The softer side of Jonathan Edwards seen through Yale project
Yale Divinity School historian Kenneth P. Minkema wants people to see the warm, fuzzy side of Edwards, the side that wandered through fields and sat on the pristine banks of the Hudson; the side that pondered an "appearance of divine glory, in almost everything."
To that end, Minkema and three more of Edwards' greatest admirers have already spent a good portion of their adult lives bringing the theologian/philosopher/"Renaissance man" to the masses through print. Now, cloistered in a corner of the Yale Divinity School, using the power of the Internet, those same academics are laboring away to make Edwards - and all 60,000 pages of his work - available to the common man.
Minkema is betting that the modern world will like the other Edwards - a lot. In fact, he's staking his career on it.
"People read `Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God' in high school and they never want to read anything by Edwards again," he says. "But here was an incredibly luminous mind that needs to be discovered and re-discovered and re-discovered."
The Jonathan Edwards Project, though it is not without competition (a fan site jonathanedwards.com is a favorite among evangelical Christians), is the first of its kind - a comprehensive, exhaustive effort to produce an online archive of all of Edwards' sermons, treatises, letters and musings to serve the needs of anyone who cares to know the man.
To date, no other university or institute has attempted to transcribe, computerize and then post online the complete works of any one historical figure - not Benjamin Franklin, not George Washington, not even Abraham Lincoln.
So why Edwards? Widely known in the Colonial world, Edwards is far from a household name today.
"Edwards was a Christian intellectual par excellence. Not only was he a preacher; he was a historian and a philosopher," said Michael McClenahan, an Oxford scholar who devoted his doctoral thesis to Edwards. "It's not common in the history of Western development that one figure pulls together so many strands of human endeavor."
While Edwards managed to pull together those disparate human elements, pulling together his works for the Internet has proved a bit more of a challenge.
For the majority of his 54 years, Edwards wrote for several hours every day: sermons, letters to friends or family and diary entries. Colonial presses printed some of his works, and in 1954 Yale had already started putting together "The Works of Jonathan Edwards," a 26-volume collection of Edwards' writings. But less than half of Edwards' writing was available in print.
Yale created the Edwards archive to overcome that shortcoming.
Boxes of Edwards' manuscripts - often folded and placed in 4-inch envelopes - lay dispersed throughout the stacks of Yale's Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, donated to Yale in 1901 by Edwards' descendants. However, the center had to track down many of his works in the hands of collectors as well as in repositories throughout the United States and Great Britain.
Once the majority of those works were located, the historians began the tedious, eye-straining work of transcribing very, very small, slanted handwriting, typing the work word-for-word into a computer and, after an intense editorial review, finally posting their entries into a searchable online database. To add to the labor, Team Edwards decided to add to the website the entire 26-volume series published by Yale Press.
Last April, the Jonathan Edwards site went live (edwards.yale.edu) with his major works, including the punishing discourse "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God." By the time Minkema finishes the site, it will contain, besides the primary texts, reference works, secondary works, chronologies, audio and video, and visual sources.
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