Just a quick note of apology for the lack of new material both here and on the podcast. My third child was born last week, so as you might expect, life has been rather crazy of late. I’ll try to have things back to normal here at OrthodoxHistory.org very soon.
In the meantime, feel free to browse our extensive archive of past articles, and listen to one of the dozens of American Orthodox History podcast episodes over at Ancient Faith Radio.
For those of us historians who work in the early twentieth century, one of the major sources of our work (and indeed a lot of what we’ve done here at SOCHA) are public records. We heavily depend on things like marriage and death certificates, government documents, voter registration lists, and, most especially, census schedules. As mandated by the Constitution, every ten years, the government is required to count its population. What ensues is a series of snapshots of the population at that moment in time, recording names, addresses, places of origin, occupations, literacy and work status, and various other tidbits of information that we as historians can use as launching points for our research.
While the United States Bureau of the Census produces raw statistical data on the findings of the census in the immediate aftermath of the enumeration, specific, personal information (basically, the individual schedules recorded by enumerators) is kept under confidential seal for a period of 72 years. For historians, this means there’s an artificial barrier on how far we can go with this vital information. With the exception of the 1890 census (which was almost entirely destroyed in a fire), we’ve been able to utilize federal census information going all the way back to the first count, in 1790. With the advent of the internet, it’s become easier than ever to conveniently search for detailed, personal information and compile large amounts of material in relatively little time from fifteen of the twenty-three censuses.
Yet for the last ten years, we’ve been stuck at the composite picture of the United States as it was in 1930, in the early throes of the Great Depression, and the immediate aftermath of significant restrictions on immigration. Monday, however, that picture changed quite a bit, as the National Archives released the records for the 1940 census, bringing us past the Depression and to the brink of the Second World War.
The release date was an interesting day, to say the least. The record set covers some 132 million people, 3.8 million pages of records, coming in at about 18 terabytes of digital data (and, if you’re truly interested, it comes out to 4646 reels of microfilm, which would set you back a cool $580,750). This was all released as raw image files, with no indexing done aside from the separation of schedules by their enumeration districts. That’s where the public comes in.
After the unveiling at 9AM EDT, a mad flurry of researchers and volunteers from throughout the country flocked to the official website to begin downloading and indexing millions of pages worth of census schedules, many of them working in conjunction with FamilySearch.org, a rather comprehensive genealogy website operated by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Immediately, all of the major genealogy sites started a de facto horse race to get files downloaded, indexed, and uploaded to their sites, a process estimated to last well into the summer.
By noon, the website had received almost 23 million hits, and was almost immediately rendered useless. (According to the genealogy blog Ancestry Insider, the NARA’s contract with webhost Archives.com called for accessibility for 10 million hits and 25,000 concurrent users for the release date, with overflow handled by Amazon.com). I spent all day furiously attempting to download several enumeration districts I was interested in perusing, and in several hours of work, somehow managed to download exactly one district, some 29 pages covering several blocks in midtown Manhattan. By the late afternoon, it was impossible to get even a preview image to load. By all accounts, the release was a general failure, with the demand far outweighing the anticipated threshold of interest.
Clearly, the release of the 1940 census was something anticipated by many, and it will be interesting to watch as the millions of schedules are indexed state-by-state in the coming months. Slowly, we will see a more personal picture evolve out of this rich archive, indeed a much more personal picture than we’ve seen out of census documents in quite some time. It is estimated over 20 million people who appear in these documents are still alive today.
For us here at SOCHA, it means we will be able to move a lot of our stories ten years into the future, and opens up a number of new avenues for research. I’m excited to see where these documents will take us, and how we will be able to better tell the story of Orthodoxy in America as a result.
There have been a lot of interesting things in the works for SOCHA as of late, and we’re going to put them all into a single post so our readers can be brought up to speed all at once.
It’s hard to believe, but SOCHA has been around for nearly three years. Our founding directors were Fr. Oliver Herbel, Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick, and Matthew Namee. This past October 1st, at the 2011 SOCHA Symposium, we added Aram Sarkisian to our board.
On March 9th, SOCHA was incorporated as a legal entity in the State of Kansas, a step we have long anticipated. We are in the process of obtaining 501(c)(3) nonprofit status from the IRS. Once that happens, we’ll be able to do all sorts of things to expand the work of SOCHA, and we look forward to including all of our readers in these endeavors.
We would also like to announce that on March 9th, Fr. Oliver Herbel resigned from his position as the Executive Director of SOCHA, and is no longer a member of our board of directors. We thank Fr. Oliver for his contributions to the society’s work. With Fr. Oliver’s resignation and our incorporation, we’ve also moved to a different shape of governance for the Society. There will no longer be an Executive Director or Associate Directors, but simply a board of directors.
We also welcome Matthew J. Baker to the SOCHA Advisory Board. Matthew has an M.Div. from St. Tikhon’s Orthodox Theological Seminary, as well as a Th.M. from Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology. He is a Ph.D. student in the Theology department of Fordham University, specializing in the writings of Fr. Georges Florovsky, a towering figure in 20th century Orthodoxy, both in America and throughout the world. Matthew’s special interests include hermeneutics, the intersection of patristics and modern philosophy, and questions of reason, revelation and tradition in Orthodox dogmatics. He has published articles in International Journal of Systematic Theology, Participatio: The Journal of the Thomas F. Torrance Theological Fellowship, Transactions of Russian-American Scholars in the U.S.A., Theologia: The Journal of the Holy Synod of the Church of Greece, and Crkvene Studije, and has several book chapters forthcoming. He is editorial assistant to the journal Participatio and theological advisor to the Fr. Georges Florovsky Orthodox Theological Society of Princeton University. Matthew spoke at the 2011 SOCHA Symposium and has been featured prominently at the 2011 and 2012 Patristics Symposiums hosted by the Florovsky Society at Princeton Theological Seminary.
We are also working on a new format and name for the SOCHA journal (a sort of “reboot”), to be entitled the Journal of Orthodox Church History in the Americas (JOCHA). It will take a while to put together, but we’ll be offering some exciting content from a variety of authors, on subjects both familiar and perhaps less known. Matthew Baker will also be serving on the editorial board of the journal. We’re planning a re-launch later this year.
We’ve decided to postpone the previously scheduled 2012 SOCHA Symposium that had been slated for Princeton this Fall and to expand to a national-level conference in 2013, as well as looking at some regional conferences on a smaller scale. This was a difficult decision for us to make, but we feel it will lead to an extremely productive event next year. We thank Princeton Seminary and the Florovsky Society for their support, and look forward to working with them again in the future.
We are very excited about the future of SOCHA. There are a lot of things in the works, and we look forward to keeping you posted through OrthodoxHistory.org, our Facebook page and our new Twitter account. As always, we welcome your input on topics you would like us to research, as well as any other ideas you may have for SOCHA’s consideration.
Fr. Oliver Herbel, Executive Director of the Society for Orthodox Christian History in the Americas, has a newly published work, Sarapion of Thmuis: Against the Manicheans and Pastoral Letters. The book is published by St. Paul’s Publications in conjunction with the Centre for Early Christian Studies in Australia. Here’s the official blurb:
Although St. Anthony the Great, St. Athanasius of Alexandria, and the Desert Fathers have received considerable attention in early Christian studies, St. Sarapion of Thmuis has remained in relative obscurity. This book introduces the thought of this early Egyptian monastic bishop, highlighting the importance of both Sarapion’s biblical hermeneutics and his utilization of Stoic philosophy. It includes an argument for Sarapion’s authorship of the Letter to the Monks as well as translations of Sarapion’s three extant writings: Letter to Bishop Eudoxios, Letter to the Monks, and Against the Manichaeans.
To order a copy directly from the Centre, click here and scroll to the bottom of the page. The book will also be available through the incomparable Eighth Day Books of Wichita, Kansas, and SOCHA readers are encouraged to order a copy from that fine bookseller.
My apologies for the lack of new material lately. All of us at SOCHA have been busy with various projects and obligations (to say nothing of our families and parishes). Personally, I am devoting a lot of my energy to my paper on Orthodoxy in the U.S. civil courts, which I need to finish by August 10. We’ll get some new articles posted as soon as possible, though. Thanks for your patience.