Friday 9th June 2017 is International Archives Day. This is the 10th such day designated by the International Council on Archives to celebrate both the richness and diversity of archives, and to promote awareness of the work of archivists and recordkeepers. Archive services around the world participate in the day by organising events, activities and exhibitions and by sharing ideas, photographs and projects on social media: in short, anything to raise the profile of archives and archivists.
I have now been in my post at the British Jesuit Archives for three months. One of my main tasks is to add to the catalogue of the archives. Our aim is to move from a traditional index card system to the production of electronic catalogues using Calm cataloguing software in line with international standards of archival description. Our electronic catalogues are made available online through Catholic Heritage, the website of the Networking Archives and Libraries in the Catholic Church (NALCC) project.
Cataloguing progress is relatively slow – there is a considerable backlog to work through and our current estimate is that something in the region of 8% of the archive has been catalogued so far. It is encouraging, however, to see more and more of our catalogued material appearing on the newly relaunched Catholic Heritage website and to know that our work is steadily increasing accessibility to our collections.
In the spirit of celebrating archives and the work of the archivist, I have selected a couple of interesting items from the Archive which have come to light during the cataloguing process. I initially began working on small collections of papers of individual Jesuits. Typically in a collection of personal papers you might expect to find identity documents, personal correspondence, diaries, retreat and spiritual notes, and perhaps photographs. For the cataloguer the joy of working on personal papers is the discovery of unexpected archival gems: those items which really bring to life an individual, their work and vocation.
One such item is Br Thomas Moore’s recipe book (ref: SJ/29/6). Br Moore (1901-1977) entered the Society of Jesus in 1926. On completion of his novitiate at Manresa, Br Moore served the Society for many years as a cook and sacristan at a number of schools and parishes around the country. Br Moore’s recipe book dates from his time as head cook at Manresa House between 1933 and 1940. Aside from listing recipes, the notebook contains tips on cooking, sample menus, records of meat and fish purchases, a jam-making timetable and many other tidbits including the occasional ‘note to self’ on the values of hard work. The recipe book is beautifully written out, indexed and clearly well-loved; it reveals, above all, Br Moore’s enthusiasm and passion for the most humble of tasks.
Another such unexpected gem is an autograph book belonging to Fr Bernard Farrell (1904-1977). Fr Farrell entered the Society in 1923 and was ordained in 1936. He served as an army chaplain during the Second World War and afterwards as a missioner travelling around the country giving retreats and performing ministries. His personal papers consist largely of reams of spiritual notes and sermons, the real bread and butter of life as a Jesuit missioner. Fr Farrell’s autograph book (ref: SJ/23/5) is full of ditties, sketches and light-hearted verses dating to his time at Mount St Mary’s College, a Jesuit school near Chesterfield, shortly before Farrell entered the novitiate. The autograph book is not especially exceptional in itself but it provides a glimpse into an earlier carefree existence that is otherwise obscured in Fr Farrell’s personal papers.
The process of cataloguing may be time-consuming and seemingly never-ending but it is useful to take stock from time to time. International Archives Day provides an opportunity to showcase a tiny fragment of the work we do on a daily basis and to highlight some of things we discover along the way. It is also a reminder of why we do the work we do: archives are unique and irreplaceable, they are evidence of our activities and transactions, they are a rich information source and, as the two short examples in this blogpost fleetingly demonstrate, they reveal something of our collective identity. Archives are worthy of celebration, not just on 9th June but all year round.