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Roland Herbert Bainton Papers

Call Number: RG 75

Scope and Contents

These records document many facets of Bainton's long and full life. Though most renowned as a leader in the field of Reformation church history, Bainton's interests and expertise ranged over a broad spectrum - from Congregationalism and his Non-conformist heritage to issues of war and peace, from concerns of the pastoral ministry to chronicles of Yale history. Extensive correspondence, writings, notes, and illustrations in the Bainton Papers document his roles as scintillating lecturer, persistent researcher, perceptive artist, world traveler, friend to the oppressed, ardent pacifist, teacher and mentor to many.

Series I, FAMILY CORRESPONDENCE, includes two types of material: 1) correspondence of Bainton and his immediate and extended family, and 2) correspondence from the previous generation, including letters of Bainton's parents to both family and acquaintances. Correspondence of Bainton with family members is relatively scarce, but the letters available do reveal Bainton's personal warmth and dynamism. According to Bainton's autobiography, he corresponded frequently with his sister Hilda throughout his college and seminary years; neither these letters nor any consistent run of correspondence with his parents appear in this collection. Letters exchanged by Bainton and his son Cedric constitute the most substantive run of correspondence in the Series. Some family circular letters are interfiled in this section.

Series II, GENERAL CORRESPONDENCE, includes letters written throughout the span of Bainton's more than sixty years of professional scholarly activity. Letters to and from friends, colleagues, students, publishers, organizations, admirers and critics document in a thorough way Bainton's collegial and personal relationships. Prominent correspondents are listed individually and include Heinrich Bornkamm, George L. Burr, Robert Calhoun, Paul Oskar Kristeller, H. Richard Niebuhr, Heiko Oberman, Wilhelm Pauck and Gerhard Ritter. Certain famous correspondents, such as Erwin Panofsky, George McGovern and Johann Huizenga, have not been listed as prominent correspondents because their letters are neither regular nor substantive. Bainton's commitment to scholarship did not preclude his devotion to the church and to humanity. His correspondence amply reveals his lifelong integration of scholarship, friendship and social concern. A poignant illustration of this is found in letters exchanged with Italian historian Delio Cantimori. Their correspondence began solely for scholarly purposes but, in need of clothes after the devastation of World War II in Italy, Cantimori sent Bainton a tracing of his feet for shoes. Bainton sent him a pair of his own. Correspondence with Paul Oskar Kristeller and Elisabeth Feist Hirsch provides notable documentation of Bainton's relationship with European scholars who sought refuge from Nazi Germany. Some additional correspondence related to Bainton's writings and biographical material can be found in Series III and VIII respectively.

Series III, WRITINGS / TALKS, is organized according to the categories established in the extensive bibliography of Bainton's works compiled by Cynthia W. Lund in 1979. The original manuscript of this bibliography is located at the beginning of the Series; it is followed by a photocopy annotated with additional published works which came to light in processing the Bainton Papers. Series III also expands upon the Lund bibliography by including unpublished writings, drafts, addresses, sermons, prayers, etc. There is relatively little material related to Bainton's major monographs in this Series. There is material related to Bainton's autobiography, which was edited and published posthumously. The Series includes complete manuscripts or offprints of some works, drafts and notes specifically relating to manuscripts, numerous unpublished works, and some correspondence related to the production and reception of published works. Additional notes and source materials for Bainton's writings can be found under the title of the work in Series V, NOTES/SOURCE MATERIALS.

The COURSE-RELATED MATERIAL of Series IV consists primarily of lecture notes, bibliographical materials arranged by Bainton and other material related to Bainton's courses at the Yale Divinity School. Folder labels in the sections organized by topic and by course title duplicate those in Bainton's filing system. Within a given folder there may be a mixture of lectures, notes, and collected material related to a particular topic or course. Nearly all the typescript lecture notes are from the 1920s and 1930s; Bainton rarely used notes in lecturing during his later years of teaching. The majority of handwritten notes in this Series are in the cryptic shorthand which Bainton learned as a youth. A published manual describing this shorthand system is available in Series V.

Series V, NOTES/SOURCE MATERIALS, documents Bainton's research interests over a period of more than sixty years. Handwritten notes, collected photostats and copies, and other materials are arranged topically. As in the case of Series IV, the folder labels in this Series have been taken directly from Bainton's own designations and are not ideally descriptive in all cases. The material in a particular folder may be broader or more narrow in scope than the folder label would suggest. Materials listed under the title of a published work by Bainton may be more or less directly related to that work.

Series VI contains both illustrations collected by Bainton and his own artwork. Bainton's celebrated caricatures and sketches of colleagues, friends, and scenes demonstrate his perceptive eye, artistic talent, and lifelong habit of spontaneously setting pen to paper. The collected illustrations in this Series relate primarily to the history of Christianity. Prints, photocopies, negatives, clippings are arranged in two sequences, by the title of the monograph for which they were collected, or by topic. Once again, the folder labels in the topical sequence are in most cases those devised by Bainton. A section of 35mm slides completes the Series.

The COLLECTED MATERIAL of Series VII is a sampling of materials sent to or acquired by Bainton over many years. The Series is divided into three categories: 1) Bibliographies by others, 2) Writings by others, and 3) Material on contemporary social and political issues. The writings by others retained in this Series are those which may not be easily accessible in published format. The materials in the third category date primarily from the late 1960s through the early 1980s and reflect Bainton's intense interest in peace and social/political affairs.

Series VIII, PERSONAL ITEMS AND MEMORABILIA, begins with biographical statements and articles about Bainton which provide concise documentation of his life and work. Additional biographical insights are provided by a sequence of bulletins, clippings, announcements, etc. which document Bainton's activities over the years. Tributes and reminiscences by former colleagues and students provide yet another window of insight on Bainton's life. The material following this section of biographical documentation is divided into three categories: memorabilia, family history, and photographs. Bainton's famous Christmas cards are included in the memorabilia section. The family history section includes extensive material related to Bainton's father and material related to the Brotherhood Movement founded in England by Bainton's maternal grandfather, John Blackham. The photographs include portraits of Bainton throughout his life, family photos, and numerous photographs of the Bainton and Blackham families from the late 19th century.


  • 1886–1988


Language of Materials

In English.

Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of the Bainton family, 1984, 2014.


  1. I. Family Correspondence
  2. II. General Correspondence
  3. III. Writings / Talks
  4. IV. Course-related Materials
  5. V. Notes/ Source Materials
  6. VI. Illustrations/ Artwork
  7. VII. Collected Material
  8. VIII. Personal Items and Memorabilia


35 Linear Feet (86 boxes)

Catalog Record

A record for this collection is available in Orbis, the Yale University Library catalog

Persistent URL


Extensive correspondence, writings, notes, and illustrations document Bainton's roles as lecturer, researcher, artist, world traveler, friend to the oppressed, ardent pacifist, teacher, and mentor. Bainton was born in England and emigrated first to Canada in 1898 and then to the United States in 1902. He taught church history at Yale Divinity School from 1920 to 1962, serving as Titus Street Professor of Ecclesiastical History from 1936. Bainton wrote prolifically and was an authority on Luther and the Reformation, Christian attitudes toward war, Congregational history, and the history of the Yale Divinity School.

Biographical / Historical

For more detailed biographical information see the chronology in A Bainton Bibliography by Cynthia Wales Lund, Box 11.


1894 March 30
Born in Ilkeston, Derbyshire, England, son of Jame Herbert Bainton, Congregational pastoral, and Charlotte Blackham Bainton
Moved to Vancouver, British Columbia
Moved to Colfax, Washington
Graduated from Whitman College, B.A. degree in Classics.
Graduated from Yale Divinity School with B.D. degree
Declared pacifism, serving without military rank in a unit of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) under the American Red Cross in France.
Appointed instructor in Church History and New Testament at Yale Divinity School
Received in Semitics and Hellenistic Greek from Yale University
1921 June 8
Married Ruth Mae Woodruff
Promoted to Assistant Professor at Yale Divinity School. Dissertation published: Basilidian Chronology and New Testament Interpretation
Awarded Guggenheim Fellowship. Studied in Swiss archives researching proponents of religious liberty during the Reformation
Ordained as Congregational minister
Promoted to Associate Professor
Titus Street Professor of Ecclesiastical History at Yale Divinity School
Professor Emeritus
Guide to the Roland Herbert Bainton Papers
compiled by Nathan H. Price and Martha Lund Smalley
1992, 2010, 2015
Description rules
Finding Aid Prepared According To Local Divinity Library Descriptive Practices
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

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