The Pleasures of Finding Gold in the Archive

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While working on a dissertation chapter this morning I was perusing notes I made months ago on archival documents. In this particular case I had been trying to establish a timeline for what I suspected was an incriminating series of events, but the documents were jumbled and fragmentary and I just wasn’t sure what exactly happened, or when.

Sometimes you find tantalizing pieces of evidence and you wonder if you’ll really be able to use them. Can you establish with clarity what exactly they mean?

That was the state of play months ago when I made some notes that made me chuckle today when I rediscovered them. One document is tagged, “smoking gun.” I was on my way to confirming the timeline. Then, dozens of pages later, my notes say:

“Earlier smoking gun! More smoke! The bullet is visibly exiting the chamber!”

I guess I was pretty excited. I established my timeline. And that’s a good feeling.

Back to the Archives

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I’m at the Southern Baptist Convention headquarters in Nashville this week to explore the Southern Baptist archives. I’m especially interested in how Southern Baptists engaged with Church Growth Movement ideas. In a roundabout way, this has much to do with the civil rights movement.

To explore how white evangelicals grappled with race, you can’t just explore it as a political question. A denominational statement on Brown v. Board or the Civil Rights Act is interesting, but it doesn’t capture the more important activity occurring on the ground. Historians need to be more aware of the ways white evangelicals turn political questions into ecclesial ones. So if we want to know how they responded to the civil rights movement, their church planting strategies may have more to tell us than their explicit political or racial statements.

Anyway, I’m finding lots of good stuff today, but I’m way too fried to talk about it!