The Archivist’s Nook: Catholic Textbooks Beyond the Classroom

Madonna Speller, Grade 7, 1960. Commission on American Citizenship Records, American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives.

This week’s post is guest-authored by Austin Arminio, a graduate student in the field of Library and Information Science.

For the past three months, I worked on a project to digitize publications of the Commission on American Citizenship of The Catholic University of America. During the 1938 Golden Jubilee of The Catholic University of America (CUA), Pope Pius XI sent a letter of congratulations to the American hierarchy. In this letter, he also gave the church leaders an assignment to create a curriculum for Catholic school students giving special attention to civics, sociology, and economics. The Bishops heeded the call, prompting CUA to create the Commission on American Citizenship. The Commission’s goal was to develop a school curriculum that educated elementary students on how to be both good American citizens and moral Catholics.

This is Our Parish, New Edition, 1952. Commission on American Citizenship Records, American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives.

The Commission, founded by CUA faculty members Fr. Joseph M. Corrigan, Msgr. Francis J. Haas, and Msgr. George Johnson, went about creating textbooks to educate children on American history, literature, mathematics, citizenship, and Christian morals. Some of these works, such as the Madonna Speller series, would not be out of place in a public school, teaching writing, grammar, and spelling; while others like Faith and Our Freedom: This is Our Parish, dealt exclusively with Catholic religious teachings and how they apply to everyday life. Some books contained messages that were considered astonishing for their time. Faith and Freedom: These are Our People has the story of Eddie Patterson inviting his Chinese-American and African-American friends to his birthday party. While some of the language would be considered stereotypical today, CUA archivist Dr. Maria Mazzenga notes that at the time of the books publishing, Jim Crow and the Chinese Exclusion Act were still enforced.

During my time on this project, I was glad for the opportunity to create metadata and use a digital document repository such as Islandora, the software used by the Washington Research Libraries Consortium (WRLC). I had previously only worked with the scanning of documents, leaving the later steps to others, so it was interesting to deal with this part of the archival process. While it was time-consuming and required attention to detail using coding systems such as HTML and XML, the overall process was fairly simple. I believe that alone is an important and vital part of digital archiving. If these systems are to be adopted by libraries and archives, it is vital they be easy to use by both those who create them and those who use them for research.

A heartwarming scene, Faith and Freedom: This is Our Home, 1942, p. 26-27. American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives.

At the same time, this project made me painfully aware of the limitations of digital technology. This project, which only involved scanning 19 works, the longest of which was around 250 pages, took me almost three months to complete. In contrast, the actual creation of metadata and uploading the files to Islandora only took around two days. While obviously larger digitization projects would involve more than just one person working on scanning, it is clear to me time and resources are the main obstacles for digital archiving. To remedy this, institutions might instead benefit by only focusing on certain collections for online digitization. Those items that are most visually interesting, such as the brightly colored and illustrated CAC texts, are some of the best candidates for digitization, as they are likely to draw attention and interest to the larger collection.

The Archivist’s Nook: College Theology Society Offers a New Voice for Teaching Theology

Certificate of the Title Change of the College Theology Society, 1968

This week’s post is by Elizabeth Siniscalchi.

Theology had a marginal status as an academic discipline for undergraduates until the mid-twentieth century.  Most colleges and universities offered undergraduate courses that taught religion rather than theology, which incited clerics and members of religious orders to create a national organization, the College Theology Society in 1954.  CTS began as the Society of Catholic College Teachers of Sacred Doctrine until 1968 when they decided to become ecumenical and change their name.

They continue to grow today by building a community of theologians through regional and national meetings, annual conventions, and publications.  As a society, CTS exchanges ideas on the variety of ways that scholars can approach theology and religious studies as academic disciplines.  The CTS Records in the Archives at the Catholic University of America show the dynamics of CTS as they have sought to guide the direction in the interpretation of theology and religious studies for undergraduate students, as it aligns with Catholic values in colleges and universities.

Officers of the Society of Catholic College Teachers of Sacred Doctrine. Brother Luke, treasurer; Brother Alban of Mary, president; Most Reverend John M. Fearns, Auxiliary Bishop of New York; Reverend Thomas Donlan, former president; and Sister Rose Eileen, secretary, ca. 1955 (front left to right).

Directing such a path, however, has not been easy.  CTS tackled controversial issues such as autonomy and academic freedom, particularly in 1986 when tension arose with the doctrinal interpretations of Father Charles Curran at CUA.  CTS has initiated a dialogue with other theological societies such as the Council for the Society of Religion, the Joint Committee of Catholic Learned Societies and Scholars, and the International Federation of Catholic Universities in order to define the role of theology as a field that evolves.  Some of the CTS presidential letters in the CUA Archives show that CTS also contacted hierarchs, including Cardinal William W. Baum and Timothy Cardinal Manning as a way to bridge a few of the differences in opinions and perspectives among scholars and bishops.

Within the Society, the variety of perspectives is enriched as well by the extent of CTS members who consist of theology and religious studies professors and students from over 60 colleges and universities in America, Canada, and Europe.  CTS members met throughout the year in nearly every region of America to discuss theological issues that seem to affect the course curriculum from each member’s academic institution.

Fr. Freeman, Fr. Tkacik, Fr. Finn, Fr. Schwegel, Miss Bown, and Sr. Leontine (from left to right) at the second day of sessions of the Organizing Committee for the Missouri-Kansas Region, 1954

In the Washington, DC-Maryland region, for example, CTS members gather from Dumbarton College of Holy Cross, the Dominican House of Study, Immaculata College, Georgetown University, Mount St. Mary’s University, Catholic University, and Trinity College.  Additionally, CTS held a number of their national events in Washington, DC as early as their first national meeting in 1955 at Trinity College.  The national meetings, however, have not been limited to one city by any means, whether they took place in Chicago or Philadelphia, and the national meetings soon turned into Annual Conventions as of 1961.  The Annual Conventions have included noteworthy speakers such as David Tracy and Raimon Panikkar.

As a result of the Annual Conventions, CTS publishes an Annual Volume.  The Annual Volume is a collection of academic papers on the theme from an annual convention, but it considers papers that were not delivered as part of the proceedings as well.  The academic paper, Teologia De La Liberacion Y Marxismo by Enrique Dussel is just one of the typescript drafts that is in the CTS Records.  CTS also publishes an award-winning peer-reviewed journal, Horizons that includes articles, roundtables, and book reviews on a wide range of religious studies and theological topics and their intersection with other fields such as anthropology or ecology.

Delegates to the Second National Meeting at Notre Dame University, 1956

This year, CTS will host its sixty-third Annual Convention on June 4, 2017 at Salve Regina University in Newport, Rhode Island where they will discuss American Catholicism in the 21st Century: Crossroads, Crisis, or Renewal?


Elizabeth Siniscalchi processed the CTS Records at the CUA Archives as a graduate student in Library and Information Science at the University of South Florida.  She works with texts and manuscripts in theology and religious studies.

The Archivist’s Nook: Read All About It – From Crime Reporter to Labor Advocate

Havana, Cuba, 1930: Harry Cyril Read (bottom right), Al Capone (back, second to right) Following an illness, Read had been ordered to spend several weeks in a warm climate by his doctor. When Capone learned of this, he invited himself along.

“Capone turned to me. His eyes were twinkling but some of their warmth was gone. ‘Is this a newspaper interview?’ he asked….He fell silent for a moment and then grinned broadly. “[Chicago City Sealer] Serritella says you’re one hundred percent and besides I like that Popeye comic in your newspaper. What do you want to know?’”

So recounts Harry Cyril Read of his first “interview” with gangster Al Capone, as reported in his unpublished manuscript Capone as I Knew Him. The time was 1929, Chicago was rocked by violence resulting from competition in the illegal liquor trade flourishing during Prohibition. It was mere weeks away from the infamous St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, a fact not lost on Read when he would reflect on this initial meeting. Read, editor of one of the two leading newspapers of Chicago – the Chicago American – had decided to use his contacts to get the inside scoop on the man at the center of the escalating violence. His contacts came through.

Caption reads: “Three hoodlums with guns invaded a downtown Chicago garage on the night of Jan. 31, 1939, terrorized an attendant, cut the telephone wires and stole the American Newspaper Guild sound truck that had been publicizing the Hearst strike. They drove the truck into the river. The next morning coast guardsmen raised it with grappling hooks from twenty feet of water. (Photo by a striking Hearst photographer).

Harry Cyril Read was born in Chicago in 1892. Beginning with a job reporting for the Cheyenne Leader in Wyoming in 1912, Read’s career as a journalist would span three decades. While he would return to his hometown not long after 1912, the rest of the decade saw him set out on a variety of non-journalistic endeavors. In the intervening years, he would work a variety of industrial jobs, serve in the US Army in the First World War as a Sergeant Major of the 346th Tank Battalion, establish an advertising partnership, and earn a business degree from Northwestern University. In 1921, Read began working as a reporter for the Chicago American, one of two daily Chicago newspapers owned by William Hearst. An intrepid reporter, Read worked his way up the editor post of the newspaper by 1926, coinciding with the bloodiest period of the Prohibition-fueled gang wars in the Windy City. An aggressive newsman who sought to get to the bottom of the bloodshed, Read’s papers highlight numerous hours spent figuring out the politics, personalities, and patterns involved in the underworld. He collected fingerprint records, plotted gang crimes on a map, and plumbed the depths of his contacts for leads. An enterprising investigator, Read would even forge a tense, but cordial relationship with the infamous Al Capone in order to plumb the depths of the ongoing violence and political corruption rocking Chicago. At one point, Read would even go so far as to travel with the bootlegger to Florida and Cuba to maintain a working relationship and in search of a promised scoop. Along the way, he was able to provide details of Capone’s views and actions to the press.

With Capone’s arrest and sentencing for tax evasion in 1931 and the end of Prohibition not long after, the violence in Chicago began to ebb. Read continued to work as a reporter, but became increasingly involved in the labor struggles of the Great Depression. By the 1930s, the Congress of Industrial Organizations and its affiliate, the American Newspaper Guild, had organized Local 71, the Chicago Newspaper Guild. After layoffs in both of the Hearst-owned Chicago newspapers, the Guild called for a strike that began on December 4, 1938. As a leading member, Read was included in a suit filed by the Hearst papers to restrain strike activity in early 1939. The strike would not end until 1940. Despite the end of the strike, Read did not return to his former job, but instead began writing for several labor-affiliated newspapers including the United Auto Worker, the Wage Earner, and as editor of the Michigan CIO News.

Read (back row, second to left) meeting with President Dwight Eisenhower as a member of the President’s Committee for Traffic Safety, 1957.

In 1945, Read relocated to Washington, DC to accept a position as Assistant to the Secretary-Treasurer of the CIO. It is a position that he would continue to serve in for the rest of his working life, even transitioning with the merger of the American Federation of Labor (AFL) and CIO in 1955. In his this capacity, Read represented the CIO at the United Nations Conference for International Organization in 1948 and at the World Federation of Trade Unions in Rome in 1948. While in Rome, Pope Pius XII received him in private audience. In light of his labor advocacy, Read served as a member of the Association of Catholic Trade Unionists, the Catholic Economic Association, the Catholic Labor Alliance, and the Catholic Inter-racial Council of Washington, DC. Furthermore, his later years were spent working on several books on politics, his experiences, and social commentary. He was also active on health and safety committees in Washington, D.C. being recognized posthumously by the National Safety Council. He passed away in 1957.

His wife, Lucy Read, donated the Harry Cyril Read Papers in 1958. They highlight the life and career of this enterprising journalist, labor and safety advocate, and author.

The Archivist’s Nook: World War I on Display

Two soldiers crossing a pontoon bridge. Robert Lincoln O’Connell Papers.

This year marks the centenary of the United States entering the “war to end all wars.” Here at the American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives, our collections preserve the World War I stories of many men and women through the papers, photographs, and objects they left behind. To mark this major event in American history, we assembled a small exhibit in our reading room highlighting the personal postcard collections of two soldiers and photographs from a scrapbook of a field mass, which took place at Camp Gordon, Georgia March 24, 1918.

Postcards of Robert Lincoln O’Connell

Robert Lincoln O’Connell (1888-1972), a soldier who served for two and half years in the American Expeditionary Force (A.E.F.) of World War I, collected these postcards. As a Machinist in Company C, 1st Battalion of the 1st Engineers, O’Connell survived a German U-Boat attack on the way to France in 1917. He served near Toul, France from January 15, 1918 to April 3, 1918, where the 1st Engineers constructed dugouts, command posts, and wire entanglements as well as quarried rock and repaired roads, often while being shelled and gassed. The First Division then shifted to the Aisne-Marne sector, with the 1st Engineers deployed to the Compiegne forest area. Robert was wounded on July 18, 1918 during the first day of the Allied counterattack at Soissons. After recovering, he returned to service in the Meuse-Argonne and served there until the war ended on November 11, 1918.

Postcard of wartime destruction in Baccarat, France. Bruce M. Mohler Papers.

Postcards of Bruce M. Mohler

These images of wartime destruction belonged to Bruce M. Mohler (1881-1967), best known as the director of the National Catholic Welfare Conference’s Department of Immigration from 1920 to 1967. Bruce witnessed the destruction of Europe first hand after joining the American Expeditionary Forces in 1918. A Major on the staff of the Chief Engineer Officer, his responsibilities included overseeing the purifying of drinking water for troops stationed close to the battlefront. After the armistice, he served in the Bordeaux region of France before becoming the U.S. Army’s representative to the American Red Cross relief effort in Poland. When a joint Ukrainian and Polish army liberated Kiev from the Bolsheviks in May of 1920, he took a relief unit, clothing, and food, to the refugees of the war torn city. He stayed there providing relief, until Commander Semyon Mikhailovich Budenny and his troops eventually drove them out. Read more about Bruce Mohler and his wife Dorothy in our previous blog post, “Putting Their Money Where Their Hearts Were.”

Field Mass at Camp Gordon, March 24, 1918. Records of the National Catholic War Council.

Field Mass at Camp Gordon, March 24, 1918

Established in 1917, Camp Gordon served as one of sixteen National Army Training Camps prepared for the entry of the United States into World War I. Located north of Atlanta in DeKalb County, Georgia, it functioned as the training camp for the 82nd U.S. Infantry Division. These photographs depict the Field Mass held on the Camp Gordon parade ground Palm Sunday, 1918. Rt. Rev. Benjamin J. Keiley, Bishop of Savannah, officiated and over 10,000 soldiers attended. These images are part of a scrapbook sent to the Historical Records Committee of the National Catholic War Council by a Camp Gordon chaplain. This special committee was created to maintain a national Catholic archives for the preservation and use of materials dealing with Catholic war activities.

Anyone interested in viewing the display in person are welcome to visit the Archives in Aquinas Hall, Room 101. We are open Monday through Friday, 9am to 5pm. For additional information regarding our recent projects to mark the centenary, please see the “Chronicling the U.S. Catholic Experience in the First World War” page on our website and our previous blog post, “For God and Country – American Catholics in the World War.”

The Archivist’s Nook: Catholic Archives in the Digital Age – Religious Order Archives Edition

Panelists discuss the importance of religious order archives to Catholic scholarship

March 29, 2017 saw a gathering of more than 80 archivists, librarians, and information specialists working with religious order archives at The Catholic University of America to discuss the status and future of Catholic religious order archives. The conference marked the third in a series on “Catholic Archives in the Digital Age.”

The gathering began with presentations by four well-known scholars in the field of American Catholic studies discussing the significance of religious order archives in researching and writing Catholic, American, and global history. Leslie Tentler, Emerita Professor at The Catholic University of America, kicked off the day’s first panel, “For Posterity: Religious Order Archives and the Writing of American Catholic History,” with observations on the worth of religious order archives to the scholar seeking to understand basic structures of American Catholic institutions. Diocesan records cannot be used solely to tell the full story of Catholic education in the U.S., for example. Why? Many schools were run by religious orders, and where diocesan records often have little in the way of religious order records related to discipline, pedagogical ideals, student socialization and the emotional climate of schools run by religious orders—these archival materials have historically been kept by the teaching religious themselves.

Participants listen to panelists discuss Catholic Archives in the Digital Age

Carol Coburn, Professor of Religious Studies at Avila University, followed this thread in her talk—religious order records help tell a story that can’t be told otherwise. As Director of the Martha Smith, CSJ, Ph.D., Archives and Research Center at Avila University in Kansas City, Missouri, Coburn works with Archviist Adonna Thompson to preserve records of the Sisters of Saint Joseph of Carondelet. Coburn maintains that “to fully know the story of American Catholicism, you have to know what religious orders are doing at any given historical time period.” As Mary Beth Fraser Connolly, lecturer at Purdue University, pointed out in her discussion of the journal of Sister Justina Segale of the Sisters of Charity in Cincinnati, resources such as these offer insight into the everyday lives of religious. Sister’s journal entry for April 4, 1968 reads: “While eating dinner, a flash came over the TV that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot. Only minutes later a special news report confirmed: Martin Luther King Jr., has been assassinated!” Far from being removed from the concerns and interests of everyday Americans, the journal shows, here and elsewhere, that women religious were of course tied into the daily lives of ordinary Americans. And yes, they watched TV. Malachy McCarthy, Archivist for the Claretian Missionary Archives in Chicago, Illinois, took a different approach in his talk. Using the example of a scholarly monograph on Mexican Americans, he illustrated the pitfalls of not consulting religious order records, in this case the male Claretian missionaries, who were heavily involved in ministry to Mexican Americans. In his otherwise solid Becoming Mexican American: Ethnicity, Culture, and Identity in Chicano Los Angeles, 1900-1945 (1993), historian George Sanchez was unable to access records related to the Claretians’ work with a key Los Angeles population in which the La Placita parish is situated. Instead he examined secondary works and diocesan records related to the population with the result that his chapter on religion could not include valuable information from the Claretian archives (not open to the public at the time) in his work.

Participants listen to panelists discuss Catholic Archives in the Digital Age

Our second session featured a panel of some of the most well-respected archivists of materials related to the Catholic experience in the U.S. The Associated Archives at St. Mary’s Seminary and University in Baltimore, Maryland is the home of a collaborative effort of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, St. Mary’s Seminary and University, and the U.S. Province of the Society of St. Sulpice, or the Sulpicians, and serves as the repository of these three organizations’ archives. Its archivist, Tricia Pyne, offered the group a genealogy of how several Catholic institutions worked to make that collaboration happen. Ellen Pierce, Consulting Archivist with the Maryknoll Archives offered an overview of holdings there, with an emphasis on the importance of producing value in maintaining archives for institutional stakeholders. Denise Gallo, Provincial Archivist for the Daughters of Charity Archives in Emmitsburg, Maryland, focused her talk on how the Daughters of Charity Provincial Archives merged records of that order from multiple locations, emphasizing the role in communications among various stakeholders in achieving optimal archival goals and visibility. Emilie Gagnet Leumas, Director of Archives and Records for the Archdiocese of New Orleans, focused on her Archive’s effort to work out temporary agreements with those institutions or individuals who may want to make short-term agreements with the Archdiocese. Finally, Patricia Lawton of the Catholic Research Resources Alliance (CRRA) at Notre Dame University gave a fine overview of the many unique services offered to the Catholic archival community by the CRRA.

The afternoon session wrapped things up with an overview of a survey of Catholic archives done by Young Choi, Professor of Library and Information Science (LIS) at the Catholic University and LIS Graduate Student Emily Nilson. Many of the issues that have plagued Catholic archives for decades continue to pose as challenges. Most collections, for example, remain hidden and inaccessible to potential users, in part because there is no information on such collections on the internet. Still, almost all Catholic archives have some web presence and staff are eager to gain training in born-records collection, digitization of materials, and to continue processing. The reportage of the results led to a lively discussion among audience members, who eagerly shared and sought out information.

The Archives will be posting a website with resources and the presentations of scholars and archivists this summer—stay tuned!

Also see:

Catholic News Service: http://www.catholicnews.com/services/englishnews/2017/panel-archives-of-religious-orders-tell-history-of-us-church.cfm

The Fate of Religious Order Archives: http://www.lib.cua.edu/wordpress/newsevents/8901/

The Archivist’s Nook: Catholic University Declares War

CUA students in uniform on steps of McMahon Hall, 1917. Lawrence Wright Photograph Collection, American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives.

The decisive entry of the United States of America into the calamitous First World War on April 6, 1917 joining Britain and France against Imperial Germany was a momentous event in the history of the American Catholic Church. Making up about seventeen percent of the American population, Catholic support of the war effort was a watershed event to prove their patriotism.  While many German and Irish Americans were not keen to assist the British, most Catholics believed it was a just war against an enemy whose submarines indiscriminately killed civilian passengers and oppressed the largely Catholic population of occupied Belgium. The fledgling Catholic University of America (CUA), established in 1887, was one of the first American Catholic institutions to declare itself when its rector, Bishop Thomas J. Shahan, wrote to President Woodrow Wilson on March 28, before the declaration of war, offering “such services as the Government of the United States may desire.” The President replied two days later expressing thanks “for your pledge of cooperation and support.”¹ Though partially addressed in a previous blog post, we now take a more in depth look at CUA’s wartime activities.

SATC at CUA Application, 1918, SATC Records, American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives.

After the declaration of war, lay students military drilling on campus, forming three companies led by university instructors with prior military experience. A new gymnasium, ‘The Drill Hall,’ served both recreational and military needs. Many students also joined both reserve and active duty units. Soon, the U.S. War Department (a precursor to the Defense Department) inaugurated the Student Army Training Corps (SATC), an incarnation of today’s Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC). The SATC used over 100 college campuses as training facilities for new military personnel, including nearly 400 inducted from CUA, while the University’s Rev. Dr. Peter Guilday served as one of the SATC Regional Vice-Directors. CUA contributed to the state in other ways, such as vigorously promoting Liberty Loan subscriptions to help fund the war effort and permitting the United States Navy to use Albert and Gibbons Halls as a paymaster training school, graduating nearly 600. More ominously, the United States Army used the Maloney Hall laboratory for important chemical research, developing Lewisite Gas, which thankfully went into production too late for use in the war.

Certificate of Appreciation from the U.S. War Department to The Catholic University of America (CUA), 1921. SATC Records, American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives.

CUA also provided valuable service to the church as the venue for the founding of the National Catholic War Council, forerunner to today’s United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Under the motto of ‘For God and Country’ and ably headed by CUA alumnus and Paulist priest, John Burke, a New York City native and Catholic newspaper editor, the NCWC represented Catholic interests ranging from charity to war before federal and state governments as well as secular and other religious organizations. By war’s end, some 800 CUA alumni and students had served in the military, with fifteen making the ultimate sacrifice, including Edward L. Killion, editor of the Cardinal Yearbook’s first issue in 1916. Additionally, more than 50 priest alumni had served as chaplains, probably the most famous being Francis P. Duffy of the famous ‘Fighting Sixty-ninth.’ The University’s postwar efforts included a rehabilitation school for wounded soldiers, administration of the Knights of Columbus Scholarships for ex-service men, and a 1922 campus memorial to honor CUA’s fallen

Image showing the list war dead from CUA’s campus memorial taken from a 1920s CUA View Book, University Photograph Collection, American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives.

For more on CUA’s collections relating to the war please see the ‘Chronicling the U.S. Catholic Experience in the First World War’ web site.


¹Correspondence Files, CUA Rector-President Records, American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives.

²C. Joseph Nuesse. The Catholic University of America: A Centennial History. Washington, D.C.: CUA Press, 1990, pp. 176-177.

The Archivist’s Nook: Visualizing the Archives

Pie chart of manuscript collections by size.
Click here to interact with the full chart.

Sometimes, archives get a bad rap. Even more so than libraries, archives are often perceived as closed off and inaccessible. Closed stacks lack the “browsability” of a public library, where patrons can wander among the rows and go where their perusing takes them. In an archive, researchers must navigate a paper or digital finding aid –a detailed inventory of a collection of records—and narrow down their search to particular boxes. Then, they must request a staff member to pull the boxes on their behalf. If browsing a library is like a buffet, researching in an archive is like fishing. You never quite know what you will pull from the depths.

While learning the traditional approaches to archival research is rich and rewarding, for those uninitiated, looking through a finding aid or even a list of collections on an archives’ website can be daunting. Such a long list with so many words. What if there was another way to ease into full blown, archival research?

Data visualization is the presentation of information or data in graphic form; it can encompass a dynamic timeline, a beautiful infographic, or even a simple pie chart. These days, anyone with a WordPress blog or access to Google Analytics is familiar with data visualizations.  Forums celebrating well-designed visualizations, like r/dataisbeautiful to name just one, are flourishing. David McCandless explains it best in his TED Talk, “The Beauty of Data Visualization:”

“There’s something almost quite magical about visual information. It’s effortless, it literally pours in. And if you’re navigating a dense information jungle, coming across a beautiful graphic or a lovely data visualization, it’s a relief, it’s like coming across a clearing in the jungle.”¹

Bubble chart of manuscript collections by size.
Click here to interact with the full chart.

Perhaps archives and special collections can use data visualizations as easy on the eyes gateways into their holdings. After all, archives already have a surplus of data readily available. Most archives create detailed finding aids for their collections, which include important information such as the size of the collection, dates the collection encompasses, other related material, and much more. All archives need to do is gather already existing data and present it in a visually engaging way, and luckily, there are many free tools available to help! Here is how I went about it:

I decided to start with the low hanging fruit. I knew that the finding aids of the manuscript collections at The American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives each include the linear feet and the dates covered by each collection. For the staff here at the archives and perhaps even researchers, it would be intriguing to see how the collection sizes relate to each other and where the collections overlap in time. I also wanted to do a timeline; we have a list of the building dates of many of The Catholic University of America’s campus structures, general information about them, and historic photographs. This data could be of interest to the campus community and alumni if presented in a dynamic timeline.

To create my visualizations, I used two freely available tools: Tableau Public and TimeMapper. The Tableau Public website includes a variety of resources as well as a gallery of other users’ creations for inspiration. TimeMapper is much simpler.  Their website is one page with user instructions and provides a Google Sheet template to enter your data. Timemapper offerss three options to portray your information: on a map, on a timeline, or both. Beautiful in its simplicity, Timemapper is also user friendly. Tableau Public, while a bit more complicated, gives users the flexibility to upload their data in a variety of formats and display it as a bubble chart, histogram, bar chart, and much more. What takes it beyond the average Excel chart is the ability to make a “dashboard” of interrelated charts, which can be dynamic, interactive, and colorful.

Timeline of early Catholic University buildings.
Click here to interact with the full timeline.

Using Tableau Public, I created a chart of Manuscript Collections by Date Range and Size as well as a Manuscript Collections by Size Bubble Chart. Using Timemapper, I created a CUA Early Buildings Timeline. The simple data spreadsheets used to create these visualizations are available below for reference:

Presenting data in this engaging format could help first time researchers visualize an archive and what it holds. At the very least, archive staff members can use data visualizations to view their collections in new ways and discover previously hidden patterns. Data visualizations could be an engaging tool to help archivists and researchers alike explore the information jungle of the archives.


¹McCandless, David. (2010). The beauty of data visualization. TED. Retrieved from http://www.ted.com/talks/david_mccandless_the_beauty_of_data_visualization/transcript?language=en

The Archivist’s Nook: Birds of a Feather – THE CARDINAL’s Early Years

The Cardinal’s first volume, campus scene, p. 7. American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives.

The Cardinal, the aptly named annual yearbook of The Catholic University of America (CUA), recently celebrated its centenary of publication. Volumes are available online as a digital collection of the American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives, which also preserves print copies. As we approach another centenary, American entrance into the First World War, we thought it appropriate to examine the early years of The Cardinal for a window on the bygone campus life of that prewar era.

Although CUA first opened its doors to students in 1889, it did not have a student produced annual yearbook, The Cardinal, until 1916, the eve of American entry into the First World War. This was primarily due to Catholic University originating as an institution of graduate education and research focusing on clerics. However, facing dire financial insecurity as the twentieth century dawned, CUA acted to increase its funding potential by admitting the first male undergraduates in 1904.¹

The Class of 1916 proudly stands for The Cardinal, 1916, p. 38. American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives.

In the years after 1904, CUA’s growing student population² repeatedly expressed the desire for a yearbook but it took the Class of 1916 to make the yearbook, The Cardinal, a reality.  Thomas E. Stone was the original editor, William J. Coughlin business manager, and Noel John Deisch art editor. The remaining Cardinal staff included James G. Kelly secretary; Gregor H. Heine, John A Bond, and Joseph A. Murphy assistant art editors; Paul R. Burke assistant business manager; James J. Conlin athletics editor; Charles F. McGovern societies editor; and Paul J. Fitzpatrick as historian. Star athlete Edward L. Killion later replaced Stone as editor, though the latter remained a contributor.

The Cardinal staff, 1916, p. 268. American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives.

The original dimensions of the Cardinal were about 8.5 by 10.5 inches and 240 pages, a format it has generally maintained, with a few notable exceptions, into the twenty-first century. Original features, many of which have endured through the years, included sections on the faculty, classes (seniors, juniors, sophomores, and freshmen), athletics, societies, campus publications, follies, and advertisements. A major highlight then and now are the myriad photographs depicting people, events, and the campus grounds. After only two volumes, 1916 and 1917, the pressures of the First World War, with the majority of young men in military service rather than college, forced The Cardinal on hiatus until 1919 when annual publication resumed.

The Cardinal, 1917, p. 9, themed for the world war. American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives.

The generation of CUA alumni and students called to service in World War I³, like their brethren on both side of the Atlantic, sacrificed their best and brightest, most notably 1916 Cardinal editor, Edward L. Killion, a captain in the 79th Infantry Division who later died of wounds bravely received at Montfaucon during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive of October 1918. After the war, CUA would honor its fallen heroes. At Commencement in 1919 the athletic grounds, then located on the present site of Curley Hall, were renamed after Killion, and in 1922 a memorial to all fifteen members of the CUA honor roll was erected on campus. The Second World War forced another publication cessation in 1944-1947 though otherwise there has been a new annual volume of The Cardinal into the twenty first century.


¹See the delightful account of one of the first undergraduates in Frank Kuntz. Undergraduate Days 1904-1908 The Catholic University of America. Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1958. Also, the complicated story of the gradual admission of women to CUA after 1911 is for a future blog post.

²For the 1903-1904 academic year, there were 91 students (60 clerical, 31 lay). This rose to 224 (124 clerical, 100 lay) in 1907-1908; 370 (102 clerical, 268 lay) in 1911-1912; and 557 (147 clerical, 410 lay) in 1915-1916, Annual Reports of the Rector of CUA.

³Our November 11, 2015 blog post, For God and Country, discusses the American Catholic war effort overall, including CUA.

The Archivist’s Nook: “A Wonderful Tonic” – A Wartime Hollywood Romance

Wedding photo, 1936.

“My Sweetheart, today is your birthday. There is so much to say that I am not going to attempt to use words and paper and pencil. I think you know how I feel about our separation – and the war which caused it – and my prayers and hopes for our future.”

Thus begins a letter sent from the Department of National Defense in Ottawa, Canada to an address in Los Angeles, California. The author was Hollywood director and screenwriter John Farrow, who was wishing his wife, actress Maureen O’Sullivan, a happy birthday. Despite the challenges of distance and wartime censorship, the pair continuously worked to maintain regular contact on all topics, both good and ill.  

We have highlighted the life and career of Farrow in a previous post, but his relationship with O’Sullivan was but one of many topics covered. The Australian-born director and Irish-born actress married in 1936. They welcomed their first child, Michael, three years later in 1939. Almost immediately after his birth, the couple and their newborn experienced several years of separation and long-distance communication.

Sunday News, Oct. 1, 1939.

In August of that year, O’Sullivan traveled to the United Kingdom to film her latest feature. Unfortunately, the clouds of war were gathering on the Continent, and she soon found herself trapped in Britain. Her husband frantically sought safe passage for her return home. Both Farrow and MGM Studios worked to secure a flight or ship back for the actress, but passage was difficult as the uncertainties of the new conflict produced repeated cancellations. Ahead of one of the many canceled return trips, Farrow wrote to his wife:

“This letter is arriving by the plane that is bringing you back. To use the local vernacular – am I glad. I never realized before how much of a part you play in my life. In fact you are my life and I am thoroughly miserable without you.”

In the same letter, however, Farrow tells his wife that he wishes to heed the call to service. He would find an opportunity to follow this call, after O’Sullivan managed to return in late September. With the US not yet involved in the conflict and himself being a British subject, Farrow traveled to Vancouver in November 1939 to enlist in the Royal Canadian Navy. O’Sullivan remained behind in Los Angeles, taking care of their infant son and continuing her acting career.

In the coming years, Farrow would move around during his assignments with both the Canadian and British navies. He was stationed at various times in Ottawa, Nova Scotia, and Trinidad. Despite where he headed, his wife wrote to him frequently:

“My Dearest, what a wonderful treat I received last night. Two letters from my sweetheart….I can tell you I enjoyed every word. And after I finished reading them do you know what I did? I took all your letters, now a lovely big heap, and read through them too.”

The family reunited during a visit.

While O’Sullivan and Michael did manage to visit him – during one visit, John warned Maureen that she may be swamped by fans – the couple maintained most of their contact long-distance during his service. In addition to notes of affection, Farrow discussed his take on wartime events, O’Sullivan’s contract negotiations with the studio, and even explained the importance of mothers to young Michael. However, for Farrow, the most “wonderful tonic” for his melancholy at being apart happened to be his wife’s voice during their weekly phone calls:

“My sweetheart, wasn’t it fun to talk together. But for so long! I forget to reverse the charges so probably a month’s pay will go to the phone company. We are extravagant and must really discipline ourselves to a limit of say – 10 minutes. Yes? But anyway I have no regrets. It was so nice.”

Farrow would continue his service with the Canadian and British navies until he was invalided due to a contraction of typhus fever in January 1942. Throughout the remaining war years, he would be intermittently called back to service, while working on such wartime features as 1942’s Wake Island. A film for which Farrow received an Oscar nomination for direction.

A note Farrow sent to O’Sullivan.

While the separation of the war years weighed heavily on the couple, O’Sullivan and Farrow would remain married until his passing in 1963. They had seven children together over the following years, and remained active in both Hollywood and Catholic circles.

O’Sullivan, who donated the John Farrow Papers to the CUA Archives in 1978, kept the letters her husband sent her during the war years. Nestled between materials on his film career and involvement in religious societies, the wartime correspondence with his wife highlights a personal side of the famed director’s life that mattered deeply to him.

 

The Archivist’s Nook: Irish Love Letters from English Prisons

Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa (center). From the Fenian Brotherhood Records and O’Donovan Rossa Personal Papers.

“Moll my Love, why don’t you write to me every day? You know it pleases me to get your letters. Did you know the desire I used to have to hear from you before we were married, and did you know how little that desire has weakened you would write to me every day. After these times are passed it is possible they may leave us unable to write to each other.”

So wrote Irish Fenian leader Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa to his wife Mary Jane (“Moll” to him) while confined in an English prison. O’Donovan Rossa and several other Fenian leaders – including James Stephens, John O’Leary, and  Thomas Clarke Luby – were arrested by the British government and charged with treason in 1865. Their poor treatment while imprisoned was immortalized in his book “O’Donovan Rossa’s Prison Life: Six Years in Six English Prisons” in 1874.

Mary Jane and O’Donovan Rossa were married only a year when he was arrested, and their first child together was born 7 months afterwards. O’Donovan Rossa was by no means a model prisoner, and often lost letter and visiting privileges as a result. Mary Jane and their infant son were not permitted to visit until almost a year after the arrest, when little James was three months old. She sent a photograph of herself and the baby, which O’Donovan Rossa never received. After it was returned to her with a note explaining photographs were not permitted, she composed a poem:

Letter excerpt. Richmond Prison, September 25, 1865. From the Fenian Brotherhood Records and O’Donovan Rossa Personal Papers.

Was it much to ask them, Baby,
These rough menials of the Queen,
Was it much to ask to give him
This poor picture, form and mien,
Of the wife he loved, the little soul
He never yet had seen?

Here at the American Catholic Research Center and University Archives, the prison letters of O’Donovan Rossa to Mary Jane are full of longing and love, but also share details of his case and plans for her future. In a letter dated September 25, 1865, O’Donovan Rossa encouraged his wife to pawn his watch and chain to  fund her passage to America. She did, and made something of a sensation on a speaking tour describing the suffering of the Fenian prisoners and reading her nationalist poetry.

August 9, 1870, O’Donovan Rossa wrote a letter laying out his plan to give evidence before the Commission looking into his case. As he worried Mary Jane would not approve of this decision, he explained “I would not leave it in the gentlemen’s power to say that any refusal to give evidence was proof that the statements could not be substantiated.” Both Rossa and his wife had lost much of their hope that he would be released; as he wrote “I am really pleased Moll that you are so strong, that that sickness of expectation + hope deferred is left you, and that you have made up your mind for the worst, for it is only thus that you can act for the best.”

However, in 1870, O’Donovan Rossa and many other Fenians were pardoned with the understanding they could not return to England or Ireland for the remainder of their sentences. In a letter of December 28, 1870, before he knew exactly when he would be released, O’Donovan Rossa wrote one last tender note to his wife:

“I wish that these lines may find you well. Settle down for a few days or it may be a few weeks, but settle so to be ready to start up immediately, since you are willing to remarry one who has nothing to offer you but increased love.”

Jeremiah and Mary Jane “Moll” O’Donovan Rossa would go on to America together and had a total of thirteen children. Their descendants still live in the United States today.

Per the instructions, “The Convict’s writing to be confined to the ruled lines of these two pages,” but O’Donovan Rossa was often in trouble for writing too small and too much on his allocated prison paper. From the Fenian Brotherhood Records and O’Donovan Rossa Personal Papers.
Mary Jane O’Donovan Rossa. From Fáilte Romhat.