Transcribing sacred speech with Pop Up Archive

With rousing sermon titles like “Spin City Jesus,” “Healing by Eating Cold Grease,” and “Hell Is for Accountants,” Duke University’s Chapel Recordings Collection proves that church sanctity need not come at the expense of grade-A entertainment.

The purpose of the collection is to aid would-be preachers in the field of homiletics — a new word to us, too, that means the art of writing and delivering sermons — explains Molly Bragg, Duke’s Digital Collections Program Manager.

In 2014, Molly and University Archivist Valerie Gillespie set about digitizing the Duke Chapel recordings in response to divinity students’ requests to access the collection’s sermons, which date from 1946 to 2002. Since then, their team has digitized and made available 1,400 audio/video items and 1,300 printed manuscripts.


The Duke Chapel Recordings web archive allows students to analyze sermons for theological and rhetorical components. It also serves as a historical resource, documenting Duke campus life and world events surrounding the sermons.


Students protest apartheid outside of the Duke Chapel, May 4, 1985.

“An archive of sermons offers [students] a relational time-machine, a gateway to the past where a preacher’s words reach out in a handshake, introducing their time, and place,” says Adrienne Koch, Project Director at Duke Divinity School.

South African activist Desmond Tutu’s 1986 sermon at Duke is a standout example of global and local history converging at the pulpit. Tutu addressed the congregation during worldwide protests against apartheid (including one on Duke’s campus) and thanked students for their prayers and support.


Duke is using Pop Up Archive to transcribe sermons like Tutu’s with the goal of tagging and making them searchable by speaker, themes, and Biblical references. The university is also using the transcripts to create closed captioning files for hearing-disabled people. After revising transcripts with Pop Up Archive’s editor, student workers export the time-stamped transcripts as WebVTT files, which display as captions on Duke’s web video player.

“Duke Chapel is welcoming to all, and the goal of this project is to provide access for as many people who would not otherwise experience the collection’s historical documents and audiovisual content,” says Molly. “Having multiple formats enables us to do that.”

Hear and Read Duke Chapel Recordings