From the Archives: work experience in the Province Archives

POST BY MAllen

Volume of the Blandyke Papers, indexed by Michael

Earlier in the summer, recent graduate Michael Daniel carried out a two-week work experience placement at the Jesuits in Britain Archives. In this week’s blog post, Michael discusses the tasks that he undertook and what he learnt.

My name is Michael, and during the first two weeks of July I worked alongside the archives team at the Jesuits in Britain Archives. I initially spoke with Rebecca (Province archivist) regarding work experience in the summer of 2018, and was pleased to be offered this opportunity upon the completion of my degree the following year. Having studied history at university, I was naturally interested in gaining experience in this field, and as I also formerly attended a Jesuit secondary, felt that some of the knowledge of the Jesuits that I had acquired over the years could be useful too.

Reflecting back over the last two weeks, I was surprised at the range of tasks that I was able to experience, which was something I did not expect before my work experience had begun.  During my first few days, I was shown the library and the different storage rooms where archival documents are housed, before being eased in to a few tasks. The first task I worked on was the transcription of a Jesuit-produced newsletter called Chaplains’ Weekly. Started in 1915, the many volumes of this newsletter feature a collection of correspondence between Jesuit Chaplains. I transcribed letters from three editions of Chaplains’ Weekly from 1916, which saw Jesuit fathers back in England send updates to fellow Jesuits stationed with the military in France during the First World War. Because the entries were typed rather than handwritten, I found transcribing the documents relatively easy. I also undertook the re-packaging a photo album, in which I renumbered the photographs and transferred them to special protective sleeves.

30 April 1916 issue of Chaplains’ Weekly, transcribed by Michael during his placement

The indexing of a collection called the Blandyke Papers was a manageable, yet interesting task. They are a series of manuscript documents produced by Jesuits priests at St. Mary’s Hall, Stonyhurst, and were produced from the late nineteenth century. Each title from the editions is listed with details such as page number, author, language and information about the subject. I completed this task for two editions of the Blandyke Papers, and did not expect to see that the interests of some priests ranged from the production of scientific essays on the human eye, to poems about Christmas and short stories.

Illustrations from an article on ‘The Human Eye’ in Blandyke Papers vol. 58, March 1894

Compared to the earlier tasks, I found calendaring much more challenging. This process focuses on creating a finding aid for collections to be used by researchers. Documents within a collection are listed with information on their creator, date, folio number and condition, along with a brief description of its contents. I assisted Alex (Cataloguing Archivist), who is currently logging documents from the College of the Holy Apostles 1775-1840 volume. Some of the documents I encountered were dated as early as the 1820s. In this collection, I often encountered agreements for the sale of land, or plans for the building of churches in the Norwich area. Not only did the style of handwriting common then make reading these documents difficult, but some had also become illegible due to tares or staining over time. This was stimulating task, as palaeography was not a skill I was forced to use often during my degree. 

A particularly challenging document from the volume that Michael helped to calendar

I was then introduced to a task known as cataloguing. This sees archival collections listed by date, format, level and extent, along with a brief summary of the documents they include, before being given a unique reference number. An obituary for the deceased or short history of the collection is also developed at this stage. This information is then imported into the cataloguing software, Calm, and becomes searchable through the Catholic Heritage webpage. I completed this task for the documents of three deceased Jesuit priests. It was remarkable to see the types of documents that the Archives’ hold for individual members of the Society, which ranged from homilies, mass orders of service, letters and personal diaries. After listing the documents, I was shown the appropriate methods of preservation that the archives team apply to the storage of archival material. This entailed the removal and replacement of steel paperclips for brass, as brass prevents rust and damage to the paper over time. The documents are then enclosed in acid free folders. I also helped Lucy (Assistant Archivist) cataloguing some antiquarian books. These were sometimes written in Latin or old English, and usually consisted of multiple works bound into one, which require individually catalogued entries.

Volumes in the antiquarian book collection which have been catalogued and re-packaged where necessary

During my second week, I box listed a larger collection to be catalogued at a later date, relating to the English Jesuit Mission of Jamaica during the mid to late nineteenth century. Being of Jamaican heritage, I was intrigued to learn as much as I did about the work of the English Jesuits in the British West Indies at a pivotal point in the region’s social and economic history after the abolition of slavery and the system of apprenticeship during the 1830s. It was during this decade that Jamaica became a Vicariate state, and the first Jesuits from England were sent to conduct missionary work throughout the island. For the relatively small number of Catholics on the island at this time, much of the work of the English Jesuits was centred in either Kingston or Spanish Town, where they sought to conduct regular services for the orthodox religious instruction of the Catholic population, generally made up post-slavery immigrants from Ireland, Scotland, Germany and Portugal. Although their efforts on the island during this period appear to have been hampered by a lack of resources and recruits, the Jesuit fathers were committed to establishing colleges that would provide a good standard of education for boys within Jamaica’s parishes. Some documents within this collection record the number of marriages, confessions and baptisms for the year. The vast majority of documents was correspondence between Jesuits in England and Jamaica, and usually pertained to the onset of illness due to Jamaica’s tropical climate, or details regarding the establishment of colleges and churches. At times the letters could be amusing, as was the case in one instance where a disgraced priest wrote to withdraw the “scandalous statements” he made against members of the Society. As with the calendaring task, I struggled at times discerning the gist of the documents. With practice I became better able at understanding these documents, and this was made easier with assistance from Mary (Deputy archivist). Another document I found particularly interesting was a 1937 programme celebrating the hundredth anniversary of Vicariate Apostolic of the Catholic Church in Jamaica, and included a history of the island from discovery until the 1930s, to be narrated.

One of the folders of documents relating to Jamaica that Michael listed

Whilst I remain uncertain about my desired career path at present, I would say the variation of tasks made my experience enjoyable overall. Also, my Excel skills have definitely improved. I felt welcomed by everybody that I came into contact with during my two weeks here, and I hope that my small contribution to the archives will be useful to somebody in the future.

If you are interested in gaining archival experience and would like to find out about these opportunities, please contact us.