Beacon Street Diary

April 24, 2009

Edwards chair

Jonathan Edwards (May 26, 1745—August 1, 1801) was a theologian and linguist. Born in Northampton, MA he was the second son of Jonathan Edwards, the elder. He graduated from Princeton in 1765. He was tutor in Princeton (1767-69), and pastor in New Haven, CT (1769 -95). He was dismissed for opposing the Half-Way Covenant. (Only adults with personal experience of conversion were eligible to full membership but that children shared in the covenant of their parents and therefore should be admitted to all the privileges of the church except the Lord's Supper. The question arose (c.1650) whether this privilege should be extended to the children of these children, even though the parents of the second generation may have confessed no experience that brought them into full communion. It was proposed (1657) and adopted (1662) by a church synod that the privileges should be extended.) After serving as pastor in Colebrook, CT (1795 - 99), he went to Schenectady, NY to serve as president of Union College.

Edwards was a pioneer in the historical linguistics of Native North America. He was raised in the community of Stockbridge, MA, where Indian speakers of the Mohegan language were in the majority, and he was fluent in that language. He also acquired first-hand knowledge of other Algonquin and Iroquoian languages.

In 1787, Edwards published a study of the Mohegan language. In it, he presented evidence for the relatedness of Algonquian languages throughout northeastern North America and their distinctness from the neighboring Iroquoian languages.

April 22, 2009

Scrooby desk

From today's Brown Bag lunch series.

In 1606, dissatisfied with the corruption and lapsed nature of the Church of England, religious Separatists in the village of Scrooby broke away from the established church. Scrooby Manor was William Brewster's home and became a meeting place for dissenters. Elder Brewster (1560-1644) led the Separatists (Pilgrims) from Scrooby Parish to Leiden, The Netherlands, and then on to Plymouth Colony. The clerk's desk in the Pratt Room is believed to have been used during Elder Brewster's tenure in Scrooby. The clerk's desk would have been located in the church below the pulpit on the same level as the congregation. It may have been below a reader's desk as well. The Parish Clerk stood or sat facing the congregation, who he led in the responses printed in the Prayer Book. He alos led the "lining of the psalms" and made community announcements from the desk.

In 1900, the desk was presented as a bequeathed to the Library by Charles Carlton Coffin (1823-1896) who obtained the desk from the Parish Clerk's House in Scrooby in 1880. Coffin was an author, journalist, war correspondent, and member of the Massachusetts Legislature 1884-1885.

The following was printed in the Forty-Third Annual Report of the Directors of the American Congregational Association of May 25, 1896: "The desk is doubtless contemporary with those forefathers (Plymouth Pilgrims), for it is reputed to be more than three hundred years old. With its solid oak, its quaint carvings, and its centuries of history, it is an object not to be regarded without emotion."

April 21, 2009

When you work on something day in, day out for weeks or months, you want to share what you've been doing. Particularly if you don't feel like you will be done soon.

Last week I had a major break through on one of these kinds of projects. I'd been running up against a brick wall with it given the size and content (majority of it correspondence). And despite help from one of my interns, Meg, I felt like it would never get done. So, while Meg was on hiatus, I hauled down some untouched boxes and tried to pare things down a bit. The donors are prepared to take the material we do not think fits the collection, so my rationale was figure that out and then when Meg returns, it might be more manageable.

The problem was that where do you draw the line? Even after its drawn, how much organization is enough? Solution: call in the cavalry, a.k.a. my boss. Peggy's not an archivist, but in this case, that's a good thing. As an historian, she sees things a bit differently. Within 10 minutes of me showing her the range of material and what had already been done, a new plan was hatched: stop doing so much. do bare bones and fill in the gaps as I can as it is needed.

Somewhere back in my training, perhaps in most of our training in whatever we do, I felt like I had to never leave anything half done. Then once you signed off, it would never change. Well, the world has shifted, and that's often not realistic. For example, a web site is never entirely done. Most things online are a work in progress that may never be done. Why shouldn't this be true of archive work? What's more important- having it perfect, or having it available? In this case, the former. Now that I have a revised directive, it's very likely that Meg will get to completely finish the big collection and I will be able to reclaim my work space just in time to refill it.


April 16, 2009

Added to the collection: John Calvin's Impact on Church and Society, 1509-2009 by Martin Ernst Hirzel

John CalvinContents: Preface / Thomas Wipf -- Introduction / Martin Ernst Hirzel and Martin Sallmann -- Calvin and the transformation of Geneva / Philip Benedict -- "Loved and feared" : Calvin and the Swiss Confederation / Emidio Campi and Christian Moser -- Calvinism in Europe / Andrew Pettegree -- Calvinism in North America / James D. Bratt -- Calvin's understanding and interpretation of the Bible / Wulfert de Greef -- Calvin's ecclesial theology and human salvation / Christopher L. Elwood -- Election and predestination / Christian Link -- Mutual connectedness as a gift and a task : on John Calvin's understanding of the church / Eva-Maria Faber -- Calvin's ethics / Eric Fuchs -- Calvinism and capitalism / Ulrich H. J. Kortner -- Calvin and religious tolerance / Christoph Strohm -- The contribution of Calvin and calvinism to the birth of modern democracy / Mario Turchetti.
Includes bibliographical references.

April 14, 2009

One of the downsides of having a small staff is that we have to limit how much research we can do for our long distance patrons. For as long as I've been the archivist here, there has always been a list of people I would keep on hand -- freelance researchers for these occasions.

People will make this arrangement when their research requires delving into the resources here that may not be in our online catalog, are not in a digitized form (meaning 99.9% of them thus far), are not available elsewhere (or perhaps just not as completely as we have), and/or require extensive study to determine a big question.

At first it was just two or three of our Association's board members who were also historians. Then after I had been here a while, I called upon the greater New England archivist community. That list went from 3 to 6 or there abouts. Well, after I renewed the call this spring, I have doubled the list. For some reason, I find this to be very gratifying.

It's actually quite rare that I have the occasion of offering the list to our distance researchers, but today I was able to offer that refreshed list for the first time. Ah-hah, I say to myself -- Perhaps part of the reason why I don't get many requests for the list is that people don't realize it exists!

I am here today to tell you that if you are hoping to do research here, but cannot visit, please consider asking me -- Jessica -- for this list. Our standard operating procedure is to let the patron review the names, contact the freelancer and they negotiate the terms.

April 9, 2009

From the Constitution of the American Library Association in 1854: Article 2.

The object of the Association shall be to found and perpetuate a Library of Books, Pamphlets, and Manuscripts, and a collection of Portraits, and whatever else shall serve to illustrate Puritan history, and to promote the general interests of Congregationalism.

In 1864 the Congregational Library Association changed its name to the American Congregational Association.

April 7, 2009

I started working on my script for the first session of Treasures which will be held April 22. Although I had been randomly selecting items to exhibit and discuss, I became aware that at least three of the treasures were connected with Native Americans. Obviously, one of the articles will be the Eliot Bible, a translation of the Bible into the Algonquin language. Can you guess what the others may be?

John Eliot was known as the "Apostle to the Indians" and one of the bas-reliefs on the outside of 14 Beacon Street depicts John Eliot preaching to the Indians, Waban's wigwam, Nonantum, 1642.

Join us at noon on April 22 to view this Bible, the first Bible ever published in America, and hear more about the Treasures of the Congregational Library. Free and open to the public. Bring your lunch.



April 2, 2009

The Congregational Library.

With a name like that, it's a natural assumption to think that we are the institutional library (and archive) of a single institution/denomination. As it turns out, though, we have no direct affiliation with any of the modern-day denominations coming out of the old Congregational tradition, including the National Association of Congregational Christian Churches, the Conservative Congregational Christian Conference, the United Church of Christ, as well as the independent and federated churches.

In fact, our library predates all of those bodies. We were established in 1853, when the largely independent, decentralized Congregational churches were struggling with the prospect of organizing into a structured, national entity. In many ways, the Library is more of a separate historical society; it's owned by a nonprofit organization, the American Congregational Association.

While we do not provide a direct service to any of the various Congregational denominations (all of them have their own separate archives for current material), we do offer services to all of their members. We are in fact the only place in the world where all of those scattered Congregationalists come together into one room -- and we're pretty proud of that fact!

There are other myths that I run across in my work. Look for those in future posts.

March 30, 2009


Until about two weeks ago, I was always a reluctant Facebook user. I joined up in 2007 when a cousin convinced me it would be a great way to keep track of our mutual relatives whom we didn't normally get to talk to. OK, but the format, the signal:noise ratio -- these things kept me from really taking advantage of this tool. I certainly always had reservations with the cavalier measures the Facebook administrators took regarding privacy and their unwillingness to allow users to leave always made me feel like I was living in an Eagles song.

Good Outweighs the Bad -- My tipping points for using Facebook more:

  1. There's the Library's page and its 96 (as of this very moment) fans. Clearly we're reaching people, and I should be involved in providing information to them to keep them interested and make sure the Library's on their radar.
  2. I can write here in Typepad and have it cross-posted on our page, which is very efficient.
  3. For me -- I can look at my homepage and find out what friends and colleagues are doing. Once I hide 99.9% of the quizzes and applications that are listed there, I start to see some good and useful information. Since my husband started using it as his primary social network, that was my major tipping point, and now that I'm in the groove, I have the chance to keep up with not just the classmate from elementary school, Aunt Wendy, but all those archivists that I only see at our regional spring / fall meetings.

Facebook is just a means to an end:

Keeping in touch with colleagues is a goal I've renewed since attending the New England Archivists' spring meeting this past weekend. I somehow forget every time how much I get energized by talking to people in my field. There's always new ideas or opportunities to collaborate, too. While talking to folks, often-times Web 2.0 topics came up, and specifically Facebook. Some were comfortable and active, while others were hesitant as I was just two weeks ago. With that reluctance still fresh in my head, was able to talk about the finer points of the system while remaining sympathetic to the negatives.

I'll probably never be a quiz-taking rah-rah cheerleader for Facebook, but if I can keep the Library's fans a bit more engaged and maintain connections with colleagues, it's worth it.

-Jessica Steytler

March 16, 2009

Join us as we celebrate a new partnership between CCHS and Boston's historic Congregational Library.

Eve LaPlanteOur featured speaker will be author, Eve LaPlante, discussing "Why Congregational History Matters Today". Ms. LaPlante is the author of American Jezabel, a biography of Anne Hutchinson and Salem Witch Judge, a biography of Samuel Sewell.

This event takes place Monday, March 23 at 3:00 p.m. at the Wellesley Hills Congregational Church, 207 Washington Street, Wellesley Hills, MA 0248.

Free and open to the public.