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Digital Collection Spotlight #20: Moravian Memoirs

Posted May 27, 2021 in Digital Access

Memior of Catharine Demuth (1784-1823) pg 1

Memior of Catharine Demuth (1784-1823) pg 2

As part of an ongoing series of posts, we’re highlighting different collections and items from the Moravian Archives, Bethlehem. Check out our earlier posts in this series at https://www.moravianchurcharchives.org/digital-access/.

An interesting aspect of the history of the Moravian Church is the tradition of the Lebensläufe, or memoirs. These accounts of the lives of church members are an invaluable resource for researching Moravian history, culture and communities, and we are pleased to be able to make an increasing number of these memoirs accessible online.

This tradition appears to have its origin with a June 22, 1747 sermon delivered by Count Nicolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf in Herrnhut, in which he stated that–going forward–a memoir of a person’s life would be read during their funeral service, and the practice was soon widespread in the Moravian Church. While the term “memoir” may suggest that they were written when a person was older and looking back on their life, research has made it clear that many people wrote or dictated their memoir throughout their lives. These memoirs were focused less on biographical details of the person’s life and more on their spiritual journey. While Moravians still produce memoirs today, often written by a relative or pastor of the deceased, the practice had waned by the early 20th century. However they remain an invaluable resource for anyone studying the history of the Moravian Church and its communities.

There are several ongoing projects that make these memoirs more easily available to researchers. We at the Moravian Archives, Bethlehem have digitized a number of memoirs from our collection and made them available through our online finding aid (available here), including collections from Lancaster, Nazareth, Emmaus, and Lititz. Another valuable resource is Moravian Lives, a collaborative project of the Moravian Archives, Bethlehem, the Unity Archives in Herrnhut, Bucknell University, and the Center for Digital Humanities and the Center for Critical Heritage Studies at the University of Gothenburg. This ongoing project includes images and transcriptions of memoirs drawn from the collections of the Moravian Archives, Bethlehem, the Moravian Archives, London and the Fulneck Moravian Church and Museum, as well as a map that tracks the homes and travels of Moravians based on their memoirs. In addition, a selection of memoirs are also available through the Bethlehem Digital History Project.

Image Source:
Memoir of Catharina Demuth (1784-1823), MemLanc 100, MAB. Available Online

Further Reading:

Faull, Katherine M. “Moravian Women’s Memoirs: Related Lives, 1750-1820” Syracuse University Press (1997)

McCullough, Thomas J. “The Most Memorable Circumstances: Instructions for the Collection of Personal Data from Church Members, circa 1752.” Journal of Moravian History 15, no. 2 (2015): 158-76.

Shantz, Douglas H. “The Modern Self in 18th Century Moravian Memoirs” The Hinge 23, no. 1 (2017) Available at https://issuu.com/moravianseminary/docs/231_shantz_layout__3_