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Pearl Digital Archives: 2021 Highlights

December 20, 2021
Pearl Digital Collections, 2021.

As people around the world adapted to another year of restrictions due to the pandemic, researchers turned to PHS digitization services to stay connected to our collections from the comfort and safety of their own homes. As this year winds down and we prepare for 2022, we are spotlighting some new additions to Pearl, the Society’s online repository of digitized and born-digital images, publications, audio, and video content.

Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church Historical Commission, 1982. [Pearl ID: 166891]

As part of our ongoing African American Leaders and Congregations Collecting Initiative, PHS has offered to digitize the earliest records of predominantly Black congregations at no cost to the church.  

We shared about this effort last year when we wrote about the digitization of the records of our neighbors, Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church. Since then, their records have been added to Pearl Digital Collections. 

Rev. Robert Lee Maffett (fourth from right) and chaplains at Philadelphia General Hospital, 1968. [Pearl ID: 176175]

Be sure to browse our African American history collection in Pearl to check out more exciting additions which support our AALC Collecting Initiative, such as Robert Lee Maffett’s manuscript, “The Killing of Philadelphia General Hospital”, and a History of Fairfield Presbytery, 1868-1888which traces their formation through work of the Board of Missions for Freedmen. Also newly available online are the burial records of First Presbyterian Church in Elizabeth, New Jersey, which were digitized in an effort to discover the whereabouts of Black ancestors of what is now Siloam Hope First Presbyterian Church. 

This past year brought exciting developments in the inter-institutional effort to publish the personal records of Dr. Katie Geneva Cannon. Not only was Dr. Cannon the first Black woman ordained a minister of word and sacrament in the Presbyterian Church, she was also a founding voice of Womanist theology.  

Katie G. Cannon preaching, 1993. [Pearl ID: 171119]

Work is being done in a collaboration with the Center for Womanist Leadership at Union Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond, Virginia and Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary (Columbia University Libraries) in New York City with the end goal of creating a single digital collection to represent the formidable life and work of Katie Cannon. The growing collection can be accessed in Pearl Digital Collections. 

So far, all of the Center for Womanist Leaderships records are available online. These records include lectures, essays, sermons, and early academic writings, spanning 1947 through 2017. Most excitingly it includes Katie Cannon’s 1983 dissertation, Resources for a Constructive Ethic for Black Women with Special Attention to the Life and Work of Zora Neale Hurston. Be sure to check back in 2022 as we add records from the Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary (Columbia University Libraries). 

As stewards of history, we at PHS have a responsibility to not only document what has happened in the past, but to recognize the history we are living through today. In response to the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement, we began curating Presbyterian responses to the nationwide protests against police violence toward Black people. The result is the Racial Justice collectiona digital collection consisting of videos of worship services, Bibles studies, personal messages from pastors, and news coverage of Presbyterians responding to the Black Lives Matter movement from 2015 through 2021. 

Image from Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary Black Lives Matter worship service, 2020. [Pearl ID: 181638]

In 2021, PHS staff processed a crucial collection: records of the Church World Service (CWS). CWS was formed in 1946 when seventeen denominations joined together to create a relief agency to assist communities in Europe and Asia that were affected by World War II. In the decades that followed, CWS expanded their aid into Africa, Latin America, and the Middle East. This newly processed collection—including a series of photographs documenting humanitarian assistance in Haiti after Hurricane Flora (1963)—is 119 boxes in total. A small sample of that collection is now available in Pearl.  

While the widespread availability of the vaccine was undeniably positive, yet another year of living with uncertainty of COVID-19 has come and gone. In response to this exceptional moment of history, we have curated a digital collection of Presbyterian responses to the global pandemic, including sermons, worship services, and oral histories. The most recent addition to the collection is a series of oral histories conducted by Ann Silverman during this past summer. Ann, a resident of Cathedral Village in Philadelphia, interviewed her fellow residents about their experiences with COVID-19. After witnessing the serious impact of the deadly virus on her community, Ann felt inspired to document their observations and recollections. You can now listen to these oral histories in Pearl.

Bettie Durrah's choreopoetry reading, 1995. [Pearl ID: 175907]

In Spring 2021, PHS excitedly unveiled our Building Knowledge and Breaking Barriers (BKBB) exhibit—the result of a collaboration with Community College of Philadelphia (CCP). The exhibit spotlights research by CCP students, with topics including the Black church, LGBTQIA+ inclusion, representative public art in Philadelphia, and white Christian attitudes toward Asian communities.  

Three outdoor installations are now available to the public Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. Even though access to the indoor exhibits is currently on hold due to pandemic restrictions, you can experience the project in other ways, such as through a virtual tourvisiting the online exhibit, or browsing the Building Knowledge and Breaking Barriers collection in Pearl. This digital collection holds images used by students in their exhibits, such as this image of a Bettie Durrah choreopoetry reading. It also includes some of the primary sources digitized to support this archives-based learning project.  

First Presbyterian Church (Columbus, Ind.) Pride display, 2021. [Pearl ID: 179655]

As part of our Pam Byers Memorial Collection, we asked Presbyterian congregations and other worshipping communities to share their stories of celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising. Thirty-one congregations responded, providing videos and audio recordings of sermons and worship services that focused on past celebrations of Pride and of the historic celebration in 2021. Items from this Pride Month collection are now viewable in Pearl

Cook College and Theological School building dedication, 1966. [Pearl ID: 180813]

Recently added to Pearl is a series of audio tapes related to Cook College and Theological School in Tempe, Arizona. Most of the recordings stem from the work of Cecil Corbett, member of the Nez Perce Tribe and director of the school. Recordings include his address to the 1968 General Assembly and a recording of a seminar addressing the needs of Indigenous communities. 

Thanks goes out to the many hands and minds that helped Pearl grow over the past year especially David, Gabe, and Sharon. See you all in 2022!