3 ways we’re sharing Mary Baker Eddy’s legacy
By Bronwen Arthur
If you’ve ever visited the Research Room at the Mary Baker Eddy Library in Boston, you’ve probably accessed the treasure trove of documents and images available digitally. Our research staff has likely helped you, too.
But what if you aren’t able to come to Boston? Wouldn’t it still be nice to access our collections, along with a helpful guide? Well, you can! With the Mary Baker Eddy Papers, we’re creating a digital archive where you can not only access some of Eddy’s letters from anywhere but also research them easily and understandably. You may already be familiar with the Papers, but if not we hope you’ll take a moment to visit us. You can also listen to a recent podcast.
Recently, I was talking with a friend and explaining the Papers project. He was particularly interested in knowing how I felt the Papers contributes to preserving and sharing Mary Baker Eddy’s legacy. It was a great question, so I thought I’d share with you three ways we’re doing that.
1. We’re preserving content for years to come.
Do you have home movies on VHS tapes, or important documents on floppy disks? Then you know first-hand one of the challenges that archives face. It’s one thing to preserve content, but another to access it as technology changes. Over a number of years, archival staff at The Mother Church and the Mary Baker Eddy Library have created digital copies of letters and other documents in our collection. In the case of Eddy’s letters, we’ve made Microsoft Word document transcriptions. But additional care is needed to ensure this digital content remains available for years to come. With the Papers, we’re using a web standard called TEI (Text Encoding Initiative). It’s specifically intended for projects like ours, to ensure that the electronic texts we create will continue to be readable in the future, regardless of how technology changes.
2. We’re providing access in new ways.
Aside from just making Mary Baker Eddy’s papers available from anywhere, at anytime, we’re working to create different ways to start exploring the Papers. We’ve started making some reference lists, also called taxonomies, using the data we’ve created so far. For example, every time Mary Baker Eddy refers to something from the Bible in a letter or sermon, we’ve entered the book of the Bible and the verse into the electronic text. This allows us to build an ever-expanding list of all the Bible references that appear in the Papers Project. It’s both a helpful research tool and a great place to start browsing. Our tutorial video will show you how.
3. We’re connecting the details of the story.
As well as offering access to the project in new ways, such as the reference lists I just mentioned, we’ve added notes to the documents that will help you better understand what you’re reading. We have editorial notes to explain certain concepts or events. We’ve made connections between related documents, and we’ve linked to short biographies of individuals who appear in the papers. When a letter talks about “Mr. Smith,” you can now click on his name and find out who he was. For example, Eddy’s sermon “Bill of Rights for 1880” is an interesting read—but the meaning of certain sections becomes clearer when you know that it was delivered at the time of a legislative bill that would have limited the practice of Christian Science. Having all this important annotation on the Papers is almost like having a member of the research staff right by your side to answer your questions.
We love to let you know about interesting stories we’re finding in Eddy’s letters, or new features we’re adding to make searching the Papers even easier. So we hope you’ll visit mbepapers.org frequently. Please let us know what you think, too!
Bronwen Arthur is Assistant Editor for The Mary Baker Eddy Papers.