Tag Archives: WAB

Final Thoughts on My Last Day at Burke

As I sat on the subway during my commute this morning, it occurred to me that this is the last time I will be heading uptown and entering the doors of the Union Theological Seminary and finding my way to the Burke Library. Interning at the Burke Library Archives this summer has been an incredibly rewarding experience. Throughout the summer I processed five collections; arranging and rehousing the material, writing finding aids, uploading them to Burke’s website, editing Voyager catalogue records, and creating EAD versions. Along with these five collections, I have also worked with Brigette and my fellow interns to tackle the immense collection of administrative files created by the Missionary Research Library (MRL).

Throughout the summer I worked on three collections from MRL 12: Ecumenical/World and two from the WAB collection. The first collection I processed was the Ecumenical Conference on Foreign Missions Records, which documented the largest international missionary conference held in New York in 1900. This was the most extensive collection I independently processed this summer, with a total of six manuscript boxes as well as an oversize item. After the Ecumenical Conference collection, I worked on the Board of Foreign Missions of the Netherlands Reformed Church Records, Preparation of Missionaries Records, the John Ferguson Moore Papers, and the Hendrik Kraemer Papers. Hendrik Kraemer was a Dutch Reformed missionary leader and professor who gave a series of lectures on The Christian Faith and Non-Christian Religions at the University of Geneva in 1954. The collection consists solely of that lecture series. Similarly, the John Ferguson Moore Papers document the Protestant author and Y.M.C.A railroad secretary’s research on Roman Catholicism and the Church’s opinion towards secret societies through an incomplete typescript and reports.

I personally found the two other MRL collections to be slightly more challenging than the Moore and Kraemer Papers. The Preparation of Missionaries Records is an artificial collection that was created by the Missionary Research Library by gathering information and material from a variety of sources on the subject of missionary and personnel training. Since the material was collected by MRL as a subject file it was necessary to keep the material together, even though some of the material comes from organizations found in other Burke collections. Another challenging collection was the Board of Foreign Missions of the Netherlands Reformed Church. Not only was much of this material written in Dutch, forcing me to utilize online translators to determine the subject matter, it was originally two separate collections. Series 1 of this collection was originally called the Netherlands Missionary Society Papers, but in researching the organization and discovering that the society eventually merged with the Netherlands Board of Foreign Missions, I determined that the documents should be brought together into a single collection.

When I first started this internship I had already had some experience processing collections, but working with Brigette and the MRL and WAB collections provided me with the opportunity to really hone those skills. These collections document organizations and individuals that have left lasting impressions on missionary and religious scholarship, and I am excited that the work I have done to arrange and document the collections will contribute to a future researcher’s work.

Working with Brigette has been an invaluable experience; she truly wants her interns to have the best experience possible and always takes time to answer questions, teach new skills and discuss best practices and strategies for tackling challenging material. Not only did Brigette impart her knowledge of processing, she also took the time to discuss professional development with me and my fellow interns. Brigette encouraged us to utilize Web 2.0 technology to our advantage, and she showed us her online portfolio and gave us a tutorial on how to create one ourselves. Though I will miss coming to Burke twice a week and working with Brigette and my fellow interns, I am grateful for the experience and the knowledge I have gained from the opportunity.

New Records from the Early Years of the National Council of Churches


Source: National Council of the Churches Website, © 2012. Accessed 28 January 2013 at http://www.ncccusa.org/.

 

A large collection of records from the first two decades of the National Council of Churches (NCC) has recently been reprocessed and made available again thanks to a grant from the Henry Luce Foundation.  This collection is held by Columbia University at the Burke Library as part of the William Adams Brown Ecumenical Archives Collection. 

In addition to the work of reprocessing, several boxes of documents were pulled from a large pile of unprocessed materials and were added to the existing collection.  These reports, consultation summaries, minutes, correspondence and planning documents – formerly unavailable to researchers – now have the potential to shed new light on issues facing the NCC during the height of its influence in the 1950s and 1960s. 

Particularly interesting are the ways that the ecumenical movement, the civil rights movement, and the developing theology of Christian missions among mainline Protestants all intersected during this time in order to shape the NCC's vision and trajectory.  For example, two boxes of papers from the desk of Robert C. Dodds reveal how extensively he used his position as General Director of the NCC Planning Committee to fight racism within the church, and how this ultimately came to effect the structure of the organization as a whole.  In a recorded conversation with Joseph Oldham, Dodds shared the following:

It became evident as a result of our analyses that the churches themselves were profoundly implicated in racial injustice in the U.S., that they have furthered it and supported it by their doctrines, by what they actually preach from certain pulpits, by their silences, and by their support of the system which made racial injustice possible.  Well, this wasn’t very happy news for the churches to receive.  They didn’t like it, and you can understand why.  We tried to make it sugar-coated, but you can’t sugar-coat that kind of message.  Well, it was as a result of that kind of thing that the communions finally – some of them – began to express concern about what we ought to be doing in long range planning. 

It was the discomfort of those church communions who had been called into account for their racist attitudes and practices that apparently motivated the subsequent 1965 restructuring of the Council in which power was centralized and Dodds was moved to the department of Ecumenical Affairs. 

The bulk of materials in the collection are from the NCC’s Division of Foreign Missions, which later became the Division of Overseas Ministries and constituted the largest unit of the organization both financially and administratively.  Now available for the first time are a number of reports conducted by the Division of Foreign Missions' Research Committee in conjunction with the Missionary Research Library on the subject of missiology, including an unpublished paper by H. Richard Neihbur outlining a theology for the missionary obligation of the church.  

The NCC served as a prominent international voice for the Protestant churches of the U.S. during the mid-twentieth century.  Through the work of its Division of Foreign Missions in particular, the NCC collected materials and conducted extensive reports pertaining to significant world affairs and their relationship to the churches.  As such, this collection contains reports, news articles, pamphlets, and other primary documents concerning events of international and ecumenical significance such as Vatican II, the North American Assembly on African Affairs, and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, as well as organizations like the Congo Protestant Relief Agency, the Ecumenical Program for Emergency Action in Africa, the International African Institute, and Mindolo Ecumenical Foundation, and general subjects of relevance such as education and world literacy, mass communication, bilateral conversations, Israel and the Middle East, Cuba, Marxism and Chinese communism, South African apartheid, the civil rights movement and black liberation theology, and Vietnam. 

Newly available in this collection are also documents outlining the various proposals that were considered in the restructuring of the NCC in 1973. 

The main repository of archival records for the National Council of Churches is in Philadelphia, PA, and so it is especially exciting to make this extensive collection of the organization’s earliest records available at the Burke Library, located right next door to NCC’s current administrative offices, placing these valuable historical documents – and the perspective that could be gained from reading them – right at the organization’s fingertips. 

The finding aid for this collection can be found on the Burke Library Archives website or by following this link directly to the Finding Aid.

State Council of Churches and Wrap-Up

I want to put in a quick plug for the collection that I just finished…on my LAST day of my internship here at the Burke Archives.  Then I'll do a little wrap up of my time here and what I learned.

WAB: State Council of Churches Records, 1943 – 1974
Abstract
: Regional ecumenical and interfaith organizations come together under the umbrella of their respective state council of churches.  Rooted in local communities they are able to respond to needs specific to that region.  These councils are agencies of cooperation focused on service and Christian unity. Collection contains bulletins, magazines, newspapers, pamphlets, correspondence, annual meeting minutes and reports.

Collection Scope and Content Note: The majority of the collection is comprised of state council bulletins or newsletters and annual state council meetings.  New York, Ohio, Massachusetts and New Jersey form the bulk of the collection.  Of note within the New York collection is a smaller collection pertaining to the New York City Protestant council, which was a large regional council serving the local needs of the city.  The Ohio collection is a large run of the Ohio Christian News dating from 1946 to 1971.  The Massachusetts collection also contains a large run of the state council’s newsletter Christian Outlook and copies of annual reports.  The New Jersey collection contains reports of its annual meetings from 1958 to 1974.  Michigan is contained in block parenthesis because the state was inferred from locale information contained in the annual meeting report. The collection is arranged alphabetically according to state.  Within the state divisions, state councils are organized first with county, regional and city councils following.  Each folder is arranged alphabetically and the materials within those folders are arranged chronologically.  Other state councils in the collection include Alabama, California – Nevada, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Maine, Minnesota, Oregon, Texas, Vermont, Virginia and Washington.

Wrap Up!

My final day at the Burke has arrived.  My time here has gone by amazingly fast and I am surprised with the fact that I was able to complete the processing  and DAM on four collections.  Granted one collection contained a single book, but it still feels good to have some experience under my belt.  So did I accomplish what I hoped to accomplish, was the experience all that I had hoped it would be?  Absolutely! This was definitely the place where I could test my theoretical knowledge of archival processing by putting it into practice.  The mundane tasks of sorting, discarding, re-housing and labeling are no longer intimidating mysteries.  Not surprisingly, considering my love of organization, those mundane tasks were some of my favorite activities.  Thankfully, I encountered no bugs and only a little bit of dirt and dust. I was able to shift my focus from item level description to box and folder description and adhere to the “More Product Less Process” standard.  I gradually figured out how to limit my tendency to be verbose in regards to my historical notes and scope and contents notes.  While I’m not perfect and still  have a difficult time using sentence fragments in the abstract, I am much better at it than when I started.  It’s nice to see less and less corrective red from Brigette on them.  I even enjoyed being able to put my long dormant historian training to use while I was researching historical and biographical information regarding the collections. 

Learning how to do archival processing, while important, was not my only goal.  I wanted to learn and experience a way to make internships not only benefit the institutions, but teach students life-long lessons.  My final paper for my Practicum focuses on the need for constructionist and constructivist based learning as a way to engage students more actively in the learning process.  Both methods encourage students to actively interact and create within and with the physical world rather than passively receiving knowledge; however constructionism additionally requires the production of a tangible object in the final outcome.  Learning becomes more than knowledge acquisition and becomes a process of identity formation and empowerment.   Mentors, supervisors, and teachers who use these approaches make it easier for students to see their work not only as personally enriching but also of value to the community they are serving.  As such, new knowledge is not only more effectively embedded in the students mind, but the students become embedded in the community they serve.

I’m only using this high flung academic-speak to illustrate that Brigette uses these approaches to teaching archival practice and processing.  I did not just create finding aids, but I made them available online increasing access, spoke about their relevance in various blog entries, posted information regarding the new collections on Twitter and Facebook, I was even informed one of the collections was given to me because a user had requested the material and the library wanted to accommodate the request in a timely manner.  I did not just learn archival theory or just the do’s and don’ts of archival processing, but I created a tangible object that tied me to a community of archivists and archives users.  Eventually I began to describe myself as an archivist when asked what I do.  I am no longer just a library graduate student, but because of what I was able to accomplish I now identify with being an archivist.  I no longer limit my job searches to special collections or museum libraries. It was great to see this teaching method in action and see the personal affect it had on me.  

If you are still on the fence regarding archives, if you don’t have a clue what to do in an archive, even if you love them I would recommend coming here for an internship and becoming part of the archivist community.  It was a great experience!

Federal Council of Churches and the Bethlehem Steel Strike of 1910

While working on the Federal Council of Churches in America Records collection it is not surprising (considering my American Studies background) that I found the materials relating to the Bethlehem Steel strike of 1910 the most interesting.  The materials comprise an almost minuscule portion of the collection; only one folder, but I love primary source documents and I love figuring out their relationship to the history they are involved in.  It is easy to get distracted while processing a collection on the items that we as archivists personally find interesting, so instead of letting my research only enlighten myself I thought I would write a little bit about the strike and its relation to the papers in our collection.

“At its founding in 1908 the Federal Council [of Churches (FCC)] issued its ‘Social Creed of the Churches.’  This statement on the social responsibility of Christians marked only the beginning of FCC’s work in this field.  The FCC stood behind such issues as worker’s rights to organize or shorter working hours for American labor.”   It is a striking coincidence that the official formation of the FCC  in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania coincided with John Andrews Fitch famous sociological study of the working conditions of the steel workers industry (1907-1908)  in the other major city in Pennsylvania: Pittsburgh.  The steel industry employed almost 80,000 workers in the city and virtually controlled social and civic life.  Fitch spent those two years observing steel workers on the job.  He examined the health problems and accidents which resulted from the pressure of long hours, hazardous machinery, and speed-ups in production.  He also analyzed the early experiments in welfare capitalism, such as accident prevention and compensation and pensions.  His book The Steel Workers was published in 1910 the same year as the Bethlehem Steel Strike.  It is interesting to note that included among the papers in the FCC collection are letters of correspondence between John A. Fitch, who was writing an article on the Bethlehem Strike for “The Survey” and Rev. Francis S. Hort, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church and member of the Ministerial Association in Bethlehem. 


The strike began on February 4, 1910 and lasted 108 days.  The workers main grievances revolved around low pay and long hours.  They wanted Bethlehem Steel Co. owner Charles M. Schwab to agree to give them Sundays off and to raise the laborers’ pay of 12 cents an hour.  They also wanted a change in the “bonus system,” which paid skilled workers so little it forced them to work overtime.  After almost a month of striking Schwab still refused to meet the demands and called in the police instead, resulting in a riot after police charged into a crowd of bystanders beating men, women and children.  Although the riot galvanized the striking workers for a little while to remain on strike as they attempted to get support from local clergy and national organizations, by early May only a fraction of the almost 9000 men originally involved remained on strike.  The U. S. Bureau of Labor began an investigation on March 17 of the Bethlehem strike and on May 4 released its report, which is also located in this collection.   It concluded that “over 97 percent of the work force had a work day of 10 hours, and 51 percent worked 12 hours or more. Twenty nine percent of the men worked seven-day weeks with no extra pay for Sunday work.”  Unfortunately the report had little effect on changing Schwab’s mind, he allowed the men back to work, but made no changes to the working conditions or the worker's wages. 

The FCC’s involvement in the strike was to conduct a survey of the situation after the strike was officially over.  Under the direction of Dr. Josiah Strong; social reformer, proponent of the social gospel and chairman of the Social Services Commission, the survey was done to determine how best the FCC could serve the steel workers.  The survey of the Social Services Commission was not necessarily met with open arms. The FCC collection contains a letter to Josiah Strong and others on the Commission, from  the leaders of the Ministerial Association of Bethlehem, Rev. Francis S. Hort, Rev. Paul de Schweinitz and Rev. G. Schwede.  They state, “The recent strike has been settled.  The remainder of the men, who held out until the final adjustment, have just returned to work.  It appears to us most inopportune and untimely to stir up the whole matter again.  Had your proposition come at the time of the investigation by the Commissioner of Labor, or during the strike period, such an investigation might have been helpful.”  They feared that after four months of “bitter contest” and peaceful relations restored, because there had been no real resolution that the Commission led by Dr. Strong would stir up those bitter feelings again and do more damage than good. 

The Commission proceeded with the survey, thankfully hostilities were not renewed, but the recommendations of the Commission to the FCC would encourage them to become more involved in labor issues and help fight for better working conditions.  The beginnings of this are born out in a letter dated June 10, 1910 from Charles Stelzle secretary of the Commission on the Church and Social Service in which he recommends to the Ministers Association, “the observance of a Labor Sunday on September 4th…and that various ministers preach sermons appropriate to the occasion…”  According to Resolution No. 122 of the Toronto Federation of Labor Convention, as part of Labor Sunday “the churches in America be requested to devote some part of this day to a presentation of the labor question.”  As a result of the survey the FCC concluded that all Christian denominations should advocate for a higher living wage, passage of Sunday labor laws, reduction of the hours of labor, safe working conditions, an end to child labor, and provision for the old age workers and those incapacitated by injury.


Primary source documents mentioned and photographed in this post are contained in a single folder in the FCC Records collection.  (Box 2, Folder 3).

Other sources used are:

           Fitch, John Andrews, and Russell Sage Foundation Charities Publication Committee. The   Steel Workers. Charities Publication Committee, 1911. Web. 23 Oct. 2012.

           Presbyterian Historical Society. “Federal Council of the Churches of Christ in America Records, 1894-1952.” Web. 22 Oct. 2012.

           Whelan, Frank. “Steel Strike Of 1910 Wrote Bitter Chapter In Labor History.” The Morning Call: Lehigh Valley’s Newspaper. 10 Mar. 1985. Web. 4 Dec. 2012.

Unity in the Midst of Diversity

I have finished processing my very first ever archival collection, the American Bilateral Conversations Records in the William Adams Brown Ecumenical Archives Group.  When I started I didn’t have much of an idea of what most of that meant.  I had no idea what a bilateral conversation entailed and I was only faintly familiar with what ecumenical meant.  I have to say this; previous to processing this collection I was on the fence about whether or not I would like to be an archivist.  I knew that there would be things that I would like, but would they seem less enjoyable when faced with the downside, the dirty and the buggy (I’m not a huge fan of bugs)?   The answer is “Yes!  I’m hooked!”  I can deal with the mess and the dirt (and bugs) because I get to do all the things that I love.  Namely, organize, label, research and then make it accessible for others to use. It is the last one that gives me the most amount of satisfaction.  Now others will be able use this collection and hopefully it will lead them to new understandings and new connections that didn’t exist before. 

On the downside I spent 3 weeks inventorying and organizing the collection.  I felt that this was a little too long for the size of collection I had, but I have to keep in mind that I’m only there for 10 hours a week and it is my first time.  I need to squelch the urge to do item level description; I feel this is my biggest hurdle to get over.  The cataloger in me just wants to describe every little thing.  I was also nervous about having to write a history about something I knew so little about and I’m a bit anxious about doing it right.  I love to do research and I am truly interested in this topic, so much so that I would find myself distracted by some of the papers that were written for consideration at these ecumenical conferences.  I am impressed with the sentiments and recognition of the necessity of unity within all members of the church everywhere.  I took pictures of a few of the statements I found while I was sorting through the material, so that I would have examples of some of the quotes I liked and to show what the papers look like.  When reading the quotes keep in mind most of these papers were written in the late 60s.  (NOTE: I have “retouched” the papers in the photographs to get rid of the text that doesn’t apply to what I’m talking about; I didn’t want the distraction of other portions of the text in the photograph.  All of these papers can be viewed in their entirety by following the citations underneath the pictures.)

Hanlon

Daniel J. O’Hanlon, S. J. “The Ministry and Order of the Church” Credit to
WAB: American Bilateral Conversations Records, Series 1, Box 4, Folder 16, The Burke Library Archives, Columbia University Libraries, at Union Theological Seminary, New York.

I like the simple realization that what these church leaders were attempting to do wasn’t easy, but that division is a problem worth trying to fix.  I love Glenn E. Baumann’s statement about the right to worship within inter Christian marriages.  Following Baumann's quote, Monsignor Henry G. J. Beck had similar desire for unity rather than division on this same topic.


Glenn E. Baumann, “The Churches and Their Attitudes Toward Inter Christian Marriages “
Credit to WAB: American Bilateral Conversations Records, Series 1, Box 5, Folder 2, The Burke Library Archives, Columbia University Libraries, at Union Theological Seminary, New York.


Monsignor Henry G. J. Beck, “Proposed Pastoral Guidelines for Inter-Christian Marriages”
Credit to WAB: American Bilateral Conversations Records, Series 1, Box 5, Folder 2, The Burke Library Archives, Columbia University Libraries, at Union Theological Seminary, New York.

I grabbed this one from a paper about the ordination of women because I liked the corrections that were penciled in.  I don’t know if you can read the words that are “carroted” in at the end but it says, “respond creatively to…” It is obvious that unity in all aspects was a difficult task.


Unknown, “The Ordination of Women”
Credit to WAB: American Bilateral Conversations Records, Series 1, Box 5, Folder 4, The Burke Library Archives, Columbia University Libraries, at Union Theological Seminary, New York.

This last quote by Robert McAfee Brown I just like.  I thought it was an interesting way to regard the study of the New Testament.

Robert McAfee Brown “Order and Ministry in the Reformed Tradition”
Credit to WAB: American Bilateral Conversations Records, Series 1, Box 4, Folder 16, The Burke Library Archives, Columbia University Libraries, at Union Theological Seminary, New York.

It is a fascinating topic and relevant even today, as ecumenical discussions are still on going. Some of the topics remain the same and some of the topics are new, but the idea behind unity in the church is still a driving force.  It was fascinating to discover that this tiny collection covers a very important era in the world wide ecumenical movement.  The collection mainly deals with Roman Catholic bilateral conversations; I learned it was in the early 60s; after Vatican II, the Roman Catholic Church came into full involvement in the ecumenical movement, (which began at the World Missionary Conference in 1910 at Edinburgh.)  In fact, there was a recent New York Times Op-Ed article, "Opening the Church to the World," which discusses the effects Vatican II had on the international ecumenical relationships of the Roman Catholic Church. 

It is also interesting to note that the Roman Catholic Church tended to favor and encourage a methodology of bilateral or two-party conversations, while most ecumenical discussions were multilateral.  In one of the books that I used to research the history of the ecumenical movement, the editor, John A. Radano recommended “more analysis of these dialogue reports, and accounts of what they have achieved are needed…” The scope of this collection reflects this pivotal point in the history of the modern ecumenical collection and I am happy to add a new collection to canon of ecumenical records to help in that analysis.

Sources:

O’Malley, John W. “Vatican II Opened the Church to the World.” The New York Times 10 Oct. 2012. Accessed: 15 Oct. 2012.

Radano, John A. Editor. Celebrating a Century of Ecumenism: Exploring the Achievements of International Dialogue: In Commemoration of the Centenary of the 1910 Edinburgh World Missionary Conference. Grand Rapids, Mich: W.B. Eerdmans Pub. Co, 2012.

The Beginning of a Beautiful Career: Interning at the Burke Library Archives

Scouring boxes of papers for an indication of original order, picking out rusty staples, developing an appreciation for acid-free paper, trying not to walk into film crews, eating lunch in a pristine courtyard, and translating the disturbing reports of prisoners of war: these were just a few of the things I did as an intern at the Burke Library Archives earlier this year. This internship was my first foray into archival processing, and I admit I’m hooked. For someone wondering whether or not to intern at Burke, here are a few reasons why you should do it.

First and foremost, Brigette, the Project Archivist and my internship supervisor, is an absolutely fantastic mentor. She has a unique way of combining flawless professionalism with warm guidance and encouragement. I was immediately impressed with how organized and prepared she was at my interview; never before had I had an interviewer answer so many of the questions I’d prepared before I even got to ask them. Brigette’s amazing guidance continued on my first day when she gave me a stack of background readings that constituted a crash course in the most essential knowledge to begin processing archival collections, including readings on both the nuts and bolts of processing and what it means to be an archivist on a more philosophical level. I’m drawn to both the hands-on work of processing and the greater calling of archivists to be activists and advocates of their profession in addition to being stewards of their collections, so I ate this up.

The second reason you should intern at the Burke is that you get to work in a beautiful place. The professor for my Archives Management course this semester pointed out on the first day that archives are either housed in the basement or in the attic. In Burke’s case, we’re in the attic. I realized the first day during my tour that while the Union Theological Seminary is a gorgeous old building (hence the film crews using it for various TV shows), it is also gorgeous old building, and housing valuable historical primary materials under a potentially leaky roof is sometimes just part of the everyday pain and risk of being an archivist. I also admit, though, that the archives work environment is alluring to me. There was something about the inclusion of a spiral staircase and dusty work environment in the internship description that took me back to my undergraduate days of being a theater properties master, and it just somehow seemed fitting to get back into that kind of a workspace. During a tour of the Burke my first day, I was taken up that spiral staircase to see where the Missionary Research Library (MRL) and William Adams Brown Ecumenical Library (WAB) collections that I would be working with were housed, and again I was charmed.

Last but not least, the experience you get working with Brigette at the Burke Library Archives is invaluable. After gaining firm grounding in the space and basic knowledge of archives processing, I was entrusted with processing a few small collections. Brigette’s guidance was absolutely essential to begin with, and I was grateful to have the feeling that I was able to ask any question at any time.

I began to translate a collection of reports from German-speaking missionaries stationed in Cameroon who were taken as prisoners of war in 1914 when the English and French armies took control of the area – see the Finding Aid for more. These reports were fascinating (you can read about them in another blog post). I was very happy to have the chance to use my German language skills to contribute to the archives in a unique way. This again was thanks to Brigette, who was sensitive and creative enough as a supervisor to offer me projects that built on my existing skills.

My most significant project at the Burke was processing the papers of John J. Banninga, a collection that was highlighted as particularly significant in the Henry Luce Foundation grant funding our work on the MRL and WAB collections. This collection includes a wealth of information on the efforts to unite Christian churches in South India, an initiative that took decades to realize and encompassed the greater part of Banninga’s career. The letters, reports, and clippings he kept reveal deep complexities and sometimes surprising disagreements that arose in the attempt to bring together churches that function largely autonomously elsewhere in the world. Both processing the actual papers and researching Banninga and the Church of South India gave me a peek into a discipline and an area of the world of which I have very limited knowledge. One of the reasons I decided to become an archivist/librarian is the opportunity to continually learn while simultaneously enabling future research.

I can say there was no part of my internship at the Burke Library Archives that I did not enjoy. The best times were when my finished finding aids were approved, and when I was able to publish them online and see them come up in the Columbia University Library catalog. I learned a great deal about processing archives, and made a very small contribution to research. Perhaps most importantly, though, this internship was the beginning of what I think (and hope) will be a long and beautiful career.

Lea was recently hired as a part-time processing archivist at the Center for Jewish History in New York City.

World Council of Churches Records Available!

We are excited to announce that the World Council of Churches Records, 1893-1975 is officially open for researchers! Thanks to Amy Meverden for her hard work on this during her CUL Primary Sources internship.

The World Council of Churches (WCC) Records comprise materials documenting the inception and institutional proceedings of the organization. Established to create dialogue between various Christian expressions of faith through publications, action committees, and assemblies. Collection contains materials such as correspondence, records, pamphlets, and photographs.

Records and documents relating to commissions, committees, conferences, and General Assemblies of the World Council of Churches including pre-Amsterdam, 1948 World Council of Churches in process. Includes various committees and commissions, including Life and Work, Faith and Order, Evangelism, World Council of Churches and International Missionary Council merger, Churches and International Affairs, Laity, Women in the Church, World Christian Youth, Church and Society, Churches Participation in Development, Inter-Church Aid, Refugee and World Service, and History of the Ecumenical Movement.

Look to the finding aid for more information.

One Collection Down…


Credit to WAB: City Council of Churches Records, Box 4, Folder 10,
The Burke Library Archives (Columbia University Libraries) at Union Theological Seminary, New York.

I started on August 28th, and ended on September 25th – in a little less than a month, I finished processing my first collection from start to finish. It’s incredible how differently it feels than jumping into a collection in medias res, and only helping process a portion of it. I finally got to witness and experience “the bigger picture” of processing archival collections, and all the things (some delightful, others…not so much!) that go with it.

So, did I like it overall? Absolutely! For my first collection, Brigette assigned me the City Council of Churches Records from the William Adams Brown Ecumenical Library Archives. The first step was giving the collection a quick survey, or once-over, before I started on my official work plan. After writing down almost every item in the collection in my notebook (apparently I didn’t think of using the computer to do this, for some reason – honestly, it baffles me!), I was ready to put together my work plan. I decided on how I wanted to organize the collection, described its physical state, and contemplated its research potential, among other things.  Once approved, I set off to work!

Now, I’m not going to say that this came easy to me. It didn’t. I have come to learn that archivists need to develop a certain way of thinking about things. Honestly, I never thought I would see the day when I would agonize over whether something is a pamphlet or a brochure, or if that pamphlet would go under a folder titled “Events” instead. Brigette called it “archival anxiety,” and if you had asked me a month ago what that was, I wouldn’t be able to give you an answer. Now? Well, now I know! Throughout the course of my first processing venture I asked many a question of Brigette, and though I thought that I was asking too many, she only said that she would rather I ask now than make mistakes that I would have to go back and fix later. I learned that every archivist organizes things differently and thinks about collections differently – you just have to stick with your gut and be consistent. I won’t lie, though – this was a very hard mindset to wrap my head around. I wonder, does it ever get easier?

Finally, the day came when I finished the physical processing. I went from four tattered, torn and messy boxes of material to six impeccably (if I do say so myself!) neat and ordered record cartons. The sense of accomplishment I felt (and still feel) was huge. I did that! Other people would actually be coming in to research the collection I had worked so hard on.  However, the work wasn’t over yet.

The next step was to work on my finding aid. I tweaked the template made available to me and did research to flesh out the Historical Note detailing the background of the collection. Once I finished the Scope and Content Note (i.e. what kind of materials are in the collection and what topics are covered), I was finished. At least, I thought I was finished.

But wait – there’s more! Fast forward to today. I made a couple of quick edits to the finding aid and affixed the box labels, and it was sent to the Burke archivist for one more look over. Once approved, Brigette gave me a lesson in Digital Asset Management, in how to upload my finding aid to the web, as well as in how to catalogue it. We walked through each process step by step, and they were just as non-intimidating as Brigette said. I have to say, it is one thing to finish processing a collection, but what good is it if it’s not available online? Seeing that active link on the Burke Archives website and in CLIO really brought this entire experience to life and shot my feelings of accomplishment through the roof.

The absolute final touch (I’m telling the truth this time, I promise!) was announcing that the City Council of Churches Records collection was now available for research.  With the help of social media superstars Facebook and Twitter, followers of the Burke Library will know that the collection is finally processed and ready for use.

So would I do it all again? You bet. Despite the bouts of “archival anxiety” (which I’m sure will be making multiple comebacks), I learned an immense amount in the process. Seeing a collection through from beginning to end gave me a better idea of how archivists work and how they train their brains to think. Not only that, but it gave me a sense of accomplishment and confidence, affirming that, yes, I am capable of doing this. I can’t wait to see what’s in store for me next!

…and I have a good feeling you’ll all be hearing about it, too.  Stay tuned.

My finding aid can be found here: City Council of Churches Records, 1909-1970, and you can also check out my CLIO entry.

The Value of Ecumenical and Missionary Records


Credit to: WAB: Foreign Missions Conference of North America Records, The Burke Library Archives (Columbia University Libraries) at Union Theological Seminary, New York.

I had the pleasure of working on the World Council of Churches (WCC) and the Foreign Missions Conference of North America (FMCNA) collections this summer and the following highlights the materials that I found to be most interesting and the ways in which these materials enhance my research. The WCC is an organization dedicated to ecumenical dialogue within the Christian tradition (and beyond), and the FMCNA organization is a missionary relief effort that, through various committees, sought to assist the underserved or populations in crisis.

While working on the WCC records, I found an extensive collection of scholarly papers and had the pleasure of looking at correspondence addressed to “My dear Reinie” (Reinhold Niebuhr) regarding papers presented at the WCC general assemblies. Among these papers were discussions of general theological interest, but also papers on ethics and education. I was pleased to see, firsthand, the level of scholarly discourse and intentionality engaged in by the WCC as it met to discuss ecumenism and a vision for the global, unified Christian church. One discovery that made me so proud was the forward-thinking nature of the materials circulated by the WCC on the inclusion of women and a push to discuss race issues long before such discussions were vogue. I know that these papers are published in volumes and circulating in general collections, but holding the hand-typed conference papers, seeing notes in margins, and reading correspondence regarding edits brings to life the work and efforts of the ecumenists.

My absolute favorite part of the WCC collection is the photographs series; I could look at these photos all day long. It was fun to see snapshots from the decennial assemblies, marking the passage of time through ever-enhancing technology and the preferred fashions of the day. From petticoats to bell bottoms, the photographs series documents the growth of the WCC movement, and takes a special look at Union Theological Seminary’s role. I was actually quite surprised at how involved Union’s professors were in WCC efforts, and pleased to see scholars emerging from their ivory towers to engage in ecumenical discussions via the black and white photos depicting hand shakes, scholars robes, and a general Union seminary presence at these assemblies.

The FMCNA collection is a missionary relief organization and the materials here reflect the efforts of the FMCNA to provide assistance to communities suffering from war, famine, natural disaster, and poverty. Going through the FMCNA materials is like reading a world history book that details events of the past century. From accounts documenting accounts of the Gripsholm cruise ship as it braved war zones to trade Japanese citizens for US prisoners of war, to journals documenting Guerrilla Relief efforts in Japanese-occupied China in 1939, the materials depict the many logistics involved in these relief efforts. What these materials convey is less a story of white colonial domination and more an account of assistance in the midst of crisis, as the FMCNA stepped in to care for the most vulnerable individuals.

One of the most disturbing images I saw while working on this collection was a newsletter in the Committee on East Asia materials that had a picture of toddler orphan children from China living among the corpses of the toddlers who did not survive. Starving babies were crawling over their now deceased playmates, crying, emaciated, and alone. For all the commercials of hungry children compelling television viewers to donate to relief organizations, I have never seen an image like this. The FMCNA stepped into many war-torn situations, similar to the one in China, and provided aid via the Orphan Relief network.

That’s the amazing thing that most people do not realize about the missionary records that we keep here at the Burke Archives and about missionary archives in general: some of history’s greatest atrocities are documented and recorded in the accounts of missionaries. Missionaries are on the front lines (and not just in a spiritual sense), in the literal, day-to-day sense of living through various crises, and exchanging correspondence that documents historical accounts and needs from the margins back to the “dominant culture.”

At the end of the day, this is one of the greatest research benefits of the missionary collections housed at Burke and one of the most useful insights I gleaned in working with the WCC and FMCNA records: the value of perspective, location, and presence in the midst of crisis.

A Lay Person’s Love-Hate Relationship with “More Product Less Process”

As a doctoral student, and specifically a student of ancient Near Eastern languages, I have learned to become increasingly detail oriented (read: anal retentive) as the years pass. The longer I study cuneiform, the smaller my handwriting gets and I have noticed certain OCD tendencies related to classification and organization sharpen in my “old age.” I assumed that when I began work in the archives with the CUL Graduate Student Internship, I would be doing detail-oriented processing (my fantasies of archival work being that of handling 16th-century Luther Bibles and other rare/fragile materials, such that opening a box would justify Harrison Ford-esque “That belongs in a museum!” exclamations). I thought I would be working closely with very specific materials and processing on an item level.

As Carrie Hintz, Head of Archives Processing/director of the CUL Graduate Student Internship program and my supervisor, project archivist Brigette Kamsler would explain, the “More Product Less Process” (MPLP) method began around five-years-ago to help libraries house and make available a greater number of collections in a shorter period of time, or with less resources. They explained that no matter what we do in archives, whether processing in tedium or by less detailed methods, we are still making the collections better than they were when we first encountered the materials. Great, right? Making things better, hauling through greater quantities in shorter periods of time, win-win! Everybody wins!

And then the anxiety began to creep in:
“What if researchers begin looking through this collection and see that things are not actually as organized as well as they *could* be?”
“What if, in working on a box level and grouping huge quantities of documents into large folders, I missed something about the original organization of the materials?”
“What if I am actually messing this all up!”

Doubts began to set in as I continued working through the 108 boxes of World Council of Churches materials, and I am sure that Brigette grew tired of my constant questions concerning whether I was actually doing this right or making a big fat mess! Part of this anxiety, from what I can determine, is that:

(1) *I* would never have allowed my papers, personal or otherwise, to be in such an organized state of disarray! (No offense, WCC and the people who were organizing your files in the first place…)
(2) I had a difficult time with the fact that certain papers or boxes did not have a clear “home” in the collection, as some of the materials related to one or more committee or section, or could be housed comfortably in various places
(3) “[Darn] it, Jim, I’m a doctoral student, not an archivist!”—without a degree or years of experience in the field of archival studies, how did I know that I was actually doing this right?

Well, I housed the WCC records—all 108 of those boxes—wrote the finding aid, printed pretty, uniform labels, and hauled those boxes back into their snug corner in the WAB section of the archives, and in two months flat! It really was a sight to behold, looking at the entire collection in its final (for now) resting place. While working on a separate collection after finishing this one, I found more WCC records. I was able to integrate these materials smoothly because of the basic organization that I imposed. Brigette informed me that a researcher had been inquiring into the collection in the spring and was told that he could access it in the next few years, as the time frame for when it would be finished was not then determined. Because of the CUL Graduate Student Internship program and due to the wonderful innovation of MPLP, he can access the collection now! I would say that is a true success story.

So yes, I was a huge ball of nerves for a few days here and there as I gave MPLP the old college try and confronted my disorganization phobias, but now the finding aid will soon be uploaded online, information on the collection can be generally located, and (I think) this collection is easier to access. At the end of the day, I will probably always have a love-hate relationship with MPLP (hate in the midst, love at the end), but the process is a valuable tool and a practical archival trend.