Tweeting a Visit to the Archives

As the summer continues, I’ve become increasingly interested in integrating social media into our digital history project, as a way of breaking down some of the barriers traditionally separating scholar and audience. Not just to share these posts, sites like Facebook and LinkedIn have helped us to invite alumni and employees to share their stories of Bethel during a century of warfare. And posting links on Twitter has helped me to connect with other scholars and archives with similar interest:

So when I spent yesterday morning in the archives of Bethel and the Baptist General Conference, I thought I might use our Twitter hashtag (#bethelatwar) to share a bit of what I was finding — perhaps another version of that “preargument” scholarship I’ve discussed earlier.

I was back in the papers of G. Arvid Hagstrom, Bethel’s president from 1914 to 1941 (and then on faculty during World War II). Oddly, the particular file I was reviewing had nothing from Hagstrom, but is nonetheless quite valuable: it’s a box preserving correspondence between Bethel president Henry Wingblade and college dean Emery Johnson and servicemen and women — some of them Bethel students and alumni, others simply members of Baptist General Conference churches to whom Bethel was sending greetings and copies of the denominational magazine, The Standard. (It’s hard not to see that latter batch of correspondence as both a ministry and a recruitment device; after the G.I. Bill was enacted in June 1944, you start seeing lots of soldiers, sailors, and nurses expressing interest in attending Bethel after the war, interest that Wingblade and Johnson strongly encouraged.)

I’ll come back to some other themes from that correspondence as blogging continues this month and we start drafting the pages of our final site, including frustration with (and from) chaplains and seeing war itself as a “missions field.” But here let me collect the letter excerpts that I tweeted yesterday. If you’re interested, I’ll plan to do something similar when I return to the archives the next couple of Tuesday mornings.

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