On Writing a History of the American Bible Society–Update #13

Richard Varick: President of ABS during 1st General Supply

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It was a pretty quiet Friday at the American Bible Society (ABS).  I finished my last day of my first summer 2014 stint in the archives here and it was a productive one. Thanks again to Mary Cordato and Kristin Hellman for making the ABS a great place to conduct research.

On Friday I worked my way through ABS Extracts published in the late 1820s and early 1830s.  This was about the time of the ABS’s “General Supply.” Between 1829 and 1831 the Society attempted to give a Bible to every family and adult individual in the United States. It was an ambitious undertaking.  I have been looking at the way the local auxiliaries and ABS field agents have been responding to this call. I have been uncovering a lot of good anecdotes and stories.

I have also been wrestling with the nature of the book I am writing . My original goal was to write a semi-scholarly/semi-popular history of the American Bible Society that was deeply grounded in the primary sources and informed by the best secondary literature in American religious history and other fields.  I am enjoying my work on this project and wish I could spend more time on it. But, alas, I have agreed to deliver a book in time for the 200th anniversary of the ABS.  With this in mind, I am just not sure I can deliver a book with the kind of depth and scholarly analysis I had originally planned.

This is a rather new kind of history writing.  I am going to have to try to figure out how to write an institutional history in one year without sacrificing my own standards as a critical historian.  I am not sure if this is possible.  We will see what happens. This is going to take a lot of work over the course of the next year, but it is also a challenge I need right now.

3 thoughts on “On Writing a History of the American Bible Society–Update #13

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  2. Dear Dr. Fea,

    I wanted to let you know that I am really enjoying this new series on your undertaking to write a history of the ABS. It sounds like you had a very nice and productive week in the city. Fordham has a campus near Columbus Circle so I frequently spend time in that area myself. When you return, you should consider a quick visit to the nearby church of St. Paul the Apostle (between 58th and 60th). It’s really lovely.

    I know that you are certainly up to the challenge of producing this new book (if at top speed), and I have no doubt that you will find a way to offer critical and in-depth analysis of the historical development of the society. Actually, though, I like your honesty in these posts, and it’s consoling to hear about some of the uncertainty over the project that you’re encountering. I know I’ll be thinking of this the next time I have to confront my own concerns over the next big project I begin. Evidently this kind of ambiguity is the bane of the experienced scholar as well as the neophyte, but it’s all part of the process and soon to be overcome!

    I’m away right now but back in NYC in August. If you ever want to catch up, just let me know. In the meantime, I wish you a lot of luck with your research!! Unfortunately I don’t always have time to comment but I’ll be continuing to follow your posts! Be well,
    Christine Kelly


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