Friday, January 27, 2012

An essay of sorts ....

On our private blog we’ve posted bits in rough draft of what will be chapter one of our next book. We’re not posting it here, but I will tell you about our research.

Most accounts of Russell’s youth retell the usual story in a paragraph or two. The exception is Zydek’s “biography” of Russell which, unfortunately, is more fiction than truth. Our chapter is about sixty single spaced pages long; it is documented with well over two hundred footnotes referencing nearly 150 original documents, contemporary books, magazines and newspapers. There are at least twenty seldom seen, some never seen in this context, photos or period prints. Included are portraits of two of the Russell’s ministers, one Presbyterian and one Congregationalist.

We tell this story from original records and often in Russell’s own words. We elaborate on what he said, drawing illustrations and explanations from contemporary documents. We identify the public school Russell attended and tell something about it. Russell claimed private tutors. We give significant, never-published detail. We identify the Presbyterian Church to which the Birney-Russell family belonged. From original court records we tell about J. L. Russell’s business successes and failures. We name the Congregational church that young Russell joined, naming and providing biographies for the two pastors with whom he discussed issues of faith.

Russell left a wealth of auto-biographical but seldom consulted comments. We have ferreted them out and used them. They give us a much enlarged and more accurate picture of his younger years and his emotional and intellectual struggles. We correct misstatements made both by his friends and his enemies. We do a significant amount of myth-busting. The last two section of this chapter consider Russell’s business ventures. In important ways his friends and his enemies miss-tell this part of his history. We relay on archival records, including a still extant bill of sale for one of Russell’s stores.

One of Russell’s uncles was a Mason. We know the name of the lodge to which he belonged. One of Russell’s pastors was a Mason. Was Russell? … You’ll have to wait for publication to read our conclusion.

Now on to other things:

While we continue to accept requests for access to the private blog, we are less likely to grant access than we once were. Recent issues have included theft of copyrighted material; an individual who wanted to control our research, fitting it to his agenda; and a personal attack on Mr. Schulz. None of those responsible continue to have blog access, and we are now much more cautious in granting it. Being able to comment in a reasonably intelligent way is a plus. Curiosity alone will no longer get you access. If you want to subscribe, convince us that we should add you to our list.

When we started book two in this series (the Nelson Barbour book being the first), we anticipated producing something of comparable length. We did not anticipate the massive amount of neglected and never read documentation available to us. We’re about two-thirds done. Realistically we are looking at a two volume work. We are tentatively calling it A Separate Identity: Development of Religious Identity Among Readers of Zion’s Watch Tower: 1870-1887.

Our intended audience is academic, though we believe we’ve written with enough verve and fluency that it will appeal to those who are merely curious. There are few enough books on the subject that meet academic standards. Those that exist are flawed by lax, wrong-headed research (eg. Stroup, 1946) or so generalist that the period we consider is dismissed in two or three paragraphs. (eg. Beckford). Some are colored by distaste for the subject. Some only have an academic dress but fail to meet any acceptable standard (eg. Gruss, 1970). Yet, this is the formative period for an important, though fragmented, religious movement. Much of its identity and personality owes its existence to events between 1870 and 1887.

Watch Tower history in this era as usually told is more myth than reality. As with Greek mythology, the tale is told in conflicting ways. Writers manufacture what they do not know, uncritically parrot what they read elsewhere, or write as if what they want to believe is fact when it is not. We have consulted thousands of pages of original documents, periodicals, letters, and other archival material. Some of it is hard to find, but it is out there. While we are experienced researchers, we possess no special gift beyond persistence. If we can find these things, others can too. There is no excuse for the creation of and persistence of a Russell mythology.

We have had helpful contributions of both documents and money, but we fund this from our own pockets. Original research is slw and expensive. . We have been unable to afford copies of some things: [1] Over a year of Jones’ Day Star costs well over 300 dollars for microfilm and printout; [2] An archive of Storrs’ papers costs about 360 dollars to photocopy with no guarantee any of it is useful; [3] Copies of a contemporary magazine rest in a university library. No cost determined yet, but as it is now, it will take a personal visit to see these. We see these as a key resource. [4] A mass of archival material rests in the Library of Congress and in an Episcopal Church archive. This requires a personal visit, the cost of which is prohibitive.

But … we persist. Help comes from surprising quarters. Be patient.