Hands-On History

By Judith Green

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 history of Moravian College.

“Buried Treasure: Discovering the Moravian College Archives,” which opens October 23 and runs through November 30, comprises more than 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 Nicholas von Zinzendorf written when he himself was a student, in 1716; the youngest, an aerial photograph of the College, taken during a hot-air balloon flight 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.

A soft-voiced Canadian (which you can hear when he says “abote”), John 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, in places as diverse as a small community museum in Nova Scotia and the National Archives of Canada in Ottawa. Since 1994, he has been an archivist at the Seeley G. Mudd
Manuscript Library at Princeton University, first on a full-time basis, then as a consultant after he moved to the Lehigh Valley.

In 2002, he succeeded Dan Gilbert, professor emeritus of history and the College’s first archivist. He works one day a week at Moravian, and also serves as an archival consultant to the Bethlehem Area Public Library.

The Moravian College archives are, to put it kindly, in need of work. Since the establishment of the archives on a formal basis in 1988, archival materials have been gathered from hiding places across campus. A recent find in the attic of the Brethren’s House included a collection of mid-19th-century instructional charts, two of which will be featured in the exhibit. Bound copies of the student newspaper of Moravian College and Theological Seminary, 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. (When the two institutions merged in 1954, the newspaper continued to bear the name of the men’s college paper, while the yearbook carried on the name of the women’s college yearbook, the Benigna.)

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