Michael Skaggs reports on ACHA-financed research in Cincinnati

Michael Skaggs

The American Catholic Historical Association’s Summer Grant Program provided crucial support for my dissertation research, funding without which I could not have progressed on my project over the course of Summer 2015. I used the grant to travel to archives in Cincinnati, Ohio throughout the summer and conduct research on three chapters of my dissertation: one on the lived experience of the Second Vatican Council as Catholics in Cincinnati learned about Vatican II; one on institutional and individual efforts by Catholics and Jews to address Cincinnati’s simmering (and sometimes boiling) racial tensions in the 1960s; and, finally, one on the relationship between Catholics and Jews in Cincinnati as inflected by Vatican II in the specific context of this hub of Reform Jewish life and history in the United States. I carried out this research at the Cincinnati Museum Center’s archive, the Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archive, and the Chancery Archive of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati.

The Cincinnati Museum Center’s archive is a key repository for twentieth-century race relations in Cincinnati and the rest of Ohio. The archive contains the papers of the Cincinnati branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the Mayor’s Friendly Relations Committee (MFRC), and the Cincinnati Human Relations Committee. Local Catholics played either leadership or membership roles in all of these organizations. The Museum Center collections also include select materials of the Catholic Interracial Council of Cincinnati (CIC) and how that Council interacted with the organizations listed above. In most cases, the Museum Center’s holdings on the CIC are better in terms of quality and timeframe coverage than those held by the Archdiocese of Cincinnati.

The Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archive is, or should be, a premiere destination for scholarship on mid-twentieth-century Jewish-Catholic relations. The Center maintains collections that span both national and local contexts, along with contemporary connections between each. Cincinnati was a significant early player in American Reform Judaism, with Rabbi Isaac Wise fostering this most assimilationist of Jewish “denominations” in the middle of the nineteenth century and constructing an exquisite Byzantine-Moorish temple in the heart of Cincinnati, across from St. Peter-in-Chains Cathedral and diagonal to City Hall. The Center’s collections of the Jewish Community Relations Council, the Marc H. Tanenbaum Papers, and the papers of several local rabbis prominent during the Vatican II era permit a fruitful exploration into Jewish attitudes towards Vatican II and subsequent cooperative projects with Cincinnati Catholics. These collections allowed me to complete the majority of my fourth chapter’s research, to be finished in the Spring 2016 semester. It also introduced me to several key figures in awarding residential research fellowships and the editorial team of a significant journal in American Jewish history.

Finally, I conducted additional research at the Chancery Archive of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. In the summer of 2014, Fr. David Endres provided an introduction to the then-archivist, which allowed me to survey the otherwise closed archive. Although no catalog existed at the time, my 2014 survey of the archive’s holdings allowed me to target specific collections in 2015; I also spent a great deal of time with the archive’s continuous run of The Catholic Telegraph. My frequent research trips also provided an opportunity to become acquainted with the current archivist, who has gone above and beyond her job description to track down materials and pieces of information.

I am sincerely grateful for the American Catholic Historical Association’s generous support of my dissertation research. I am continually pleased with the blend of personal encouragement and professionalism found among the Association and I am eager to meet more of my colleagues at our Annual Meeting in January.