From the Archives: Archives Assistant for a year

POST BY RSomerset

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Archives
Photo of Will Man in office
Will Man

On the final day of my year as Archives Assistant at the Jesuits in Britain Archives I would like to give a brief review of the experience, the projects and tasks undertaken, what I’ve learnt and gained from the experience.

At the outset of my time at the Jesuit Archives I was asked to undertake the calendaring of a number of bound volumes of correspondence and other documents relating to the Church of the Immaculate Conception, also known as Farm Street Church, from its construction in the 1840s through to the early 1900s. This project provided a fascinating insight into the establishment of the first Jesuit Church in London, including correspondence and material concerning the identification and procurement of an appropriate site, negotiations with landowners and the Archbishop of Westminster, fundraising, communications with lawyers, architects, surveyors et al, all deeply evocative of Dickensian London. The project also gave me welcome practice in deciphering nineteenth century handwriting and insight into Victorian epistolary convention.

Following this I worked on the cataloguing of our collection of postcards, photographs, and other images of Farm Street Church. This was a relatively small collection, but perfectly complemented the calendaring I had previously undertaken, stretching as it did from around the end of the nineteenth century up to the late twentieth, providing a visual history of the church and the Jesuit House, the changing interior and exterior views as alterations and renovations were undertaken, the church’s congregation, and the Mount Street Jesuit Community. It also gave me my first significant archival experience of arranging and describing a collection of images.

The rest of my time here has been largely focused on the cataloguing of the papers of Archbishop Thomas d’Esterre Roberts SJ, the former Archbishop of Bombay, who died in 1976, and whose papers are soon to be made publicly accessible at the Archive. This project was a major undertaking for me as not only was Archbishop Roberts a significant and controversial figure in the church and wider society in the twentieth century, but there was also a considerable amount of material, most of which was almost completely disordered. The prospect of cataloguing the Roberts material was therefore both exciting and somewhat daunting for an individual still in the early stages of their career.

The papers are a hugely valuable resource not only for those interested in Archbishop Roberts himself but also for the study of the Catholic Church and its responses to the social and political developments of the second half of the twentieth century. The collection is primarily correspondence and material relating to the books, speeches, essays and articles he wrote, retreats he gave, and the work  (and numerous disputes) he became involved in as a result of his views on abuses of power, the peace movement, nuclear weapons, human rights, conscientious objection, and contraception amongst other things. Roberts was also particularly notable for his resignation as Archbishop of Bombay and his work to ensure that his successor would be an Indian, the first ever to hold the position, Valerian Gracias, Roberts’ Auxiliary Bishop in the diocese, and who was subsequently made a Cardinal. Roberts attended the Second Vatican Council, was a founder member of Amnesty International, undertook a period teaching at Gonzaga University in Washington and a number of lecture tours in North America in the 1950s and 1960s, was an outspoken campaigner for the rights of conscientious objectors in the age of nuclear weaponry and was forthright in his views on the abuse of power both within and without the church.

All in all it has been an incredibly enjoyable year, not to mention the huge amount of practical experience I’ve gained in the day-to-day working of an archive, not only from the projects I’ve spoken of above, but also in undertaking research in the archives for blogposts and for assisting with enquiries into our holdings and individual British Jesuits from scholars, family historians and members of the public. The work has given me invaluable archival experience, an education in the history of the Society of Jesuits in Britain and elsewhere, and of the wider Catholic Church, and I have thoroughly enjoyed working alongside my colleagues here. It is a shame that it must come to an end but I feel that it will provide me with the perfect basis from which to start my Archives and Records Management qualification and to establish a career in the Archives Sector.

Will Man, Archives Assistant