted that the Luce Foundation can play a part in The Burke Library's preservation of these important collections, so that they can be readily accessible to a wider readership," said Michael Gilligan, president of the Henry Luce Foundation. "Although these collections are distinct from our own archives, they are clearly linked to two parts of our history—Henry R. Luce's intention to honor his parents, Presbyterian missionary educators in China; and the foundation's early support for Christian ecumenism."

The Henry Luce Foundation is dedicated to encouraging the development of religious leaders through theological education, and fostering scholarship that links the academy to religious communities and other audiences.

The Missionary Research Library Archives include a number of materials that involve Luce. Among European and North American libraries and archives, only MRL at Burke holds the 10pg. ecumenical document that was authored and utilized by Henry Winters Luce in 1910 for "cooperative survey of theological and bible training schools in China." MRL offers the only copy of "Minutes, Constitution, and Reports" of the Christian Educational Association of Shantung and Honan Provinces from 1917, which was the final year of H.W. Luce's professorship at Shantung Christian University. Luce was also the traveling secretary of the Student Volunteer Movement for Foreign Missions from 1894-1895 and 1896-1897, which occurred after his two years at Union Theological Seminary.

These three examples from the life of Henry Winters Luce illustrate the unique cultural depth, geographic breadth, and historical importance of the missionary and ecumenical archives at the Burke Library. This project will allow for the provision of intellectual and physical access to two of the largest and most significant archival collections of ecumenical and missionary papers currently in existence.