Work Group 3 - What Should Be Preserved?

Work Group 3 - What Should Be Preserved?

Group members: Ronald Brett, Edwin (Jack) Frizen; William Kostlevy, Wilbert Shenk, Joan Spanne, Tite Tinou, Elisabeth Wittman, Kathryn Long (facilitator).

Questions considered: What are the essential documents to be preserved in a mission archives for the benefit of the staff of a particular mission, students of mission history, and the general public? What materials best document what themes?

The discussion focused on broad questions rather than on compiling lists of specific materials that might be preserved. For such lists, we recommend suggestions in Remember, It's Your History!: Ten Steps to Establishing Your Mission Archives; Cecilia Irvine, "The Documentation of Mission in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries"; and Martha Smalley, The Preservation of Mission Archives - An Archivist's Perspective."

The Report

Ideas on what it means to provide a full and faithful record of mission history

Preservation decisions should be made on the basis of the organization or event to be documented rather than the constituencies to be served. We kept returning to the importance of an overarching purpose statement: that materials to be preserved are those that provide a full and faithful record of the organization. In determining a collection policy each organization must ask itself, "What materials will provide a full and faithful record of the organization?" A secondary or corollary question then might be, "What are the unique aspects of this organization?" ("What is especially important for us to preserve, without neglecting the rest?") Materials preserved should provide a full and faithful record of the organization and at the same time highlight any unique identity, emphasis, or activities.

In addition to the importance of a purpose statement, our discussions covered a wide range of ideas, comments and suggestions. These ideas are summarized in the following list. Each item is linked to additional paragraphs that develop the idea or suggestion in greater detail.

1. Personnel Roster: An essential skeleton for a full and faithful record of a mission agency is a personnel roster. At minimum this should include an accurate list of all people who founded or joined the mission, the date each joined, field or fields where he or she served with dates, date each left the organization or date of death, as well as marriage information and dates. Also important are the special roles an individual may have played, such as initiating a particular program or concept, and a bibliography of writings where applicable.

2. Special attention to preserving unofficial or non-official records: Most North American mission agencies will find themselves pushed by legal and financial constraints to preserve official records. They are required to do so. Agencies need to be more intentional, however, about preserving the records they are not required to keep: the unofficial accounts that give life and texture to the history of the organization, such as diaries and journals, letters, promotional materials, etc. Inevitable tensions almost always arise between historians, who want to save everything, and archivists, who are constrained by the realities of space and organization.

3. Attention to particular themes or events essential to a full and faithful account: Special attention should be given to documenting the origins of the organization and people who provided both formal and informal leadership. Materials preserved should also document the expansion of the organization in all its various expressions, its daily operations, special events, and relationships with nationals.

4. Special situations. A range of issues or situations provides special challenges for preserving a full and faithful record. Some of these include:

5. Importance of collection guides: Preservation alone is not enough. Mission archives need to make a commitment to developing careful collection guides that alert users to the context and nuances surrounding the materials that have been preserved.

Amplified discussion of the ideas highlighted above:

Personnel Roster: At minimum this should include an accurate list of all people who founded or joined the mission, the date each joined, field or fields where he or she served with dates, date each left the organization or date of death, as well as marriage information and dates. Also important are the special roles an individual may have played, such as initiating a particular program or concept, and a bibliography of writings where applicable. Oral histories from older missionaries can help to fill information gaps in the roster. In his work with records of The Evangelical Alliance Mission (TEAM), Ronald Brett has provided a model for this sort of record.

A careful personnel roster has multiple functions in helping preserve a full and faithful record of a mission agency or an event. For example, it helps to bridge the division between the official and non-official records. It also can serve to highlight gaps in the record or areas that might need to be explored more fully since it reflects patterns of outreach, gender distribution, length of time on the field, etc. Also, whenever possible, personnel records should include information about children of agency personnel. Names and basic information about these "Third Culture Kids" ("Missionary Kids") can serve both the mission agency and historians.

In addition to preserving a roster of personnel in the home office and on the field, special efforts should be made to preserve the names of the nationals with whom the mission has worked--language informants, Bible women (women who taught Bible classes and led other church and evangelistic activites intended for women), indigenous evangelists, teachers, and preachers, etc. Accurate names and identification are essential; the loss of a name means the loss of a person from the historical record. Preserving this kind of information about participants in pan-evangelical events such as the Berlin Congress in 1966 or Lausanne I and II is also important. As careful records are preserved for a variety of events and organization, the bigger picture of mission influence will emerge.

Special attention to preserving unofficial or non-official records: Most North American mission agencies will find themselves pushed by legal and financial constraints to preserve official records. They need to be more intentional about preserving the records they are not required to keep: the unofficial accounts that give life and texture to a full and faithful account of a mission organization, such as diaries and journals, letters, tracts and leaflets, prayer directories, promotional materials, anything created as part of a series (postcards, booklets), etc. Photographs and negatives need to be identified and kept. How do you decide what to preserve of these kinds of materials? No hard and fast answer exists to this question.

Some tension surfaced in our discussions between historians who wanted to keep everything and archivists who have had to face the hard realities of limited space and time. One solution to the space issue is to entrust the archives to other institutions, whether a centralized location for missions archives or an educational institution, religious or secular. That, however, might involve some loss of control. Missions agencies also must distinguish between what it means to have an archive versus a museum.

Each agency does need to develop some criteria for selection of materials, especially when volunteers are used to sort and select. Some selections of what to keep might be made on a discretionary basis--what is considered most significant. Sometimes selections should reflect a statistical sampling. For prayer letters, for instance, a random sample might be more helpful than culling on the basis of "significance," an approach which might reflect more the history of the person doing the selecting than the content of the letters under examination. Categories might be developed, e.g. items of historical value, legal value, or value in terms of cultural context. Or items could be catalogued qualitatively: very valuable, usually valuable, sometimes valuable, etc. In general, preserve as much as possible, since the perceived significance of various materials changes over time. Originals should be preserved: microfilming or scanning may make information accessible but should not be used as a substitute for keeping the originals.

Attention to particular themes or events essential to a full and faithful account: Special attention should be given to documenting the origins of the organization and people who provided both formal and informal leadership. What gave rise to the organization? Where did it begin and who started it? What was the context (its precursors, for example)? Information of origins also should include official and unofficial sources. Particularly important are people who might have exercised informal leadership, such as the wives of early mission leaders or other men and women close to the founder or founders.

In addition to the origins, materials should cover expansion in all its various expressions, as well as the daily operations of the mission, and its relationships with nationals from initial contact through indigenization. Those organizing the archives should also be sensitive to themes that reflect specific emphases during different phases of the mission agency's history--concepts such as "partnership," "globalization," or emphases such as "evangelism in depth."

Archives also are needed to preserve materials from international conferences or congresses, such as Berlin 1966 and Lausanne I and II. Once again, not only the official conference papers should be saved but also programs and films of the proceedings and song books or other materials that document changes in worship style alongside the more formal substance of the gatherings. Activities or outreaches that may have originated in a particular mission but which later involved many groups need to be fully documented, such things as the use of the "Jesus" film or Donald McGavern's conferences.

Special situations

The value of collection guides: Preservation alone is not enough. Mission archives need to make a commitment to developing careful collection guides that alert users to the context and nuances surrounding the materials that have been preserved. For example, users should be alerted to the fact that documents may have existed in various drafts and that documents in English may not fully represent the national perspective. "Official" and "authoritative" are not necessarily the same thing, and different documents related to the same subject may have different purposes.

Along with collection guides, a few significant reference works may provide helpful background for preservation work, as well as for the archive and its users. These might include the Evangelical Dictionary of World Missions (2000), A. Scott Moreau, general editor; both current and back editions of the Mission Handbook, produced by the Missions Advanced Research and Communications Center (MARC); and the two-volume World Christian Encyclopedia, second edition (2001), edited by David B. Barrett, George T. Kurian, and Todd M. Johnson.

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Last Revised: 12/6/01
Last Revised: 1/5/05
Expiration: indefinite

Wheaton College 2005