Visual Representations and Methodist Children’s Literature

When we were young many of us were fascinated with children’s books and the accompanying images that helped us visually connect with the story on the page. Those images brought life to the text and provided us with visual representations of the people, landscapes, and cultures represented – or so we thought. As we grew older, we realized that not every picture represents hard reality and that some portrayals are in fact not reality at all. (e.g. some images are staged representations of reality). These semi-fictitious (or fully fictitious) representations seared certain images into our minds that shaped the way we thought about certain peoples or certain places near and far.

One such publication in the Drew Methodist Library is the magazine Golden Hours: A Magazine for Boys and Girls. The periodical was edited by Daniel Currey and H.V. Osborne and produced by Methodist publishers between 1869 to 1880. I’m looking at the 1876 volume as I type these words and find stories for children such as “Legend of Frogtown” and “Working for Jesus.” I also see stories titled “Domestic Life in India” and “Japanese Worship” (the image above is part of the latter story). Packaged together in a nicely bound volume young readers can imagine life in Frogtown or visualize what happens in a Shinto Temple in Japan. These portrayals capture the imagination of the reader, and for some, led to a future life in humanitarian work or a career as a missionary.

I regularly help researchers work through these historical materials at Drew and am fascinated by how publishers, editors, and authors worked diligently to portray others through their images and stories. These forms of children’s literature (produced in the hundreds of thousands of copies) provided young children with images of what life was like near at home and far, far away. Sometimes these portrayals echoed a form of reality, other times they were scripted in ways editors thought would tug at the emotions of children (or their parents). Thinking about visual representation is important. Analyzing how people and places have been portrayed gives us a glimpse at how certain religions and religious peoples have been misrepresented. It is important for those of us interested in history to look twice at pictures and to think about how images both shape us and are shaped by us.

In A Looking-Glass for Ladies: American Protestant Women and the Orient in the Nineteenth Century (Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 2005) author Lisa Joy Pruitt investigates how U.S. Protestant missionary organizations supplied readers with visual representations of the religions, cultures, and peoples outside of North America. Her study specifically analyzes women from Asia. I wrote a review of the book in 2005. The following is the text from that review:

Pruitt’s A Looking-Glass for Ladies offers readers a thorough investigation into the strategies of portrayal and perception used by early nineteenth century American Protestant mission organizations and missionaries. The book examines how missionaries mobilized American Protestant women by using media such as Christian magazines and children’s literature to construct certain notions of the “Orient” and of “Oriental” women for U.S. audiences. These descriptions helped shape perceptions of what “Orientals” looked like and acted like, yet perhaps more importantly, cast a net of concern over the minds of American Protestant women while gently tugging on their pocketbook strings for financial assistance overseas.

Pruitt’s study of Protestant missions and gender emphasizes the reflexive influence of women missionaries in the early nineteenth century. Rather than focus on how American missions agencies and missionaries influenced the peoples and cultures overseas the author demonstrates how agencies and workers influenced the perception of the foreigner for people in the United States. Pruitt contends the literature published and stories retold about the exploitation of women overseas triggered an early nineteenth century push toward global missions. Thus, by writing and publishing memoirs and Sunday school curriculum, missionaries sought to convince American women that their “degraded” counterparts in foreign lands suffered as victims of exploitation and “heathen” bondage. Stories of the practice of sati or of footbinding functioned as springboards to encourage American women to evangelize the regions of the world where these practices occurred. These images of the “Orient” and of “Oriental” women were brought into the churches and homes of the United States from overseas in order to convince American women to donate both money and their lives to international missions work.

Scholars and students of religious and cultural studies will find Pruitt’s book helpful. Those interested in the interplay between world missions, gender and reception studies will find Pruitt’s text both fascinating and insightful. The book will be useful for both undergraduate and graduate courses in missions studies and American religious history.



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John Wesley Carhart … Methodist “Circuit Driver” and Automotive Pioneer

Dr. Kenneth Rowe (former Methodist Librarian at Drew University) and I have an affinity for automobiles. He enjoys collecting and refurbishing old cars. I enjoy watching them race each other on Sunday afternoons. During a recent visit to the Methodist Library Ken gave me a photocopy of an intriguing article titled “Little Known History: Wisconsin Pioneer of the Automobile and Road Signs and Markers.” The story was from the May/June 2010 issue of the Bulb Horn, a periodical published for the Veteran Motor Car Club of America.

The author of the article, Richard Lichtfeld, claims that the first automobile in the United States was designed and driven by a Methodist minister, one Reverend John Wesley Carhart. For two years Carhart and his brother worked on a steam-powered automobile that by early May of 1873 was ready for its initial road test. The Racine (Wisconsin) Journal, a local newspaper, covered the reveal in its May 7, 1873 issue. Carhart’s “steam buggy” weighed in at 1,100 pounds and was powered by a coal-fed boiler. The car sparked an automotive interest, perhaps a need for speed, with the people of Racine and surrounding areas. Within two years the Wisconsin State legislature offered a $10,000 prize for anyone who could build an automobile that would serve as substitute for the horse.

As a librarian and former history professor my first inclination was to search through the dust of our library to track down additional evidence to validate whether Carhart really invented the first American automobile. His name “Carhart” seemed synonymous with what would be later called the “car” – but I wanted to find additional primary evidence. I located a copy of Carhart’s autobiography Four Years on Wheels; or Life as a Presiding Elder (Oshkosh, WI: Allen & Hicks, Printers, 1880) at Drew University. I thought for certain I would find ample evidence of the Methodist itinerant traveling from parish to parish in his steam buggy or driving carloads of church youth group kids to the county fair. No such luck. But, I did find that Carhart enjoyed dabbling with mechanical devices. In his Four Years on Wheels he wrote, “I always had an irrepressible passion for mechanics, and during my stay in Troy I accidentally invented, and subsequently perfected, an invention in the form of an oscillating valve for steam engines, which I patented and out of which I made a few thousand dollars.” (138)

Carhart evidently had altered the way clergy traveled in the United States. The Methodist circuit rider, a weather-worn itinerant who had traveled on horseback throughout colonial America and the early National period of the United States, was now fitted with wheels. Former “circuit riders” were now buzzing down local Wisconsin roads as “circuit drivers” … performing ministry at 5 miles per hour. Richard Petty, former NASCAR driver and self-acclaimed Methodist, was the 20th century “King” of automobile racing. Rev. Charles Wesley Carhart, it seems, was the first parson on wheels and would later receive international notoriety as the “Father of the Automobile” at the 1908 Automobile Exposition in Paris.

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The Secret to a Longer Life – Methodist Style!

A 1960 report published by Together magazine noted that American Methodists lived longer than others because they followed a certain regimen prescribed by their founder. John Wesley, Methodism’s patron saint, had lived well into his 80’s. And, if persistent, 20th-century Wesleyans could do the same.

To become a Methodist octogenarian, it was important to consume proper meals with simple foods while remaining “cheerful” at the dinner table. For a long life it was also essential to wear clean clothes and to keep a clean house. Or, as the article noted, to “let none ever see a ragged Methodist.” Further, daily exercise was essential as was keeping in touch with one’s friends – perhaps an early version of Facebook (Methbook?).

So, a proper diet, keeping one’s clothing and home tidy, daily exercise, and connecting with friends are all essential ingredients to a long, robust life. Many of these approaches are still being marketed in 2010. If John Wesley were alive today shoppers might find his formula for a long life at their local Barnes and Noble bookstore. Or, they might even receive a friend request from the Oxford don on their favorite social networking site.

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Smoking, Dancing, Card-playing…and Roller Skating?

by James Monroe Buckley

American Methodists have had a contentious and at times volatile relationship with popular culture. 19th-century reactions to fashionable clothing, romance novels, and motion pictures ranged from avoidance to skepticism to accommodation. These tensions are intriguing and demonstrate how Methodists navigated the often murky spaces of popular entertainments. The 1890s phrase “What Would Jesus Do?” made many Methodists nervous – especially when it came to the rejection or adaptation of popular culture in their lives.

For astute Methodist churchgoers, various authors and elders had made it abundantly clear: do not smoke tobacco, do not dance, and do not use playing cards. These vehicles for the destruction to the soul, it was thought, linked Methodists (privately and publicly) to gambling, debauchery, and the bawdy culture of the saloon. One can find dozens of books and pamphlets warning the followers of Wesley to avoid these forms of vice.

Some believed these mediums of popular culture were the tools of the Devil. And, recently I’ve discovered that the Prince of Darkness was also interested in roller skating. If the Devil had his way, roller skating would bring about physical maladies in young women and cause teenagers from across the US to abandon their Sunday evening Epworth League meetings for the dangerous atmosphere of the local roller rink.

James Monroe Buckley, the venerable editor of the New York City-based newspaper The Christian Advocate, led the charge for those concerned with this recent trendy recreational activity that attached wheels to one’s shoes. In his pamphlet The Roller-Skating Rink Craze (1885) Buckley lamented that roller skating would result in the “impaired health” of young women who were not accustomed to such rigorous physical activities. More importantly, for Buckley and his readers, it was vital that Methodists not be seen in such establishments and that Christian parents never allow their children to frequent the rink on the night of regular prayer-meeting.

Roller skating, it seemed, was dangerous to both the body and the soul.

If you would like to examine an electronic copy of Buckley’s pamphlet contact me at

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The American Methodism Project

A consortium of academic librarians are working on the front end of a long term digitization initiative. The American Methodism Project is a collaborative effort on the part of thirteen seminary libraries affiliated with The United Methodist Church, the General Commission on Archives and History, The Methodist Librarians’ Fellowship of ATLA, and the Internet Archive. The project is in its earliest phase and will soon have a couple thousand digitized books related Wesleyan and Methodist studies available online for reading and/or downloading.

A description of the project follows:

The American Methodism Project is a digitized collection of interdisciplinary and historical materials related to American Methodism. The primary goal of this project is to provide both the digital tools and the digitized texts of American Methodism to better understand both Methodism and the United States. Contemporary questions of church and state boundaries, the role of government, moral development, education, leadership, labor, immigration, family, etc. are topics which can benefit from debates and reflections contained within this corpus of materials.

The scope of the project focuses upon described and published materials of American Methodism that are of value to researchers for access, searching, and analysis. From local churches to global missionaries, the project will document American Methodism’s role and reach within local communities and the broader society by published minutes of meetings, local church histories, magazines, papers and pamphlets, books, reference works, and dissertations.

American Methodism is especially well-documented and can provide significant insights into the debates and developments of local communities, regions, and the nation. Once established, Methodism grew with the United States so that it included more than 34 percent of all American church members by 1850. Nathan Hatch and others have noted how American Methodism uniquely parallels the development of the United States and its culture over time. Methodists established hospitals, orphanages, and colleges (at one point more than one per year), and even today the United Methodist Church claims to be the only Christian body to have established a congregation in every county of the United States. The varied sources, voices, and perspectives of these documents will provide a rich resource for interpreting the past. The project also hopes to stimulate the creation of tools to analyze this corpus of material.

The project is a partnership between the United Methodist-related seminary libraries, the Internet Archive, the United Methodist Commission on Archives and History, and the Methodist Librarians Fellowship. Additional materials will be selected from the partner libraries, other related institutions, historical societies, scholarly societies, publishers, other libraries and archives, annual conferences, United Methodist agencies, local churches, and other Methodist-related denominations.

The project coordinators are always interested in receiving nominations for the digitization of specific books. Please feel free to recommend books in the comment section below. We are also considering creative ways to fund the project. We trust the digitized materials will be useful resources in both the academy and the local church.

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Along Came a Spider: Google Search and Special Collections Access

In June I will give a poster session at the American Theological Library Association (Louisville, KY). I’ve been fascinated with the like/dis-like tensions librarians often have with Google Search. On the one hand, librarians are careful to point out the limits of Google Search for researchers. While at the same time they themselves use the search tool for their own work. I’ve found Google Search to be very useful as a pointing tool – to bring attention to our Special Collections @ Drew University. The following paragraph summarizes my poster session:

Librarians often have a contentious relationship with Google. Critics of the search engine argue the tool is inefficient for deep searching or for finding quality information in a timely manner. Others argue that researchers tend to use Google Search instead of accessing standardized library catalogs for research-related materials. While these concerns are certainly legitimate, the search tool can also put scholars, students, and web-users in touch with special collections and archival materials they might never locate through a library catalog or electronic database. This poster session will provide a brief overview of how Google Search spiders function and more importantly how the tool can be used to promote and provide access to special collections and archival materials under basic bibliographic control. The presenter will provide commentary and examples on how both library catalogs and Google Search actually work side-by-side to provide users with much greater access to rare and special collections materials.

Planning for the session has been interesting. I’ve learned more about Google spiders (or Googlebots) than I thought I would. And, I realize the potential of the search tool in connecting researcher with material. Library catalogs and electronic databases are important tools – but there are other ways to bring attention to one’s collections. It’s just a matter of harnessing Google’s potential and re-directing its functionality to promote your special collections that are not catalogued but under some form of basic bibliographic control. The search tool is not without flaw but does provide another route to bring patron and non-cataloged materials together.

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Back Online

I’ve finally decided to get back into blogging. We’ll see where this takes me.


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