Unveiling the Secrets of Fan Letters: A Conversation with David Reagles

This May, Buswell Library Archives & Special Collections talks with historian David Reagles, author of Searching for God in Britain and Beyond: Reading Letters to Malcolm Muggeridge, 1966-1982, about his journey through the vast collection of fan letters held in the Malcolm Muggeridge Papers.

When and how were you first introduced to Archives & Special Collections? What kinds of research projects have led you to the Archives’ collections?

I first stepped on Wheaton’s beautiful campus as a graduate student in 2011. Two moments really stand out in my mind when I think about the archives during those life-changing years. The first took place during a seminar on the history of evangelicalism in the Atlantic world. It was a wonderful eye-opening class, which included among other things a jaunt to the archives. There Bob Shuster masterfully guided us through proper archival procedures and etiquette, as well as offered an overview of the kinds of rich materials available. As we walked into the classroom, he had placed one or more archival boxes at each seat. After a short lecture, he asked us to open our materials and to try as best as we could to tell a “story” of the box. I recall pouring through the contents and feeling a kind of weird combination of confusion, excitement, anticipation, uncertainty, and discomfort. I loved it. That short lesson really affirmed the kind of joy-filled experience archival research could be.

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The Shadow of a Modest Man

Stereo slide of Taylor and his wife Gloria, ca. 1930s. (Photo File: Taylor, Herbert J.)

One of the earliest collections opened by the Archives (in 1978) and one of the most heavily used (over 360 times at last count) is Collection 20, the papers of Chicago businessman and philanthropist Herbert John Taylor (1893-1978).

Taylor’s life was in many ways a typical American success story. He started out as a salesman in Oklahoma. After service with the YMCA in France, assisting servicemen during World War I and then a shore post in the Navy, he moved to Chicago and eventually became president of Club Aluminum Products, a near bankrupt company he rescued and made into a multi-million dollar enterprise.

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