by Giovanni Amado-Sanchez, 2017 Public Relations Intern
How do 21st century students learn about archival research? If they are fortunate, they will have an opportunity to delve into archives of some sort during their college experience. At Barton College, archival research on campus is just one of many research opportunities encouraged in a number of classes, including the Honors Program. Additionally, opportunities outside of the classroom exist for students to engage in even deeper archival study. A perfect example is Criminology & Criminal Justice and Business Administration majors Patricia Holliday and Nieimah Moore, respectively, who have participated in an eye-opening archival project through the work-study program in Hackney Library.
Barton College houses the Discipliana Collection—a significant repository of histories, biographical information, and stories of churches and their leaders related to the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). Dr. Charles Crossfield Ware gathered the books and different publications from the 1920s until 1968. Dr. Ware included books from other North Carolina and Virginia denominations as well. Even publications that were minimally identified with Disciples of Christ or its members were incorporated into the collection. As a result, the enormous amount of materials required organization to make it more accessible for future research.
Holliday and Moore have taken on the immense task of organizing numerous boxes of books by denominations. As the students organize the books, they explore and research the content, printing, dates, and authors. The students are mainly surprised by the large number of denominations that they were unaware of and how the books tend to sway away from the primary topics of the Church.
“The number of denominations I have discovered is surprising,” Moore shared. “I’ve found that many denominations either broke away from others or merged into new ones. For example, there is even a book on a denomination established by Alexander Campbell known as Campbellism. Alexander Campbell was one of the founders of the Christian Church (DOC) along with Barton W. Stone, for whom Barton College is named.”
“We even found a book about a murderer,” Holliday added. “It’s surprising to go through religious books all day and then find one about a murderer,” shared Holliday. “One of the most interesting things is how many different denominations of Christianity we have, so this process has been very eye-opening for me.”
In high school, student research often means searching for information about a specific topic and reporting on it through papers, charts, presentations, etc. For example, a research project could consist of students simply researching and presenting an overview of the Discipliana Collection. At Barton College, students actually have the opportunity to handle a number of books and materials housed in Special Collections & Archives. Holliday and Moore are not only handling but also organizing the many publications in the Discipliana Collection. When asked to distinguish archival research from typical research that students perform in high school, Holliday and Moore exclaimed that they really enjoy handling the raw information, which may be interpreted from a variety of perspectives.
“I find that this kind of research is much more hands-on,” Moore explained. “We were not given a specific topic or research question. Rather, we were simply given a task to organize this Collection. Also, during this process, we have been given permission to research anything that catches our interest.”
Holliday went on to explain that she does not mind going an extra step to find out more information about a specific publication or church. “For example, some materials have led us to more questions than answers, and, as a result, we have had to call churches for more information about their specific denomination.” Other times, the students use other methods of research, such as online searches, to get the answers needed.
Both Holliday and More urge students to learn more about the historical connection between Barton College and the DOC, and the Discipliana Collection is a great place to start. They also encourage them to consider other opportunities to engage in archival research. Both students have developed an appreciation for scholarly research.
Holliday explained that the project has helped her learn more about her roots. “People have found rare pages of the Bible by going through archives like these, so it is an amazing practice. It helps me to better understand the roots of the College, since Barton was named after Barton W. Stone.”
“It’s not as boring as it may seem,” Moore continued. “In fact, it can be exciting. Students will encounter a rich history that has been full of life. And, let’s not forget the drama: excommunication, blacklisting, a long line of hatred, and iconoclasm. I’ve found that this project has it all. It may even encourage students to keep fighting for what they believe in, as people in these books did. This project has helped me increase my hunger for the truth. I compare it to a mystery that needs to be solved. Because of this experience, I am no longer satisfied with surface-only answers. I want the bare-faced truth.”
Books from the 19th century, for example, require extra care. Holliday shares, “We have to wear gloves when we deal with some books. We have some books are so old that their pages are often brittle and crumble easily. We also found one book that had gold lettering on the cover. These books are worth a lot more, so we have to be extra careful with them. I’m not sure how I feel about some of these older books being easily accessed by everyone since they are extremely valuable and can be damaged easily.”
Nonetheless, both students have found that they enjoy working with old books. “These archives are like treasures,” Moore concluded. They are a lot more valuable than digital books, but are not as accessible as online editions. Some students have known about this project for a while and wish that these archives could be turned into digital books in order to be easily accessed. These publications are hard to come by and when you do come across these treasures, you want to share them with the world. Maybe, one day, these archives can be turned into digital books so that students, researchers, and professors can all access them.”
Scholars and researchers will be thanking Holliday and Moore for their organization of the Discipliana Collection for years to come. And, future students at Barton will find a trail already blazed for them to follow as they, too, begin to delve into the fascinating world of archival research.