A Guide to Africanist Research in the Archive of the American Baptist Historical Society

Article excerpt

Introduction

Africanist scholars seeking archives on Africa and Africans often travel back to the continent to conduct research, or more commonly, to the various repositories of former colonial powers in Western Europe to find their information. However, there are some archives located in the United States that, although they are not dedicated exclusively to Africanist materials, contain an array of resources relevant to Africanist research. One such archive is that of the American Baptist Historical Society (ABHS).

The American Baptist Historical Society was founded in 1853, and, according to a conversation with Communications and Reading Specialist Betsy Dunbar, contains many records "by, about, for, and against Baptists."1 While not adhering to any one particular brand of Baptist, the society accepts and archives the records and documents of various Baptist denominations from all over the country and some international denominations, from Anabaptists, to Free Will Baptists, to some Southern Baptist congregations and most of the Northern Baptists in the United States of America.

The ABHS archive is located in suite 150 on the first floor of the Administration and Conference Center at Mercer University's Cecil B. Day Campus in Atlanta, GA, USA.2 A branch campus mainly for the graduate schools of the university whose students commute in, it is a sprawling, wooded campus that provides a tranquil and pleasant setting for relaxing after hours of archival research. The Administration and Conference Center is a taU, five-story white building nestled on five wooded acres, located at 2930 Flowers Road South and purchased in 2003 from the Georgia Baptist Convention.3 It is now used to house administrative offices, numerous conferences and meetings, and lastly, the American Baptist Historical Society.

Collections and Finding Guides

According to a news release, the coUection of the ABHS is now the "largest collection of Baptist pieces in the world."4 These records, estimated to be 25,000 linear feet (or five mües of shelving), include manuscript coUections of various Baptist pastors and theologians, original church records of numerous varieties of Baptists, books, pamphlets, photos, and an assortment of artefacts that are primarily from the private collections of retired or deceased missionaries. The American Baptist Historical Society also acts as the official repository of the foUowing organisations: American Baptist Churches USA (formerly the Northern Baptist Convention), which includes the American Baptist Foreign Missionary Society /Board of International Ministries, Women's American Baptist Foreign Missionary Society, American Baptist Home Mission Society, Women's Baptist Home Mission Society, Ministers and Missionaries Benefit Board, and the Publication Society of the American Baptists, among others. The archive also holds various state and association minutes for both Northern and Southern Baptists, and records for the Baptist World Alliance (BWA), an umbrella organization organized in 1905 for Baptists around the world, including numerous African Baptist groups. The archive is funded by the American Baptist Churches, USA, the Board of International Ministries, the Board of National Ministries, the Missionaries Benefit Board, and the donations of benefactors.

The American Baptist Historical Society has only recently consolidated aU of its collections in one location. Previously, the American Baptist Samuel Colgate Library in Rochester, NY, USA housed the manuscript collections, church records, minutes, periodicals, and books, while the Archives Center at VaUey Forge, PA, USA contained the archival materials and administrative offices of the society. The Valley Forge material was moved to Atlanta in the spring of 2008, while the Rochester material was relocated in September of the same year. The grand opening of the new, consoUdated archive bringing together both collections was held at Mercer University on September 27, 2009. …