Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Interviewing a reluctant writer

... wherein I interview B. W. Schulz, pretty much against his will ... Enjoy it while it lasts. -Rachael

An Interview

R: So, you’re really going to let me interview you? … and post it to the blog?

B: Reluctantly.

R: Do I need permission to treat you as a hostile witness?

B: [Laughs]

R: You’re probably the most knowledgeable expert – maybe the only expert – when it comes to early Watch Tower history. Tell us how you became interested in Watch Tower history.

B: In 1955 The Watchtower published a series on its history. It was my introduction to the subject. Then, at the Awake Ministers District Assembly in 1959 the book Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Divine Purpose was released. It’s a heavily-footnoted history written in dialogue format ….

R: That was in 1959?

B: Yes.

R: You read the book …

B: Yes, most of it in our hotel room that evening. Later, I looked up as many of the references as I could.

R: The Watchtower has published other histories since. Would you still recommend the Divine Purpose book?

B: No serious researcher can afford to ignore it. When H. G. Wells History was published – in 1924 I think – a number of historians reviewed it. They praised it fairly uniformly, but many of them said something like, “Well, this is great, except my area of expertise should have gotten more attention.” That’s my opinion of Divine Purpose. It’s worth a read. Don’t ignore it. But for the era we’re researching it’s abbreviated and wrong.

R: When did you start writing about Watchtower history?

B: In the mid-1960s.

R: Published?

B: No, strictly for myself.

R: Tell me about it.

B: Reading the available material left me believing that most of the story was untold. I pursued original material, took notes and wrote them up. The net result was a three hundred page manuscript that covered much of the era we’re writing about now. It was very unsatisfactory.

R: Why?

B: Significant parts of it came from secondary sources. That seldom produces good history.

R: You wrote other things?

B: Some commercial product and two lengthy research papers on Watchtower history.

R: Those were for …

B: The research papers? For someone else’s book. They didn’t use or used very little of it.

R: You are a Witness.

B: Yes, since the early 1950s.

R: Does this color what you write?

B: When I started, yes. There is a sort of mythology surrounding Russell. This developed during his lifetime. There is Russell the Saint, and Russell the Villain. I was predisposed to the “sainthood” myth.

R: What changed?

B: Moses, Jeremiah, Jonah, Paul.

R: [Puzzled look]

B: The Bible is a remarkably candid book. Noah’s drunkenness, Lot’s incest, Moses’ temper, the raped concubine, Jeremiah’s peevishness, and Jonah’s reluctance find their place in the Bible’s narrative. The Bible depicts men of faith in blunt way, telling us of their godly deeds and their faults. That’s my model. The Bible is an excellent example for historians who may also have a religious belief system.

God is perfect. His worshipers are not. The peevish, sometimes perverted, occasionally stupid or silly behavior of his worshipers may be unattractive, but it is part of their story.

R: Your first book in this series …

B: Our first book …

R: Our first book was Nelson Barbour: The Millennium’s Forgotten Prophet. Tell me how that project started.

B: It started life as an article for a religious history magazine. They wanted ten to fifteen thousand words, original research with end notes. In short order – as these things go – it became apparent that what we were writing would be significantly longer. I measured what we had against the magazine’s requirements, deciding that we had a developing book instead of an article. I begged off from the article.

R: Reactions to the book? … You’re smiling ….

B: A wry smile, I’m sure.

Reactions were mixed, though mostly favorable. A literary-agent friend of yours looked at it and pronounced it excellent but not something she could readily sell. Someone asked me not to publish it because it made ‘the truth’ seem less than divine. A Bible Student railed against it because it was about Barbour. Another pronounced it ‘just history.’ He is dismissive of everyone’s work but his own. He already knows what another may discover, he already owns the reference material though he never produces it. One reviewer suggested it was boring because there is no great scandal in it. On the other hand, professional historians love the book. It is, in a minor way, a myth-busting book. Those who want an accurate history like it. Those with an interest in preserving myth don’t.

R: The next book pops cherished myths …

B: Yes.

R: Such as …

B: There are endless myths connected to Russell. We peel away as many of those as we can. Claims about his childhood, his connections to various groups and philosophies, claims made about his business. We put him back into his historical context and tell as fully as possible the paths he took and who his associates were and what part they played in his theological development.

R: There will be surprises?

B: Maybe … probably.

R: A publication date?

B: Not yet; too much left to research. We find something new almost every day.

R: The next book will focus on the years 1870 to 1887?

B: With overlap on each side of that date span.

R: Now that didn’t hurt at all, did it?

B: I have a head ache now.

R: One last question: Tell us about your academic credentials.

B: No.

R: Please …

B: Okay, stop pouting. I have a history degree and an education degree both from colleges of little note. I teach.

R: [Insert un-lady-like snort here.]

4 comments:

Ton Hollander said...

Dear Bruce and Rachael, This is good to read! One thing in common: I too started interest with our history in 1956 (Dutch WT, but as a child. Purpose never was translated, alas.
Enhoy working together.
I do my families genealogy, but I am aware: A genealogy is never complete: and it is not alone mine but of a host of others. I hope to see the book when you're ready
Yours, Ton, Holland

roberto said...

AGAIN!!

jerome said...

As a amateur genealogist myself (we’ve had many a family holiday based on visiting places and archives connected with our brood before the internet era) I can relate to Ton’s comment about never being finished. There is always more. And so it is with history. Obviously, you have to draw a line at some point, and as soon as you go into print, more stuff appears. You found that with your Nelson Barbour book. No matter what you do with the current project, it will be the same. There will always be something more that is found. It may be trivia, it may be ephemera – but often that puts the flesh on the bones and gives the background or historical context that makes it all come alive. Even if in modern times you might disagree with what people in the past believed or did in some of the details, such research helps you to understand WHY they believed and did what they did at that time. And that’s important, and is a key to answering criticisms from those who try and impose 2013 thinking on 19th century mores.

Ton Hollander said...

There happened a bit more around 1955. The brothers cooperated with Cole (1955) and MacMillan (1957), and started a series of life stories, the called Pursuing my purpose in life, the first of which was about br Skinner. Some history awareness.