Yale Divinity School and the World Council of Churches are collaborating on a five-year microfilming project that will result in the preservation and publication of documents revealing the history of Christian missions.
The decision, made public on Jan. 21 in Switzerland at the WCC headquarters, will allow letters and reports from as early at the late nineteenth century to grow in circulation. The intent of the project is to make previously unavailable documents open to the research community.
“People are not going to jump in and write dissertations on history unless it’s accessible. By getting it preserved, we are at the same time making it a lot more accessible,” Divinity School Director of External Relations & Development John Lindner said.
Yale Divinity Librarian Paul Stuehrenberg said that after duplicating negatives from the microfilmed documents, they can be readily distributed and will become a part of the Yale Divinity library.
Yale has already worked with the WCC to preserve its World War II collection, which Lindner said is the “most important collection about the Christian resistance in World War II in the world.”
The most recent collection, which is in the process of being microfilmed at a speculated cost of 34,300 euros, is entitled “Dialogue with People of Living Faith” and contains documents discussing the relationship between Christianity and other active religions, such as Islam, said Martha Smalley, a research services librarian at the Divinity Library.
Smalley, who visited the WCC headquarters and helped decide which documents would be of primary interest to archive, said this collection was important because of “increased interest in Islam.”
According to directors and librarians at the Divinity School, Yale’s decision to fund this project could not have come at a better time.
“There’s been almost a sense of desperation and urgency in how to get this done,” Lindner said. “The WCC exists on voluntary contributions and preservation of documents is not the most important thing it does.”
Only 10 percent of the council’s 20 million documents have been microfilmed, Lindner said.
“Its priorities haven’t always been to preserve its past,” Smalley said. “There was some concern about the fact that this was an important organization in the past and that its past should be preserved.”
In addition, Lindner said the WCC documents have not always been preserved because the country of their origin could not fund their archiving.
The WCC documents are inclusive of the history of developing nations and churches and Yale’s effort will help “document things that these countries may not historically be able to preserve for themselves,” Lindner said.
One of the council’s past major endeavors was helping to end apartheid in South Africa. Documents revealing these efforts are part of a collection called the Programme to Combat Racism and have already been microfilmed by Yale.
In addition to preserving the past of the WCC in its prime, Smalley said the Divinity School has also chosen to fund this project because the WCC archives are comparable to the archives already in the Divinity School’s collection.
“Yale’s archives are known to be particularly strong on the topic of the mission and student Christian movement,” Lindner said. “The new documents complement our collection.”