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Dialogue: Honoring and digitizing the past

A conversation with Carisse Mickey Berryhill, archivist at Abilene Christian University.

Carisse Mickey Berryhill is the kind of person who thinks ahead — about 300 years ahead, she says.
As a librarian and archivist for Abilene Christian University in Texas, she wants to make it easy for future generations of researchers to access documents about the history of Churches of Christ.
She also wants church members to be aware of their heritage of faith. When you ignore your past, “you lose your sense of who you’ve been and where you were,” she told the ACU Optimist in February 2005, eight months after she started working for the university.
As a child, she cherished a comic book based on the Old Testament book of Esther, she told the Optimist. The daughter of a Church of Christ minister, she studied English and began teaching at Lubbock Christian University in Texas at age 25. She earned advanced degrees in library science and church history. In 1992 she moved to Memphis, Tenn., to work as associate librarian for Harding School of Theology, where she served for 12 years.
She is a scholar of Alexander Campbell and the 19th century Stone-Campbell movement, a back-to-the-Bible awakening associated with Churches of Christ. She directs the acquisition of print, archival and digital collections related to the movement for the university’s Center for Restoration Studies.

She has received accolades for her work from Pepperdine University and the Web-based Information Science Education (WISE) Consortium. She currently serves as chair of the Corporation Board of Restoration Quarterly.

What does a theological librarian do?

We specialize in gathering, organizing and preserving religious resources and building bridges from them to the needs of readers.
As a librarian and archivist of our heritage, I focus on identifying and preserving collections of mostly non-book materials, such as letters, diaries, sermons, manuscripts, photographs, recordings, pamphlets, church histories, newsletters, mission reports, teaching materials, cloth charts, websites and ephemeral documents.
We are also stewards of extensive collections of historic books and periodicals from Churches of Christ and related groups.
We digitize some materials to make them accessible. For example, we are in the middle of a three-year project to digitize about 2,000 of our missionary photographs made between 1899 and 1969 in 45 countries outside the U.S.

How can an academic life also be a spiritual ministry?
A disciplined mind that is humble before the Lord is a worshipful mind, therefore academic life is part worship and part witness.
Professors love to discover and to try to connect the dots. But professors are not satisfied just to know things — they want to share their insights with young people to equip them to bring light, justice and love into the world.
Knowledge is both beautiful and formative, thus it is both a service and a ministry.

What attracted you to study the life of Alexander Campbell?
I knew he was important to my heritage, but I wanted to understand why.
Because I was a student of language and the history of rhetoric, I was struck by the fact that he was educated in Scotland — the birthplace of modern rhetorical thought. I was curious about how Campbell’s ideas about communication were formed by his education and how they played out in his long career as a debater, educator and publisher.

What do you see as the lasting heritage of Campbell?  
Campbell was one of the most influential men of the 19th century, but he is not well-known today. He worked tirelessly through publishing, public speaking and education to encourage Christians to demonstrate the love of God to the world through their love for one another.
He has been caricatured as a cold rationalist, but he was a person of great vision and passionate hopefulness. He was a great blend of intelligence and optimism.

What do college students and others need to know about our Restoration heritage?
We need to know that we have a heritage and what comprises that heritage. It’s inspiring to learn about heroes and heroines of faith through whom God has loved and saved us.
It’s also good to understand the ideas and social forces that shaped our forbearers and us. Students need to understand how early American ideals in the Republic and on the frontier taught us to value freedom of individual judgment, for example.
We ought to understand how the Civil War revealed deep rifts in our community’s attitudes toward the role of faith in our national destiny.
Students ought to understand how the early 20th century stimulated enthusiasm for missions and for institutions, and how the social upheavals of the late 20th century challenged the hegemony of those same institutions.
Knowing our history makes our faith both rooted and real. It equips us to think about how to be faithful in our own time.
What are you studying currently?  
I have two projects going right now. I am transcribing one of Campbell’s college notebooks from Scotland,  written from 1808 to 1809. This notebook had immigrated with Campbell descendants to Australia and was returned in 1985 to Bethany College, which he founded in 1840.
I am working from microfilm made of it in Australia and from a photocopy made in Bethany. I began the transcription during an ACU sabbatical a couple of years ago. This research reveals so much about the roots of Campbell’s ideas on truth, beauty, and community.
I am also working on a book of edited interviews with theological librarians who have been guests in my online course on theological librarianship. My colleagues have been generous with their time and candor about the work they do. I admire their hospitality.

Why is Christian education so important today?  
A Christian education is more than adding Bible classes to a normal course of college studies. It is participating in a community of mind, heart and creativity. It is about interacting with scholar-teachers who think rigorously across diverse disciplines and cultures — with reverence for God and love for God’s whole world.
Studying with Christian educators will form and mobilize young people to show the light of the love of Christ in our world. 

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