I published a chapter in The Faithful Librarian: Essays on Christianity in the Profession. (McFarland and Company, 2019) in which I provide for the first time a critical, source based account of Claude Spencer’s career and contribution to archival sensitivity in the Stone-Campbell Movement. Below are the opening and closing paragraphs of the chapter:
As the pioneering archivist of the Restoration Movement or Stone-Campbell Movement, comprising the Christian Churches, Churches of Christ, and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Claude Elbert Spencer (1898-1979) came onto the scene during the emergence and professionalization of library study and the concomitant higher expectation of library work in the academy; he possessed a native impulse and a unique vocational imperative to collect history; and finally he owned a theological subjunctive to embrace the breadth of Stone-Campbell material in a single archive. This essay narrates the contours of his life’s story and work as it relates to the formation of the archive he conceived. Further, it attends to the values and virtues that compelled his collecting and guided his service. Spencer’s bibliographic work was exemplary and his archival work was peerless in his denomination. The story behind this work and the values that undergird it invite contemplation by those who would serve as archivists in denominational settings.
It is remarkable that a boy who learned to read at age nine would five years later become de facto librarian of his high school, and five years after that lead the library at his college in exchange for tuition, room and board. It is remarkable that librarian who wouldn’t have known a Disciple book if it hit him in the head would compile a bibliography so authoritative it remains unsurpassed after seventy years. It is remarkable that he formed a collegial society to serve the academy and the congregation, the graduate seminar and the Sunday school roundtable. It is remarkable that he maintained an unrelenting commitment to charity and equal representation in collecting scope in the face of bitter intramural disputes over bureaucracy the very existence of which fractured the ecclesial fellowship he loved and served the entirety of his career. It is remarkable that he recognized the need for, and advocated for needed research topics that were years ahead of their time. It is remarkable that though he held no degree beyond the ars baccalaureus in education, no less than 84 master’s theses and doctoral dissertations credit his advice, counsel, and assistance.* It is remarkable that he attained expertise with minimal formal coursework and professional training, but so mastered ‘library economy’ and was so productive in keeping up a demanding schedule, that the upon his retirement he was replaced by two and one-half full-time equivalents with graduate degrees in history, library science, and theology.
Spencer’s legacy survives in the several bibliographic works he authored, in the catalog records he generated, in the finding aids he assembled, and in the indexes he compiled. His legacy survives among the holdings of Disciples of Christ Historical Society, of which he was visionary and architect. His legacy endures in the community of librarians, archivists, historians, students and independent scholars he formed. His legacy endures in the scholarship he facilitated by virtue of his quiet diligence in collecting, organizing, describing, preserving, and advocacy for print and archival materials of the Stone-Campbell heritage, consisting of the Christian Churches, the Churches of Christ, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and related groups.
The chapter was a sheer pleasure to research and write. Stone-Campbell historical scholarship came into its own because of Claude Spencer. First he raised awareness of its need, articulated that vision in plain terms, and then set about sourcing everything a scholar would need to write. Look at the footnotes of the historical works published by or about anything Stone-Campbell since World War 2. Look hard enough, and follow the references long enough, and you will find precious few that do not cite materials he gathered, inspired others to gather, or quote those who deal with those primary sources. I think he surpasses all historians as the most significant single figure who has contributed to ‘Restoration history.’
*– I have since located two additional theses, for a total of 86.