In June of 1906 the Goshen College Alumni Board took action to create a special set of shelves in the college library devoted to Anabaptist-Mennonite history. The handful of books that graced those shelves marked the beginning of the Mennonite Historical Library. Since those humble origins 100 years ago, the M.H.L. has expanded into one of the world's foremost research collections on the Radical Reformation and the Mennonite, Amish, Hutterite and related groups that have descended from that tradition. Today, the M.H.L. collection numbers some 60,000 volumes, cataloged according to the highest professional standards and anchored by a remarkable trove of sixteenth- and seventeenth- century imprints. The library also maintains active subscriptions to some 600 periodicals in nearly a dozen languages, oversees a growing museum collection and has contributed to numerous interpretive exhibits that help to communicate the story behind the leather-bound books and inanimate artifacts.
For much of its history, the work of the M.H.L. has been inseparable from the mission of The Mennonite Quarterly Review. Harold S. Bender, the journal's founding editor, played a crucial role in building up the library, serving as its curator from 1924 to 1949 and its de facto director until his death in 1962. Bender's tenure overlapped with that of Nelson Springer, the indefatigable curator of the collection from 1949 to 1986 who also found time to respond to frequent MQR-related reference requests and to serve as the journal's proofreader for much of his career. John Oyer, Bender's successor as MQR editor, became the library's first official director, and nurtured a creative synergy between the MQR and the M.H.L. until his retirement in 1987.
Thus, it is fitting that the papers presented at a conference celebrating the M.H.L.'s centennial in the spring of 2006 appear in the pages of The Mennonite Quarterly Review. John A. Lapp, historian and erstwhile Goshen College administrator who worked closely with the library during the 1970s and 1980s, opens the issue with a broad overview of Anabaptist-Mennonite scholarship, tracing themes of continuity and change over the past century. Drawing on his experience as coordinator of the Global Mennonite History Project, Lapp especially highlights the rich cultural diversity within the emerging global Mennonite church, a welcome development that will inevitably shape future directions in the Mennonite Historical Library's collection and Anabaptist-Mennonite scholarship more generally.
The essays that follow all engage the conference theme of "Future Directions in Anabaptist-Mennonite Scholarship." At the conference, senior scholars presented historiographical surveys of current scholarship in four major subject areas, each of them concluding with suggestions for future research. Younger scholars then followed these presentations with a critical response, noting recent developments in their specific disciplines and offering additional perspectives on potential research topics. We are delighted to publish these presentations in this special issue of MQR.
Gerald Biesecker-Mast opens the sequence with an overview of recent research in sixteenth-century Anabaptist studies (with a response by Troy Osborne). Theron Schlabach follows by reviewing the trajectory of scholarship on American Mennonites and Amish (with a response by David Swartz). We then move to two topical themes: Gayle Gerber Koontz surveys North American Mennonite peace studies and theology (with a response by Victor Hinojosa), and Ervin Beck concludes with an analysis of recent directions in Mennonite folklore and folk culture (with a response by Janneken Smucker). Although Rhoda Janzen did not present her review of recent Mennonite poetry at the M.H.L. conference, her critical analysis of three recent publications points to yet another area of scholarship well-represented in the M.H.L.'s collection and now emerging as a distinctive field in its own right.
The articles gathered in this issue do not pretend to offer an exhaustive summary of current Anabaptist-Mennonite scholarship. Rather, MQR readers will discover here a rich buffet of themes and topics, presented within an analytical framework, and replete with suggestions for untapped or under-investigated sources awaiting future research. It is our hope that these essays will stimulate a new generation of scholars to pursue fresh directions in Anabaptist-Mennonite studies, and that the research inspired by these essays will challenge, revise and extend our understanding of all these fields.
As the current director of the M.H.L. and editor of the MQR, I am deeply humbled by the legacy nurtured over the past century by hundreds of individuals who have contributed to the work of the library and the journal. I publish these essays in gratitude, trusting that the research counsel offered here will bear much fruit in the pages of MQR, in the books that will eventually find their way into the M.H.L., and in the larger task of bearing faithful witness to the tradition of scholarship and faith that has been entrusted to us.
- John D. Roth, editor