“The Letter Kills but the Spirit Gives Life”: Julia E. Smith’s Bible Translation

From the first century onward, the form and text of the Bible has been a source of near-endless debate, review, reinvention, and artistry. Available in thousands of different translations, editions, and compilations, it is a text that is at once universal and individual.

Title page for a King James translation, 1613. (SC-10)

Buswell Library Archives & Special Collections holds more than five hundred whole or partial Bible monographs. Each of these instances carry forward the spirit of their common text and yet remain unique, with their own voices and particularities. Some of this variety comes from the different language translations available in the Archives (ranging from Hawaiian to Sanskrit), but remarkable diversity can also be found within the English translations alone.

The archive’s shelves include multiple printings, editions, and facsimiles of famous English translations, such as the Wycliffe Bible (1388), the Coverdale Bible (1535), and the King James version (1613), as well more modern classics, like the New International Version (1984) and the Living Bible (1971), among many others.   

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Constructed in the Clouds: The Unrealized Buildings of Wheaton College

Buildings, like people, mature and settle, acquiring unique histories and personalities through the passing seasons. Even when a beloved structure is lost to time as the result of demolition or decay, its influence burns a distinct impression into communal memory. At other times a form is planned but never built, perhaps due to lack of funding, changing needs, or diminished interest from its advocates.

The following structures, projected for the Wheaton College campus, remained stagnant on the drawing board but suggest fascinating, unrealized possibilities.   

The idealistic depiction on the left, conveying the ambitious “Greater Wheaton” project printed in the 1934 Tower, visualizes a series of modern buildings burgeoning upward from the solid basis provided by the old fashioned, neo-Romanesque Blanchard Hall. In this sketch, the drafts of a future Wheaton pile higher and higher into the clouds of the artist’s imagination, where it would remain.

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O Holy Night

One of the joys of archives and archival work is the opportunity the collections offer to explore the great variety of human invention and artistry across both time and space, as well as the ways in which common ideas and images endure through different cultures and generations.

Collection 177, Folder 8-12

As people all around the world begin their celebrations of Advent, this month we delve into the many intriguing variations in our collections on one of the most enduring of Christmas images – the Nativity.

From the origins of the story of Jesus Christ’s birth in the world of first century Palestine, to Western Europe and North America, and across the globe in India, China, and the Philippines, a review of just a few of the images of the nativity held by the Buswell Library Archives & Special Collections demonstrates the many ways the Christmas story has been reflected and reimagined in a myriad of different times and places.

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Little Hollywood on the Prairie

Was Wheaton, IL once a headquarters for cinema in the Midwest? Well, perhaps not quite. But it is true that in the middle decades of the 20th century, Wheaton was the center for the regular production of dozens of films, pioneered by the Scriptures Visualized Institute, also know as the C. O. Baptista Film Mission and C. O. Baptista Films, among other names.

Embracing their central slogan, “The Old Gospel in Modern Technique,” C.O. Baptista films represented one effort among many by Christians in the 20th century to use the possibilities of ever advancing new technologies – from recorded sound on wax cylinders to instantaneous communication via the internet – as new channels for the gospel.

The records of the Baptista Film Mission, including selections of its film catalog, are available and open for research at the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center Archives.

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The Form & the Message: Letterheads in the Archives

History is all about context. Usually this means the wider circumstances, including what lead up to the events we study and the mental word of the people we seek to understand. But it has a physical aspect too – the material objects that surround people, shaped by and shaping the culture of which they are a part.

Take, for example, the letterhead – the pre-printed part of a piece of stationary that gives the sender’s name, address and other information. Any archivist or scholar who goes through hundreds or thousands of letters will find amazing variety in this simple device.

Some state their data with clipped simplicity, some overflow with the sender’s beliefs, principles, mottos, and images to such a degree that they easily dominate whatever sentences can be squeezed into the remaining white space of the page.

The ability of the physical page to communicate as well as the words upon it is illustrated by the correspondence of J. Edwin Orr (1912-1987). In 2020, the Archives opened Collection 355, the papers of Orr, an influential evangelist and scholar who exchanged thousands of letters worldwide with people over half a century of ministry. What he and his correspondents wrote to each other is fascinating, insightful, and instructive. But what they wrote upon, the stationary itself, can also be charming, illustrative, and sometimes weird, quietly (or not so quietly) conveying its own message and tone.

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Mapping History: Tracing 125 Years of Africa Inland Mission

Maps are a common feature of archival collections, and the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center Archives is no exception. The Archives’ oversize storage cases contain a wide variety of maps—thematic, navigational, topographical, and even blueprints—used for diverse range of research topics and as a popular tool in archival instruction sessions. As primary sources, maps require a specific set of skills to “read” and interpret. Like all items held in the Archives, maps are social documents, reflecting both the intentions and abilities of their creators (cartographers) as well as the needs and expectations of their anticipated users. Maps tell stories. While a single map can capture a landscape, metropolitan grid, or continent frozen in time, a series of maps can document gradual or abrupt change, like shifting national or regional boundaries, erosion of natural landmarks, or rapid urbanization. No map, however extensive or detailed, can be entirely authoritative. They are not neutral documents—maps reveal the political and cultural perspectives and biases of their creators. They can erase as well as document borders, languages, people groups, or landmarks. Finally, maps are frequently described in purely functional terms, providing information and direction to users, but in many cases they are also highly ornamental, utilizing artistic techniques to feature specific geographical or topographical features.

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Valentines in July

Valentines in July? It is as good a month as February, actually. Although the feast day of Valentine is celebrated in the Western tradition on February 14, there is an equally strong tradition in the Eastern Orthodox Church for commemorating St. Valentine on July 6th. So this is indeed a month for valentines

Why are there valentines in the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center Archives? As mentioned in previous blogs, archives and manuscript repositories always include many unexpected odds and ends. A collection of personal papers can include a myriad of different objects and artifacts documenting the creator’s mundane daily activities as well the events, ideas, and milestones the creator is best known for. A good example of this is Elisabeth Elliot’s Memory Book. Elliot (1926-1915), a Bible translator and missionary to Ecuador, is perhaps best known as the author of several bestselling books narrating the death of her husband Jim, killed by members of the Waorani tribe in Ecuador in 1956, and her own later experiences living with the Waorani after that tragic event.

Elliot became an influential evangelical writer, speaker, and teacher in the second half of the 20th century. But her Memory Book in the Archives precedes her famous ministry, when she was just Elisabeth Howard, known to her friend and family as Betty or Bets. The scrapbook reflects the interests of a young girl in her pre-teen and teen years. Its contents includes letters, photos, postcards, hair curls, paper dresses, maps, early writings, and much more, covering the period of approximately to 1938 to 1943 as well as comments Elliot later wrote in the book as an adult . A map of the 1939 New York World’s Fair contained in the Memory Book was featured in a previous blog post. And among all this wonderful memorabilia are Valentine cards Elliot received at school on February 14, 1940, when she was 13 years old.

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Remembering the Other Elliots

The above photograph was taken in Yurimaguas, a port town in the Amazonian rainforests of northern Peru where Bert and Colleen Elliot ministered for over thirty years. The river depicted is either the Río Huallaga or Río Paranapura. Undated

Earlier this year, the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center Archives marked the 65th anniversary of the death of Wheaton alumnus Jim Elliot and four other American missionaries in Ecuador at the hands of Waorani tribe members in January 1956. The shocking event became an instant media sensation among evangelicals and the general public in the United States. The five missionaries—particularly Jim Elliot—were praised as examples of heroic dedication to Christian evangelism following their deaths, due in large part to the literary efforts of Jim’s widow, Elisabeth Elliot, who chronicled the now-famous story in Through Gates of Splendor (1957) and secured her husband’s place in post-war missionary mythology through the publication of his journals, Shadow of the Almighty, in 1958. The Archives’ digital exhibit To Carry the Light Further explores this fascinating narrative of missionary martyrdom through photographs, newspaper clippings, letters, and diary entries held in the Archives’ collections.

The death of the five men remains a perpetually fascinating story in American evangelical circles today, and the Elliot papers are among the most popular collections in the Archives’ holdings. Archival materials relating to the other Ecuador martyrs have also found their way to the Archives over the years, adding new dimensions to the story of the Waorani. Those collections include the papers of Peter Fleming’s brother Kenneth, and widow Olive, as well as Ed and Marilou McCully. Just this year, the Archives opened Collection 721, a recent donation of papers containing significant correspondence from Jim Elliot to his parents, Fred and Clara, and their own response in the wake of his shocking death.

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The Language of Flowers: Clippings from Lives of Shared Ministry

Intricately detailed front cover of Louise Pierson’s Photo Album in Collection 720: Papers of Louise H. Pierson.

Across the wide distances of global missions, a key relationship for many missionaries remained that of their connection to their homeland, supporting churches, and missionary societies. Even as missionaries forged new ties on the mission field they also reached back to the old, to share successes and failures, the wonders and terrors of new lands, and key to their work, elicit financial and spiritual support for their mission. Many materials in the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center Archives document these important ties between the mission field and the homeland, from prayer letters, to missionary cards, to photographs and films.

This month we celebrate the dynamic interplay between missionaries and their supporters at home by featuring a new collection added to the Archives this spring, Collection 720: The Papers of Louise H. Pierson, composed of a single scrapbook with flower pressings, pictures, newsletters, and other mission memorabilia from the world and work of Louise Pierson and other women missionaries in South and East Asia during the late nineteenth century.

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“Are We Electing Our Last President?”: The Chicago Convention Campaign

The event of a lifetime has become the opportunity of a lifetime!” So claimed the flashy mass marketing letter inviting one and all to the Chicago Convention Campaign. Spearheaded by Torrey Johnson, the tireless president of Youth for Christ, and drawing widespread support from churches and religious leaders across the Upper Midwest, the 1952 Convention Campaign offers a glimpse into mid-century mass evangelism efforts, particularly the potent combination of evangelistic and patriotic fervor.

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