These papers document in a very thorough way Ahlstrom's professional career, his writings, lectures, courses taught at Yale, his extensive participation in scholarly and church-related organizations. Conditions at Yale and in New Haven during the turbulent years of the late 1960s and early 1970s are well documented. A sampling of material has been preserved to document Ahlstrom's renowned personality, his sense of humor, curiosity, and wide-ranging interests.
A small section of family correspondence in Series I provides a view into Ahlstrom's Minnesota connections and warm family relationships. General correspondence dating from 1946 to 1979 includes letters to and from friends, colleagues, editors, publishers, and church representatives. Correspondents include Yale colleagues James Gustafson, Hans Frei, and Julian Hartt, as well as Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., Paul Ramsey, Samuel H. Miller, Robert Handy, Bruce Kuklick, and others. Substantive letters deal not only with academic and professional affairs, but also document Ahlstrom's opinions on a wide range of issues, his friendships, and family life. Revealing of strongly held convictions are letters such as one written to J.B. Buckley, manager of the Yellow Cab Company in New Haven, which protests against the unjust treatment of a poor black family by a cabdriver in a scene witnessed by Ahlstrom. The section of correspondence with students provides insight into Ahlstrom's interaction with his students. Correspondence related to Ahlstrom's writings, lecture appearances, and other specific events or activities can also be found in Series II, III and VI.
Series II, Committees and Projects, contains correspondence and other material related to the many institutions, organizations, committees, and projects with which Ahlstrom was involved. Ahlstrom's career-long interests and involvement in Lutheranism, higher education, and American religious history are documented, as well as his participation in a variety of short-term, specific projects.
The Writings of Series III constitute the bulk of this collection. Articles and unpublished papers, contributions to booklength works, letters to editors, book reviews by Ahlstrom and documentation related to his booklength works are included. Sermons and lectures delivered by Ahlstrom are filed with supporting documentation in Series VI.
Series IV, Course-related Material, includes primarily lecture notes, syllabi, exams, and reading lists. These materials date from 1946 to 1984. Material from his popular interdepartmental American Church History Survey course includes more than 2 1/2 boxes of lecture notes of one word per page. His deteriorating health prevented him from reading long pages of lecture notes. Moreover, his delivery was personal and conversational, and the system of one-word-per-page best served his lecturing style.
Ahlstrom was an inveterate collector of newspaper clippings, cartoons, concert programs, articles, offprints, and anything else that happened to touch upon one of his varied interests. The Collected Material of Series V represents a sampling of the mass of such materials present in Ahlstrom's offices at the time of his death. The largest section of material retained in this Series, collected material related to the fields of history, religion, and education, includes primarily offprints and articles sent to Ahlstrom by his colleagues, friends, and former students.
Series VI, Biographical Documentation, traces Ahlstrom's activities other than his long-term committee and project involvements and his regular teaching commitments at Yale. The series primarily documents one-time events such as conferences, lectures, seminars, awards, etc. Included are many holograph and typescript texts for Ahlstrom's various guest lecture appearances, sermons, and chapel talks dating from his graduation from Gustavus Adolphus until his death in 1984. Ahlstrom was much in demand as a lecturer, and his speaking engagements took him all over the country and as far as Japan and Australia. Other events that highlight his extra-curricular life include his involvement with nineteen other Lutheran scholars in a statement supporting John F. Kennedy's 1960 presidential election and a Religion in America television show in 1974. "In Memory of Ahlstrom," by George Lindbeck and a journal tribute are also included. The series ends with miscellaneous material including Ahlstrom's own bibliographies and curriculum vitae.