Hands-on-History

Männerchor: The glee club of Moravian College in 1920. At far left, William Schwarze, who would become the sixth President of the College (1928-44).

John Weeren, Moravian’s first professional archivist, is ready to spotlight his work with an archival exhibit, the first to be held in Payne Gallery, of materials from the 260-year-old vaults of Moravian College.

“Buried Treasure: Discovering the Moravian College Archives,” which opens October 23 and runs through November 30, comprises almost 90 objects, mostly paper, but also banners, posters, a painting, a photo album, and an ornate armchair.

The oldest piece is a letter from Count Zinzendorf written when he himself was a student, in 1716; the newest, an aerial photograph of the College taken in 2002. The exhibit includes the earliest known Moravian Theological Seminary class schedule (1808) and the first minutes of a faculty meeting (1858). It showcases the photograph album of William Gerdsen ’30, in which he captured campus life of his time, and a color film about the College, made in 1948. This has been transferred to videotape and will play in a continuous loop during exhibit hours.

John, a soft-voiced Canadian who says “abote,” has an undergraduate degree in history and Spanish from Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia and a master’s degree in history from the University of British Columbia.

All his professional credentials have been earned in archival work, from a small community museum in Nova Scotia to the National Archives of Canada in Ottawa. Since 1994, he has been an archivist at the Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library at Princeton University. He continues there on a part-time basis since moving to the Lehigh Valley.

In 2002, he succeeded Dan Gilbert, professor emeritus of history, who started the College archives in 1988. John works one day a week. He also is an archival consultant to the Bethlehem Area Public Library.

To put it kindly, the Moravian College archives need work. Archival materials have come from hiding places all over campus, overwhelming John’s small office, spilling onto tables, the tops of filing cabinets, and the floor. 

A recent find in the attic of the Brethren’s House was a collection of mid-19th-century instructional charts, two of which will be featured in the exhibit. Bound copies of The Comenian, dating back to 1891, and The Belfry (its counterpart at Moravian College for Women) were rescued from the open stacks at Reeves Library.

“One of his greatest contributions,” John says of Dan Gilbert, “was to gather materials and save them from the dumpster. Now they need to be fully arranged and described.”

Time is now John’s most pressing need, but he is hopeful that resources can be found to expand the hours of the archives.
Some of the more unusual items in the exhibit:

• A certificate of discharge from the Continental Army, signed by George Washington.

• The armchair, with a 1924 photograph of it in Main Hall.

• The check issued to Alice Kent Stoddart in 1936 for the portrait of President Hamilton that now hangs in Comenius Hall.

• A blueprint for Harvey Memorial Library, which was added to Comenius Hall in 1907.

• A Spanish-American War broadside (1898) calling for a rally.

“It’s exciting to delve into the past and create as complete a road map as we can of what has come before,” John says. “That’s what I love about archives. They contain the raw material of history. ”

October 14, 2003

Hands-on History:
Exhibit of documents and objects from Moravian College archives at Payne Gallery.

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