Homer and Herodotus in the Archives

In the year 1999, an interesting and unique situation existed in the Beeghly Library, one of “historic” importance. Sharing our archives just across a table from college archivists Don and Hedda Durnbaugh was emeritus professor Earl Kaylor. One could think of Don and Earl as the college’s version of famed Greek historians (the Fathers of History)Homer and Herodotus because of their importantance in writing about the origins of both Juniata College and the Church of the Brethren.

Don, who passed away in 2005, was working on several projects, chief among them cataloging the latest part of the Cassel collection to reach Juniata, which includes 120,000 books and many pamphlets. Don had recently published Fruit of the Vine: A History of the Brethren 1708-1995, and had written extensively on Church of the Brethren history. Earl was temporarily in the archives for the year, working on completely rewriting and updating Truth Sets Free-- the history of Juniata College -- to the year 2000 (having begun with the year 1876!). He has written about the Church of the Brethren as well in such works as Out of the Wilderness:The Brethren and Two Centuries of Life in Central Pennsylvania (1780-1980). Naturally, the history of the college and the church are intertwined, along with Juniata's extraordinary special collections.

The archivists in action: Don Durnbaugh (left) and Earl Kaylor.

The special collections at Juniata, which are very well known by many international scholars, are a resource both Earl and Don worked with extensively. The collection includes: The Cassel collection, Shoemaker collection, Swigart collection, Snow Hill collection, Mutual Benefit Group Gift (includes many Saur Bibles), Juniata College Archives, Church of the Brethren Middle District Archives, papers of important Juniata College figures, and of course, miscellaneous items. Scholars have come from many places, including Germany, to use the collection. Items located in the collection could even be said to be coveted by many groups.

Don and Earl found themselves together again as colleagues in the archives about forty years after first working together at Juniata, in 1958. Their careers were spent as historians and both spent much time teaching, for Don in a number of places, but Earl remained at Juniata. Both came to Juniata with strong interests in church history and peace studies (perhaps their favorite topics) but throughout their careers have taught on many topics. Earl was influenced at Juniata College by history professor Harry Hess Nye, he then went to the Seminary, got interested in church history, and went to Notre Dame where he broadened his interest to American history. Don credits Gladys Muir from Manchester College for cultivating his interest in studying the historic peace churches, actually he was able to write the book to mark the 250th anniversary of the Church of the Brethren entitled, European Origins of the Brethren.

Both historians find that if they were to spend a good deal of time talking about history instead of writing or researching, they might indeed talk about favorite figures in church or college history. The names M.G. Brumbaugh (see Earl’s book Martin Grove Brumbaugh) or M.R. Zigler (Don’s Pragmatic Prophet: The Life of Michael Robert Zigler) are mentioned as favorite personalities to write about. Historians such as Roland Bainton, Jacques Parzon, Mac Minton, and Stephen Ambrose are favorites as well. Other figures in church history who have impressed Don and Earl include Andrew Coister, Dan West and Jon Backs to name a few. Alas, with all the research they do there is little time to talk and reminisce.

Herodotus once said, “I know not what the truth may be, I tell the tale as ‘twas told to me.” A few of their thoughts on history would include that history has taught us that we don’t learn from history. History cannot predict the future but can help us to avoid mistakes of the past. Earl mentioned that some of our presidents have been students of history such as Harry Truman, Bill Clinton, and Woodrow Wilson. Also, history is written from one perspective, that of the author. One can make history alive; however, not to distort but to project you back in time - controlled imagination rather than a fictionalized account. You can’t write completely objective history, sometimes the perspective is stated, and sometimes it needs to be discovered. However, as Don pointed out, we do have historical footnoting, so as far as possible history can be based on fact. In fact, revisionist history is a perfect example of differing perspectives. In any case, both authors agree that writing in a clear and interesting fashion is plain hard work, and difficult. Earl actually enjoys the delving and researching, more than the writing.

Differences in the Church of the Brethren and the college from their perspective as historians are quite marked. The college, of course, has become much more secular, and Earl notes that there are less Brethren professors or Juniata grads. Back in 1958, Don mentioned, there was a no smoking policy on campus and required chapel. In many ways Juniata has become an independent college. The Church itself has become, according to Don, much more active, and ecumenical with very few disciplinary line. The church, however, has consistently stood as a persistent peace witness, and in fact can be very influential disproportionate to the size of the church with such groups as the National Council of Churches which can have a strong political influence.

On the lighter side, Don and Earl played volleyball together on an intramural team back in the early days. They remember doing well, however, one of their favorite threats was to mention to the student opposition that if the game didn’t go well, a possible pop quiz might be in order in history class the next day. Depending on perspectives that was an important fact.

These two historians have made a great contribution to our understanding of both the Brethren and Juniata College. One can only imagine how much help a student would have received should he or she have come across these two august historians of college and church history, sitting side by side in the archives. Their pursuit of history is surely a valuable and honorable task. As Herodotus wrote in 445 B.C., “ what Herodotus the Halicarnassian has learned by inquiry is here set forth; in order that the memories of the past may not be blotted out from among men in time.” Don and Earl have made a great and successful effort in that regard. One would imagine that Homer and Herodotus would approve.

John W. Mumford
Library Director
Beeghly Library
Juniata College


See Dr. Donald F. Durnbaugh In Memoriam


 

 

 

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