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  • Writer's pictureRebecca Somerset

World Book Day: Our Recent Reviews

Updated: Mar 7

The first World Book Day was celebrated on 23 April 1995. Unlike most countries, who continue to observe this day, the United Kingdom marks World Book Day on the first Thursday in March. In 2024, this falls on 7 March. The aim of the day is to promote reading, publishing and copyright and is also known as World Book and Copyright Day or International Day of the Book.


Inspired by World Book Day, the Archives team decided to share their current work-related reading.


Rebecca (Archivist)


Front cover of book with a rectangle portrait photograph in top half showing two men in clerical dark suits on a roof top with dome of St Peter's in background. Underneath in brown bold type the tile is given under which in black font is written edited by thomas M McCoog SJ. Both top and bottom cover have a dark red/brown border. The top is thicker and has Jesuit Studies Modernity through the Prism of Jesuit History in white italic font.
Book cover with photo of Arrupe SJ & George SJ

In addition to the introduction, I have read the most immediately relevant two chapters in With Eyes and Ears open: the role of the Visitors in the Society of Jesus published by Brill in 2019 as part of its ‘Jesuit Studies’ series.


This volume was edited by my predecessor Thomas McCoog SJ who, as well as writing the introduction, contributed an article on ‘Seventeenth-century Visitations of the Transmarine Houses of the English Province’. The other article which I read is ‘Gordon George and the Visitation of the English Province, 1964-65’ by Oliver Rafferty SJ, who spent time researching for this in the British Jesuit Archives.


The book has educated me on the role of the visitor, a role that “has not figured prominently in Jesuit historiography” (p.1). My, no doubt oversimplified, take away is that the visitor was appointed by the superior general to survey the situation of the Jesuit way of life in a certain province/mission and suggest future actions, often unpopular. However, I did not just learn about the role of the visitor, but through these two examination of important visitations learnt more about the Province's situation in the 17th century and in the 1960s.


McCoog sets outs the complicated and unique situation that the English mission, and later province, posed to the Society, and how having established seminaries and colleges on the continent within the geographic boundaries of other Provinces complicated their governance. In his chapter he deals with the issues raised by having English houses in the two Belgian Provinces. One reoccurring dispute concerned the fact that the English Jesuits did not wear clerical dress. McCoog relates the visitations made, first by Heinrich Scherer SJ in 1617-18 and then by Alessandro Gottifredi SJ in 1648-49 and how they tried to deal with these problems.


Gordon George SJ visited the then English Province from 1964-65. Rafferty sets out the conclusions George reached, which largely focused on the over commitment of the Province and the lack of manpower. He dedicates almost four pages to setting out the decision that came to define George's visit; namely the closure of Beaumont College. As Fr McCoog does in the introduction, Rafferty acknowledges the difficulty of drawing conclusions without access to all relevant documentation due to archival closure periods.


George was one of the last visitors appointed as this role disappeared during Arrupe's generalate. McCoog in his introduction states that the opening of the General Archives in Rome (which does not grant access to any documents later than 1958, the end of Pope Pius XII pontificate) is needed to fully understand the reason for this disappearance. One argument has been that with travel being easier the general and his assistants are able to visit every Province and Mission themselves. Although McCoog points out on page 24:

...the nature, purpose and length of their visits differ considerably from the traditional visitations. Visitors with "eyes and ears open to the needs of all concerned" perceived more during their prolonged stay than a carefully orchestrated, three-day visit from the general...

It is wonderful to see the results of many hours of research that have been conducted in archives. As Archivists we often only get glimpses of the history, stories and facts that can be unearthed from studying the records, particularly where these are complimented or put into context by records held elsewhere. This highlights the essential role that we play in preserving and making available such material.


I intent to read the other chapters in this volume to develop my understanding of the role of the visitor and Jesuit history in other regions.


This volume is available to consult in the Archives reading room as part of our reference library.

 

Mary (Deputy Archivist)

I have recently finished reading The Jesuit guide to (almost) everything: a spirituality for real life (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2012) by James Martin, an American Jesuit priest, author, and editor at large at America magazine. In this particular work, Martin seeks to make Ignatian spirituality accessible to all, and in doing so has created a comprehensive guide to everything Jesuit – not a small feat.


I have been working for the Jesuits in Britain for almost ten years and while in that time I have become familiar with their history, I was hazy about the more spiritual and theological side. This was just the book I needed. I had already read Martin’s autobiographical account of becoming a Jesuit, and enjoyed his accessible and often humorous writing style. This was no different. While he doesn’t assume any prior knowledge of St Ignatius or Ignatian spirituality (the book opens with the line ‘Who is St. Ignatius, and why should you care?) it doesn’t patronise the reader either. In fact, when speaking about the book’s reception in the question-and-answer session printed at the end he says, ‘Some [Jesuits] have even said … that my take on Ignatian spirituality has helped deepen their own understanding of it, which is the highest praise of all.’


As mentioned, the first chapter takes us right back to basics – who was St Ignatius, and what is Ignatian spirituality? And in subsequent chapters he covers everything from how to find God, how to pray, Jesuit vows, friendship, and even careers advice. Throughout, the book is interspersed with personal anecdotes and the wisdom of other Jesuits, those he has known personally who have been part of his journey, and Jesuits of the past through their writing.


There are many useful skills and processes that can be taken away from this book, and the ones that stand out will vary from person to person. As someone who often struggles with decision-making, I found the chapter on discernment, ‘What Should I Do?’, particularly helpful. According to Ignatius there are three main types of decision we can be faced with, and Martin explains the techniques you can apply to approach each of them. I was also drawn to the explanation of the Jesuit vow of poverty in chapter 8, ‘The Simple Life’, and how Martin suggests that anyone can put it into practice in fairly simple ways, for example by donating items we don’t need and distinguishing between things we want versus things we need – something that I’m sure most of us could be better at. I was also fascinated by the section on the examen – a word I had come across but had not known what it meant before reading this book. The practices of journalling and mindfulness have become ever more prevalent in recent years and the examen offers something similar: it is a prayer that Jesuits must make at least once a day that involves reflecting on your day in five steps, one being a reflection on what you are grateful for. Although life can be busy, this struck me as a beneficial practice to incorporate into my daily routine.


These are just some of the topics that stood out to me, and there is bound to be something for everyone in this book. While I initially read it to de-mystify Ignatian Spirituality and better understand the Jesuit archives I care for, I was happily surprised by how much I could apply to my own life.

 

Lucy (Assistant Archivist & Rare Book Cataloguer)


A photograph of an array of digital storage media.  They include 5.25 and 3.5 inch floppy disks, USB sticks, CD ROMs, CDs, a kindle and laptops.
A recent Accession of digital formats

Increasingly, new material which arrives at the British Jesuit Archive is in digital format, and we expect the proportion of this to increase greatly over the next decade.  We do still get boxes of paper documents, but increasingly these are intermingled with hard drives, USB sticks, floppy disks, cassettes and other digital formats.  We are in the process of acquiring new digital preservation software, called Preservica, and have started the training on how to use it.  This is a big but necessary step for our archive, and is part of larger archival shift to becoming more digital in how we process material as well as how we receive it.

 

I thought it would be useful to learn more about digital archives, so have been reading Digital Archives, management, access and use, a collection of essays by different authors edited by Milena Dobreva and published by Facet in 2019.  I guess my bias is already apparent in that my immediate reaction was to find a book on the subject rather than browse online, although in my defence, I am using a digital copy of the book. 

 

Digital Archives is an introduction to different theoretical issues and occasionally complicated aspects which arise when considering digital archives, together with a series of case studies.  It is international in scope, with contributors from universities in Iowa, Rome, Thessaloniki, Malta, Melbourne and Glasgow and case studies from Malta, Ireland, Australia and Greece. I haven’t finished it yet, so will concentrate here on two chapters, the first, ‘Digital humanities and documentary mediations in the digital age’ by Enrico Natale, and the sixth, ‘Access to digital archives: studying users’ expectations and behaviours’, by Pierluigi Feliciati.

 

At the beginning of Natale’s chapter there is a section on the history of using computers in humanities, and to my surprise, this highlighted Jesuit input from the start.  Fr Roberto Busa SJ, an Italian Jesuit, started what is now acknowledged as the first 'Digital Humanities' project when he set out to create a corpus of the works of St Thomas Aquinas.  In 1949 he persuaded Thomas J Watson, co-founder of IBM, to donate computers for the task and organised a largely female team of data inputters who spent the next 20 years coding the Latin text into punched cards.  A 50 volume edition was published in the 1970s, a series of CD-ROMs in the 1990s and it is now available via a slightly dated-looking website, which, rather wonderfully, can be toggled between English or Latin.  Click here to see it:

 

 

Natale is an archive user rather than an archivist, and he is focused on the use of archives by researchers, not on the digital processes by which archivists make archives accessible.

 

Natale’s main conclusion is that archivists and other information professionals need to be more explicit about the mediations that they make – that they should be more transparent about their administrative procedures, their classification inventory or inventory structure (to use his terminology), and more open about where information they use as context comes from.  This theme is also apparent in Feliciati’s chapter, which explicitly addresses the archive user experience.  It takes as its starting point an influential article published in 1998 by Barbara Craig (Craig, B. L. (1998) ‘Old Myths in New Clothes: expectations of archives users’, Archivaria, 45 (Spring), 118–26.) who argued that the methods used by archivists fell short of meeting the needs of archive users.

 

Feliciati argues that despite the switch to digital, users' needs are still not being met.  He highlights four main areas of concern –  archival terminology (what is a fonds anyway?) the hierarchical structure of archival description (what is the point of placing a record in a series, file or item level of a hierarchy, if this does not help the end user?), searching tools (why is the user interface for archival cataloguing software not more user-friendly?) and content visualisation (the hierarchy makes much more sense if it's organisational structure can be seen).

 

Of these four criticisms, the last two, which are closely related, seem pertinent.  Our catalogue which we create using the cataloguing software, CALM, can be searched via the online portal called Calm View.  The access provided is not easy to use or instinctive, and although it is possible to view the cataloguing hierarchy on it, a user needs to work to find it.  Being able to see the hierarchy makes finding the item searched for much easier.

 

My main feeling about the volume as a whole is that it does not consider the management of digital archives by archivists, or their preservation.  Its focus instead is on making archives more accessible digitally, increasing online access to archives, which is something most professionally-run archives are already very aware of.  There is also no consideration of digitisation and how to preserve and maintain digitised material.  All the contributors are academics rather than professional archivists running archives and their concerns reflect those of the archive user rather than the archive professional. Part of the problem may be one of terminology, and what is needed is more discussion about language - what are digital archives, what is a digitised archive, and how should they be looked after, and, separately, how to provide digital access to catalogues created by archivists. These are two separate concepts which get conflated by imprecise language.

 

Perhaps I should not expect a book which is already 5 years old to answer digital archive questions and in fact my attempts to educate myself about managing and preserving digital archives should be found in online literature and not that intended for publication in a book. A sobering thought for World Book Day!

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