By Michael Nagy
The Salvation Army Southern Historical Center, located on the campus of Evangeline Booth College in Atlanta, is the official cultural heritage repository for the international nonprofit organization’s USA Southern Territory, comprising fifteen Southern states and the District of Columbia. The mission of the center is to collect, describe, preserve, and interpret historical materials that document the mission of The Salvation Army and to make these resources accessible for scholarship, Salvation Army programming, and education of the public.
For these purposes the Southern Historical Center includes a museum exhibit and display cases, historical archives and object collections, and educational resources for its users. Research collections include artifacts, photographs, audio-visuals, personal papers, official records, oral histories, books, periodicals, and biography and corps (local unit / church) history files. The collection is particularly strong in materials of visual value – still and moving images, artwork, promotional materials, regalia, and memorabilia.
The Center’s research collections also include the Colonel B. Gordon Swyers Memorial Research Room and Library where a Special Collection of non-circulating, published materials by and about The Salvation Army, including out-of-print and rare editions is available. Salvation Army periodicals from the nineteenth century to present day are accessible. The Research Room includes access to finding aids, online catalog, microfilm, scanning, and photocopying facilities. The Congregational and Spiritual Life Archives includes local unit history files and oral histories of the personal faith pilgrimages of Salvationists in the American South.
The Southern Historical Center’s museum exhibits include “Pilgrimage to Discovery “ the professionally-designed permanent exhibit interpreting the origins of The Salvation Army in late Victorian England from 1865, its arrival in the United States in 1879/1880 and its development throughout the American South since 1881. Among these developments are the decision to make Atlanta its USA Southern headquarters in 1927, street ministry, women’s and men’s ministries, frontier evangelism, music and music education, overseas and local missions, youth, character building programs, officer (clergy) training, rehabilitation services, maternity care, emergency disaster services, Christmas ministry, camps, Boys’ and Girls’ Clubs, Salvationist gatherings, International leadership, and recognitions of life service.
One special exhibit is “International Issues” a collection of rare Salvation Army stamps and philatelic materials and associated artifact and memorabilia displays. Finally there is “Diverse Expressions” a series of sixteen display cases located throughout the of the Ernest R. Holz Education Building focusing on multiple aspects of Salvation Army mission and service.
Over the last several years, the major initiatives of the Southern Historical Center have been processing backlog collections and digitization. The purpose of the goals has been providing better access to more collections, and particularly collection images, online. The online catalog for the center is: http://salvationarmy.pastperfectonline.com/
In addition, The Salvation Army has had several large anniversaries recently – 150 years for the international organization founded in London, and 125 years for both Atlanta (local unit) and Georgia (statewide administration), all in 2015. In 2016 the center has been involved in research for the 125th anniversary for Florida operations. For these celebrations the center has done some public displays, but even more research for publicity, special events, media, and publications – both print and online.