As a researcher, I spend a lot of time in the Brethren in Christ Historical Library and Archives, housed in Messiah College’s Murray Library. And as someone preparing to start a Master’s program in public history at Temple University, I have a significant interest in historical preservation.
So I read with great interest a recent speech by noted early American historian and Harvard professor Laurel Thatcher Ulrich on importance of preservation.
I found this excerpt particularly meaningful, given my particular concern about the role of individuals and congregations in helping to preserve the historical record (HT John Fea, via the Deseret News):
“History is not what happened, it is an account of the past, based on surviving sources. If there are no sources, there is no history.”
In a sense, she said, that makes us all historians. “By caring for your things and the things of your ancestors, you contribute to a larger historic picture.”
Even the simplest objects can make a contribution, said Ulrich. “They connect to the past. They are a source of family and national pride. They reinforce family stories. They can surprise us, challenge us, force us to confront things we would just as soon not confront. Objects teach technology. They can inspire us as we make our own history, striking out in our own circumstances, in our own way.”
Ulrich’s comments make a powerful case for congregational and individual participation in building the resources of the Historical Library and Archives. Until we are able to convince people from across the Brethren in Christ Church that “[e]ven the simplest objects can make a contribution,” we will never have as rich a collection as other denominational archives.
Readers: How do you (and members of your congregation) help to preserve the historic record of the Brethren in Christ community?