Our Work In The Archives, First Quarter 2023 | Presbyterian Historical Society

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Our Work In The Archives, First Quarter 2023

May 18, 2023

Here's some of what your archivists worked on in the early months of 2023!

Most importantly we welcomed two new members of staff, JoyC Rivera and Jill Chancellor, and Building Knowledge and Breaking Barriers Archives Intern, Matty Marrow

Foremost among our collection successes was the completion of the last leg of imaging of the Katie Geneva Cannon collection. Having already finished imaging of original records of Dr. Cannon's held at Union Theological Seminary in New York, and at Union Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond, we turned to our own portion of Dr. Cannon's papers late last year, and imaging wrapped up in February. The total collection is more than 15,000 pages of text, photographs, and artwork, and dozens of hours of audio and video. 

Allison and Amalia continued imaging photographs from Presbyterian global mission work housed in RG 223, this quarter uploading images from India, Lebanon, China, Pakistan, Iran, Japan, and Iraq. Donors dedicated to preserving Assyrian language and culture funded the imaging of a two volume history by the Assyrian Presbyterian minister Isaac Moorhatch, of Urmia and Philadelphia. Videos from the recently-processed Jim and Melva Costen papers posted. And, with the help of Rutgers University’s Special Collections and University Archives, we published video from the 1978 UPCUSA General Assembly and from a 1984 consultation on homophobia at the Stony Point Center, both from the records of More Light Presbyterians. In all our team imaged 14,799 pages and images in the quarter.

In February we sat down with the Stated Clerk of the PC(USA), J. Herbert Nelson, II, for an oral history on his tenure at Liberation Community Church (Memphis, Tenn.) He also offered a reflection on the necessity of our work on records of African American Presbyterians.

Processing continued on the records of the PC(USA) Advisory Council on Church and Society, as Nick with an assist from David, continued to whittle an original 240 cubic feet of bureaucratic records down to about 180. Here, Nick talks about records that document the Presbyterian responses to the burgeoning movement against apartheid South Africa.

In the quarter we received 76 new groups of records for more than 155 cubic feet, including 59 cubic feet from 46 historic and active Presbyterian congregations. Among additions to our African American Leaders and Congregations initiative are records of Salt and Light (Philadelphia, Pa.), Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church (Roanoke, Va.), and commonplace books and correspondence of Edler G. Hawkins. We're grateful to our Board member Michael Livingston for shepherding the Hawkins papers to us. We continue to seek out the records of historically Black Presbyterian churches, and the personal records of devoted church workers. Learn more about AALC here.

We delivered minutes for mission to the Presbyteries of Peaks, Baltimore, and Northeast New Jersey in the winter and early spring, and did records training for Baltimore's clerks of session. At the end of March, David joined the Presbyterian Historical Society of the Southwest at its annual gathering at St. Charles Avenue Presbyterian Church in New Orleans. Church members were present from two congregations connected to the first stated clerk of the PCUS, and irredentist defender of slavery, Benjamin Morgan Palmer—St. Charles Avenue and Berean Presbyterian Church. St. Charles Avenue itself was originally slated to be Palmer Memorial; and the first African American Presbyterian congregation in the city, Berean Presbyterian Church, was organized largely at Palmer's behest inside the PCUS's all-Black governing body, the Synod of Snedecor.

St. Charles Avenue Presbyterian Church (New Orleans, La.) exterior; inset, Elaine Walter delivering at history of Berean Presbyterian Church. 

In the quarter, we responded to 548 inquiries from researchers in-person and remotely, including questions from 68 PC(USA) congregations. 

Browse our PC(USA) conrgegation questions in this map

Some of the popular topics and services users asked about were congregational history, records management, and attestations for baptism or marriage. Researchers who visited in-person (there were 46) used our reading room 80 times over January, February, and March. They visited from as far away as South Korea and Poland. In addition to providing more than 1,000 photocopies for reference use, staff retrieved 430 items (archival boxes, books, microfilm reels, etc.) from the collection. The most frequently requested materials were the records of the National Council of Churches deposited here.

Stay tuned to this space for news of our work this spring!