Remembering 37 years of AMBS book celebrations

Published: May 1, 2019

By David Cramer

On the right, IMS Managing Editor David C. Cramer, Academic Dean Beverly Lapp and IMS Director Jamie Pitts prepare to speak at this year’s book celebration in the AMBS lounge. (Credit: Nekeisha Alayna Alexis)

The following is an address by Institute of Mennonite Studies Managing Editor David Cramer, delivered at the annual AMBS and IMS book celebration on May 1, 2019.

Since this is my first book celebration as IMS managing editor, I spent some time over the last couple of weeks preparing by digging through files of previous celebrations. What I discovered is that this celebration is itself a rich AMBS tradition, spanning four decades and a number of administrations. So, before we celebrate this year’s AMBS and IMS publications, I trust you’ll indulge me for a few minutes as we pay tribute to our predecessors.

In the fall of 1982, recently appointed IMS Director Willard Swartley sent a memorandum to AMBS faculty in which he wrote, “As part of the IMS portfolio, I would like to assist the collegiality of the AMBS faculty in research and publication.” As one way to do so, he requested that faculty send him their recent publications so that he could include them in a faculty bulletin. He also arranged with publishers and the bookstore to make the 40-percent author discount for any AMBS faculty publication available to the entire faculty. This not only encouraged faculty to purchase each other’s works, but it also served as a subtle reminder that writing and scholarship are communal endeavors. Extending the author discount to all faculty was a way of recognizing and honoring the role the seminary community as a whole played in birthing faculty publications into the world.

In response to Willard’s proposal, IMS founding director C. J. Dyck — who was still a faculty member at AMBS — wrote Willard a brief note: “Willard: great. I didn’t do this. I did, fairly regularly as [books] came in, have a 15 min. ‘party’ in the lounge, with special table, a little speech, etc. to honor the author. Keep it up. CJD”

Under Willard’s direction, what had been an ad hoc “party in the lounge” became a regular “faculty-staff tea” at the end of each semester to celebrate each other’s publications and to purchase them at the shared discounted rate. Throughout most of the 1980s and 90s, this celebration — referred to variously as “faculty tea,” “celebration tea,” and “book celebration” — was a way to mark writing and editing accomplishments at the end of each semester.

By the fall of 1992, the Dean’s Office, under Gayle Gerber Koontz’s leadership, had begun partnering with IMS in these semi-annual book celebrations. By this time, a bibliography of AMBS faculty and IMS projects accompanied these celebrations, typically divided into three categories: books, articles and IMS publications.

By 1999, when Mary Schertz and Barbara Nelson Gingerich began as IMS director and managing editor, respectively, the book celebration became an annual event in early May rather than a semi-annual event at the end of each semester. That year, the accompanying bibliography was a full page long. By 2001, it was three pages long, and by 2004 it was seven pages long. I’m not sure whether this increase had more to do to an increase in faculty production or with the new IMS director and managing editor getting on their colleagues about submitted their work to the bibliography. (I suspect it was a bit of both.)

In 2005, a new section was added to the bibliography recognizing student publications, of which there were three that year. This was a significant development for an event once referred to as “faculty tea.” It acknowledges that the scholarly work of the seminary isn’t just done by faculty, with students simply absorbing the scholarship of their professors.

Instead, it presents a picture of an inclusive and collaborative scholarly community — one that is enriched by the contributions of students and staff in addition to faculty.

At some point in the 2010s, the references to student publications disappear. But this is not because students stopped producing scholarly work or because their work was suddenly demoted in importance. Instead, it’s because the distinctions among faculty, staff and student publications was eliminated. After all, such a distinction is difficult to maintain in an environment that encourages scholarly collaboration among faculty, staff and students. As Mary Schertz stated in her opening comments at the 2011 book celebration, “I have been thinking these past few years that there may not be any seminary anywhere in North America that does more scholarly collaboration than we do — not only among faculty but also between faculty and students — not only within our particular community but [also] partnering with others on our continent and around the world.”

By 2008, the bibliography expanded to include not just books, articles and journals but also lectureships. This addition is yet another reminder that scholarship isn’t a solitary endeavor that takes place behind a desk in an office but is something performed best in community. By 2009, there’s a recognition that scholarship can even be done via newfangled technology, as there’s a single entry for DVDs: a series of six DVD presentations on two disks by Alan Kreider, titled Resident but Alien: How the Early Church Grew. One suspects these DVD lectures were the genesis of his later magnum opus, The Patient Ferment of the Early Church, which appears in the 2016 bibliography.

So today, as we celebrate our 37th year of book celebrations, it is good and right to honor those whose labors established, maintained and developed this tradition of celebrating AMBS’s scholarly achievements each year. And while not everyone who carried on this tradition can be with us today, we’re honored to have Willard, Mary and Barb join us.

For all those local history geeks like me, I’ve copied all of the back issues of our bibliographies I could find, starting with what I’m calling Celebration 1.1 from spring 1983. (Incidentally, that first faculty tea took place when I was two days shy of eight weeks old, to give you some perspective.) That makes this year’s issue Celebration 37, which is the main reason we’ve gathered here today.

As in past years, this year’s bibliography demonstrates a robust commitment to scholarship on the part of IMS and the AMBS community, including faculty, staff and students. Together we’ve had a hand in publishing four books, eight journals, 25 articles and essays, and four book reviews.

Our scholarship has taken many forms, including online encyclopedia articles, blog posts, podcasts, academic presentations and lectureships, and public presentations and workshops.

Our faculty, staff, and students have taken our name from Elkhart to Notre Dame; South Bend; Granger; Chicago; West Palm Beach, Florida; Newton, Kansas; Denver; Vienna, Austria; and as far as Sydney, Australia, and Jakarta, Indonesia.

We’ve published not only in English but also in French, Spanish, German and Arabic. In fact, three of the four books we published were in languages other than English.

And, finally, not only have we produced a substantial amount of scholarship this year, but we’ve also had a substantial amount of scholarly work done about us this past year. Thus, if you go to the Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online, you can find a new entry on IMS by Jamie Pitts and a new entry on AMBS by Karl Stutzman. This past year Ben Ollenburger was honored with a Festschrift, The Earth Is the Lord’s. And just this past month, there was a special issue of Mennonite Quarterly Review devoted to remembering the life and legacy of the late Alan Kreider.

This has truly been another great year for the scholarly community of AMBS. I’d like to thank our president, academic dean, and IMS director for the many ways they’ve encouraged and supported our scholarship this year; our librarians and bookstore managers for the ways they not only support our scholarship but also work to disseminate it and make it more accessible; Karen Stoltzfus, for organizing this morning’s celebration and preparing this spread; and, finally, each of you for coming out to support and honor each other in your scholarly work.


(l. to r.) Former Institute of Mennonite Studies Managing Editor Barb Nelson Gingerich, former IMS Director Mary H. Schertz, former IMS Director Willard Swartley and current IMS Managing Editor David C. Cramer at this year’s book celebration in the AMBS lounge. (Not pictured: Current IMS Director Jamie Pitts and Associate Director Andy Brubacher Kaethler) (Credit: Annette Brill Bergstresser)

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