Hunger and conviction on the world political stageBy Thomas V.Bona
Like other scholars of his generation, Edgar Lin ’67 came to the United States in the 1960s and ’70s to study. When he returned home, he found that Taiwan was, as before, still in the grip of martial law and political dissents were not tolerated.
Conceptualizing the unseen:
Artists Liz Nofziger and Greg Stahly share surprising perspectivesBy Marshall V. King
Liz Nofziger ’96 found art early in her Goshen College career and is making a career out of what she continues to find.
Finding one’s place in the story
By Jodi H. Beyeler
Finding one’s place in the story
By Jodi H. Beyeler
Items at MHL include this bust of Menno Simons by artist J.P. Klassen (1888-1975) resting on the desk of Samuel D. Guengerich (1836-1929), an Amish printer and educator from Iowa
Despite her major, the MHL wasn’t familiar territory to Miller before she started working on her senior paper. “I was kind of terrified of the MHL for the first three years here,” she said. “I thought it was a place for people doing genealogy or looking at rare books. … But, the staff is so helpful in finding information and thinking of new information to collect. Now I see it as a wonderful resource not just for this campus, but for the church as well.”
As the library plans a conference (May 5-6, 2006) to celebrate its 100th anniversary (see sidebar for more information), the misperceptions about the MHL are what Director John D. Roth and Curator Joe Springer work to counter. “People tend to have certain images of what a library is, especially an historical library – a warehouse that you have to be retired to care about. That’s not how I experience the MHL at all,” said Roth, also Goshen College professor of history, who described the library instead as “a dynamic collection trying to represent accurately the rapidly changing global Mennonite reality.”
The library, Roth explained, is much more than a static collection of old books and objects. “The MHL gathers the materials that will help us interpret the past and to better understand our own moment in history. We collect widely and comprehensively so that the materials will be available for scholars in the future to address questions that we don’t even know to ask right now,” he said.
The MHL sees its role in the church as collecting publications and other materials about and by Anabaptist-Mennonites, sorting and making materials available in a systematic way, helping people to find access points to the story and actively telling the story.
It was in June 1906, just three years after the Elkhart Institute moved to a wheat field at the south end of Goshen and became Goshen College, that the beginnings of what has become a collection of 65,000 volumes occurred. The newly established Goshen College Alumni Association passed a resolution to create a collection devoted to Anabaptist-Mennonite history. At first, the small number of volumes took up residence on a few shelves of the college library. Although it was the work of H.S. Bender, beginning in 1924, that more intentionally launched the MHL as a special collection library, the 1906 date represents the true birth of the MHL.
The library has grown over the past century and can be described as “one of the most valuable of its kind in America,” said Springer. “The collection is priceless in the strictest sense of that term. Even if you could put a price on each item, when you put them together the value is far greater than the sum of its parts.”
The Mennonite Historical Library was one of the earliest institutional collections in North America of Anabaptist-Mennonite materials; few undergraduate institutions of any type have a research collection similar in scope. “It isn’t common for there to be such a comprehensive collection in one place. We can do this partly because we collect within a comparatively small field and there is finite information to gather,” said Springer. “This isn’t the Vatican library.”
In his recent retirement from teaching history at the University of Southern California, Santa Barbara, Abraham Friesen is spending this semester at GC researching in the MHL and teaching a Mennonite history course. Years ago, before heading to Stanford University to study for his doctorate, Friesen made the long drive from his home in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, to Goshen to spend a week in the MHL researching as well, and has been back many times since. “There isn’t anywhere in the U.S. that has the rare volumes in 16th century Anabaptist-Mennonite history that the MHL does,” he said. “They probably have a better collection than is in Europe.” His book In Defense of Privilege: Russian Mennonites and the State Before and During WWI was just published by Kindred Productions.
Throughout its history, the MHL has relied on a combination of donations and purchases to increase its holdings. One of the library’s most prized pieces is the only known copy of the 1564 edition of the Ausbund, an Anabaptist hymnal still used by the Amish; the volume was purchased for $10 in a Pennsylvania bookshop in 1928. In addition to printed materials, the MHL collection has long included objects of historical interest ranging from textiles to toys to furniture.
The role of sorting, cataloging and making the resources in the library as accessible to users as possible is one of the key functions of the library. Nelson P. Springer (1915-2004), MHL curator for 37 years, left a profound imprint on the library by his commitment to careful order and ready access to materials through detailed cataloging. As library patrons were able to find the resources and information that they needed for books, articles, dissertations and presentations, expressions of gratitude for Springer’s assistance are liberally noted in prefaces and footnotes. Having begun his meticulous work on a manual typewriter, then advancing to an electric model, Springer took the library into the age of technology by signing it up to participate in the first statewide library computer network.
Joe Springer picked up where his father, who retired in 1985, left off. “Joe is a goldmine of ideas. He is better than a catalog,” Miller said, reflecting on Springer’s many suggestions which have taken her research in directions she wouldn’t have guessed.
The assistance the library staff is able to offer has changed over the years. Roth, for example, noted that prevalence of e-mail communication has “changed our reference realities.” The MHL will often receive messages from panicky students across the country who want to know everything about the Amish for a paper. The library staff have fielded inquiries from people writing novels looking for background information, responded to a Japanese scholar studying Anabaptism at a German university and even heard from a Polish Christian heavy metal band seeking permission to use images from the Martyr’s Mirror in album liner notes (though the MHL doesn’t own the copyright on that publication).
But the bigger challenge is “to keep tabs on the explosion of publishing that is now taking place among Mennonites and the increasingly global reality of the Anabaptist-Mennonite story,” said Roth. MHL staff regularly receive almost 700 different periodicals that they peruse to stay current with publishing activity of Anabaptist-related groups in North America and Europe, as well as countries like Paraguay, Indonesia and South Korea.
Anabaptist-Mennonite history not only comes to life in the telling of the story, but for many individuals it also does when they find connections to the story. “Our culture is so focused on the present and the future. It has become a virtue to shape your identity as though it were a blank slate and to be free from the ties of our past,” said Roth. “But there is a deep hunger we all have to understand the threads that come together in ourselves. There is an awareness that we have inherited something. A collection like this is sort of therapeutic.”
Joe Springer added, “For nearly everyone that walks in the door we can find a hook into their lives – something from the past that connects to their own story.” For instance, several years ago a Goshen College student from India was doing a practicum in the MHL and while paging through an old magazine she found a picture of her grandfather as a young man that had been used as part of a mission report.
When Sauder Village curator Ann Lux started her research for a new exhibit at the Archbold, Ohio, historic village, she enjoyed what she was discovering but felt no personal connection to the names and events. As she gathered information about the lives of early settlers in northwest Ohio, she was frequently referred to the MHL and the Mennonite Church USA Archives (also located on the GC campus). At Goshen she found family information about many of the early settlers and a general understanding of the Amish-Mennonite story. In the process, Lux discovered that her great-great-grandmother Anna Rhoads Saunders had been Amish. With the help of MHL staff, she was able to learn the names of Anna’s parents – a longtime gap in her family genealogical studies.
“The most important thing for me was being given this whole ‘chunk’ of my history and finding that it was a part of the Anabaptist story that I had spent so much time on,” Lux said. “I have met so many wonderful people while doing this research and now I find that we share a common history. It has made that story much more personal for me. Although I am Presbyterian, part of me has a connection to the Mennonite story.”
Beth Miller also felt this connection. “The things I have learned while researching there have taught me so much about who I am, where I come from and why I am committed to the Mennonite Church,” she said.