The Archivist’s Nook: Blockbusters and Bootlegs in 15th Century Printing

There is perhaps no more famous book to come out of the first age of printing (barring the Gutenberg Bible of course), than the Liber Chronicarum — or, as it is more commonly known, the Nuremberg Chronicle. Published by Anton Konberger in 1493, the Nuremberg Chronicle was an ambitious project even from its conception. Its goal was no less than to delineate a complete history of the world, (as understood by fifteenth-century Germans, by which we mean that there are a lot of historic figures wearing tights who maybe shouldn’t be) and its woodblocks were as beautiful as they were numerous. In the modern day, this book is considered a coveted collection piece and sales records show that it held the same status in its own day. 

CatholicU’s Nuremberg Chronicle (INC 87) measures roughly 47 x 33 centimeters, while the Augsburg Chronicle measures a much more humble 29 x 20 centimeters.

Indeed, the Nuremberg Chronicle  was so popular that another publisher decided to step into the market. Johann Schönsperger published his own book in 1496, an impressive three years after the original. Using his press in Augsburg (His copy of the Nuremberg Chronicle is often called the Augsburg chronicle for this reason.), Schönsperger created a copy of less scale and quality, but that missed none of the material. While copyright and piracy laws did not exist in 15th century Germany (and indeed in many places until well into the Victorian period), Schönsperger’s Augsburg Chronicle does carry the familiar tells of a “bootlegged” copy , complete with the mirrored images and poor composition that one might see in a modern bootleg.

This feat is impressive for a number of reasons. The Nuremberg and Augsburg Chronicles are both examples of the period of books known as incunabula. Incunabula is a Latin word meaning “swaddling cloth” or “cradle”, and refers to books created in the infancy of printing. This period begins in 1450 with Gutenberg’s movable type, and ends in 1501, a somewhat arbitrary ending point which is placed around the time in which printers had begun to settle on standards for printed books. Schönsperger would have had to reset all the type by hand, and edit the layout to fit everything on a smaller scale. But this would have been a relatively easy challenge compared to the wood blocks. The original Nuremberg Chronicle contains 645 individual woodblocks,  repeated for a total of 1806 illustrations — more than any book previously printed. Schönsperger misses none of them when laying out his copy. 

Naturally, these changes came at a cost. The Augsburg Chronicle makes good use of shorthand, in order to make the text fit into its more limited scope. More obviously to a reader who may not speak Latin or German (the Nuremberg Chronicle was published, and subsequently copied, in both languages) the wood blocks, while all present, have lost their positions of consequence. One need only compare the showstopping full page spread of the city of Nuremberg found in the Nuremberg Chronicle, with the Nuremberg block of the Augsburg Chronicle, which has now been relegated to a half a page, poorly placed and escaping the margins. One could argue that perhaps Schönsperger cared less about portraying the city well; he wouldn’t have any hometown pride about it, after all. While this may be true, there are examples of this throughout the text, with woodblocks placed in odd locations on the page, pressed too close to the text, or creeping beyond the framework and into the margins. The much simpler solution is space. Schönsperger simply did not have the paper (nor the money) to waste on a full page woodblock. 

The two Nuremberg cities. While Konsberger sold many of his Nuremberg Chronicles pre-painted in the shop, an expense that Schönsperger seemed to view as superfluous.

It would now be worth mentioning that smaller scale woodblocks, especially 645 of them, do not appear out of thin air. In order to remake every woodblock, one would need to copy and recarve each one. Schönsperger employed a team to do this, putting his best artists on the more famous blocks, such as the Nuremberg spread. This would have been difficult work as copying a picture onto a woodblock and then carving it would create a mirror image of the original print. Most of the prints do this very well. The Nuremberg print for instance, seems practically perfect. Yet some of the later prints, particularly those portraying Armageddon, have more of the quirks that make the Ausgurg Chronicle so interesting to look at. Take the Imago Mortis for instance, a relatively famous woodblock, and one of my personal favorites. The differences between the Nuremberg and Augsburg’s woodblocks are many, and here they betray the creativity of some of Schönsperger’s carvers. This is one of the mirrored woodblocks, and, of the major prints, it is the one with the most differences. The ways in which the carver changed the block to make a different and yet ultimately recognizable copy could be a shorthand for the ethos of the Augsburg copy as a whole. This is also one of the few woodblocks that fits perfectly into the boundaries of the text around it — evidently, removing that last skeleton was a good idea, at least for the layout.

Two versions of the Imago Mortis: the Nuremberg Chronicle’s jaunty dancing skeletons, versus their fleshy and strangely unsettling counterparts.

Shortcuts such as these, cheaper paper, smaller woodblocks and the reduced size and quality of the book as a whole, meant that Schönsperger could also sell his books more cheaply, tapping into a market that buyers would otherwise have been priced out of. And sell they did. Indeed some scholars argue that Schönsperger’s sale records may have contributed to the less than expected success of the Nuremberg Chronicle. 

Everything about the Nuremberg Chronicle tells the viewer that it is a work of art. Even without the pricey figure attached to it, its beautiful woodblocks and artful design layouts garner it a certain amount of careful respect. The Augsburg Chronicle, on the other hand, was made to be a cheaper option for people who really needed it. It was made to be used, and, while there is no material lack in its printing, it is certainly not as artfully done. Despite all of this, to call the Augsburg a cheap knock-off of its original would be reductive. One can also see the artistry of the Augsburg Chronicle through the ingenuity Schönsperger had to exert to make it work. While the Nuremberg Chronicle is a masterpiece, the Augsburg Chronicle provides us valuable insight in its own right. In a way, it was one of the first pieces to offer commentary on the Nuremberg Chronicle, by being an outside interpretation of it. Additionally, providing access to a new market reveals just how popular the Nuremberg Chronicle really was, and how valuable its content was deemed. By comparing the two books, one gains a better understanding of the readership of Schedel’s text as a whole, and a greater appreciation for the artistry of both books.

If you wish to visit either book, both are available in our Rare Books department. Email to make an appointment.

Green, J. P. (2003). The Nuremberg Chronicle and its readers: The reception of Hartmann Schedel’s “Liber cronicarum”. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Reske, C. (2000). Die Produktion der Schedelschen Weltchronik in Nürnberg, Wiesbaden : Harrassowitz
Wilson, A., & Wilson, J. (1976). The Making of the Nuremberg Chronicle. Nico Israel.

The Archivist’s Nook: “The Road Goes On” – The Making of the Tolkien Exhibit

The poster advertising our 2023 exhibit on Tolkien.

Every year, on the week of the 22nd day of September, the passionate community of J.R.R. Tolkien’s enthusiasts gather together all around the world to pay tribute to the creator of Middle-earth. This date wasn’t selected arbitrarily. On September 22nd,  Bilbo and Frodo famously celebrate their concurrent birthday in the first chapter of The Lord of the Rings, and now, on the very same day, Tolkien fans and scholars everywhere share in the birthday festivities by celebrating “Hobbit Day” and expanding this event into a full week, aptly named “Tolkien Week.” Here in Special Collections, we are celebrating Tolkien week in our own way, with the opening of our new exhibit, “The Road Goes On: Exploring Tolkien’s Influence through Catholic University’s Special Collections and Rare Books.

It all started with a wonderful rediscovery of a book signed by J.R.R. Tolkien’s son, Christopher (you may have read about it earlier in our blog). But this was just the beginning. Upon seeing our blog post, a former Rare Books staff member reached out to us to share that he remembered seeing a book signed by J.R.R. Tolkien himself. We had neither a map, nor a secret key, but the search was on, and luckily for us, it didn’t require walking through “dungeons deep and caverns old.” The book was rediscovered within a day.

The famed signature of “Ronaldus Tolkieu” who is attempting to render his name in Latin.

Much as we are indebted to Christopher for keeping his father’s legacy alive, our excitement over seeing a book signed by J.R.R. Tolkien himself was much stronger. This excitement grew, once we realized the nature and timing of the signature and what story it could tell. This was not the iconic signature of a respectable Oxford Professor of great literary renown which we see on his letters and autographed books, but the signature of an undergraduate, who just arrived at Oxford in October 1911, leaving behind his life and school at Birmingham. It predates not only his major works, but even his very first attempts at writing about Middle-earth. All of this started during his undergrad years.

We felt such a discovery deserved something more than a mere blog post. Besides, we wanted to share the story and our excitement over it with the public. Thus, plans for an exhibit were underway.

This book, by John Garth, gives insight into what Tolkien’s time at Oxford may have been like.

When thinking about the exhibit, we were struck and inspired by the ways in which Christopher Tolkien, who devoted his life to bringing his father’s manuscripts and unfinished works into the public realm, had once again unwittingly been the means of unveiling another missing piece of his father’s story. We began to think about the ways in which J.R.R. Tolkien’s works have influenced others (our own CatholicU community as well as Catholics of all ranks and ages in our country) and the things that had influenced his own worldbuilding and ignited his imagination, from Nordic to Welsh. 

Bilbo Baggins sings a song on the day in which he leaves the Shire on the night of his birthday. It goes, 

“The Road goes ever on and on

Down from the door where it began.”

This, we felt, embodied Tolkien’s legacy as a road which would lead the walker to new and interesting places, long after Tolkien himself had gone. 

A poster for a talk given by Dr. Meyer about his friendship with Tolkien. A reproduction of his notes for the talk can be found at the Catholic University archives.

Our exhibit is divided into three sections. First, there are items related to J.R.R. Tolkien and his life and works, as well as the work carried on by his son. Then, we showcase books and materials from three cultures that heavily influenced Tolkien’s Middle-earth. Finally, bringing the exhibit closer to home, there is a section on some notable alumni and professors of The Catholic University who were inspired by Tolkien’s writings. Some became major Tolkien scholars and others – even his friends (such as Robert T. Meyer, to whom we are indebted for the donation of both Christopher and J.R.R. Tolkien’s signatures and many other materials in our Rare Books and Archives). In this section, we have also included examples of other Tolkien-related materials in the Tower or USCCB Office of Film and Broadcasting collections preserved in the Catholic University Archives. 

The exhibit can be seen in the main reading room on the second floor of  Catholic University’s Mullen library throughout the Fall 2023 semester, but a digital version of the exhibit (which may include some “extras” as all director’s cuts do!) can be accessed online

While preservation concerns had led us to placing a facsimile of our signed Tolkien book in the exhibit, we encourage anyone interested to make an appointment with Rare Books (reachable via email at to view the original. Much like Bilbo, we will never turn down a visitor, although you will forgive us if we do not offer you tea and seed cakes, as they are bad for the books.

The Archivist’s Nook: Decked Out in Green

In Special Collections, we’ve dressed in our grandest greens to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. In that spirit, we wanted to take a moment to highlight some books in our collection which are a lot more prepared than us to celebrate the Irish saint’s day, such as these books from our Nineteenth-Century Irish Poetry collection, housed in Rare Books. But how do such recognizably “Irish” bindings come about?

No need to don their green here! These books were already looking plenty ready for St. Patrick’s Day.

Ireland has long held an odd place amongst the British Isles, as something that is separate and yet (perhaps unwilling) a part of it. Even from its early days of recorded history, Ireland is granted stories and qualities that, while not all necessarily bad, render a place of magic and strangeness, other-ing it from its “more civilized” English neighbor. Bede writes on Ireland’s unnaturally healthy air, of which one breath can kill any snake. Gerald of Wales refutes the superior air, and also peoples the land with werewolves. Later writers, such as William Spencer, were attracted to the rugged wildness of Ireland, even as they opposed its independence. This does not even touch on the folklore traditions of changelings and good folk which carried well into the nineteenth century, and which Ireland is still famous for today. 

The complete Irish Poetry collection on its shelves in Rare Books

Because of English efforts to “civilize” what they saw as a barbarous land and people, Ireland has had to cling hard to its culture, its history, and its traditions. With the Celtic revival movement, beginning in the nineteenth century, came a new appreciation for Irish art and poetry. Irish artists dove into traditional myth and folklore, and pulled from traditional Irish art to establish ‘Celtic motifs.’ The Irish literary revival encouraged writers to bring back styles that mirrored the old traditions and Irish poetry as its own distinct art form flourished.

Which brings us back to the collection of nineteenth-century Irish poetry donated to Catholic University’s Rare Books department in 2022, by Frank and John Mulderig. While much of the poetry follows these revival themes of old myths and meter, one hardly needs to open the pages to feel the movement’s effects. Every book in this collection comes in a binding that is either original or, in a few rare cases of rebinding, contemporary to the book’s publication.

Songs of Sion, by Sister Mary Stanislaus MacCarthy, making good use of illuminated-capital style lettering and celtic knots. Note the dragon hiding in the knots in the top right corner.

These bindings draw from a wide scope of Irish art and history to make a collection of visuals which take inspiration from a variety of sources in Irish history. For instance, this book of poetry, entitled Songs of Sion, draws from what is likely the most famous and influential illuminated manuscript in all of Ireland, the  Book of Kells. You can see the manuscript’s influence in the capital S’ styled after the illuminated capitals of the Book of Kells, which were often made to look like animals, and in the Celtic knots used throughout.

Bog-Land Studies, written by Jane Barlow. A simple clover accents the cover which portrays the quiet Irish countryside.

And then, there are the simple scenes of a quiet and long lasting way of life, such as is shown on the cover of Bog Land Studies. The cover presents the Irish countryside, with its peat roofed houses, and cozy puffs of chimney smoke. There are the woods behind the houses and then, stretched out in front of the scene is a quiet and unassuming bog, in which ancient secrets could lie quietly hidden. (The Celtic revival movement also brought about an interest in Irish archeology. It was during this period in the nineteenth century that people began to realize that the strange bodies sometimes found preserved in their peat bogs might be from a much older time.)

When thinking about a rare book, it’s important to remember that one must consider more than just the text. Books are artifacts in their own right, and while the inner pages may showcase the breath of stories and experience from Irish citizens and expats, as they explore their land, history, and personal experiences, the bindings on these books tell their own stories. 

As of the publication date of this blog, the Irish Poetry collection is being cataloged. Inquiries about the collection can be referred to:

Campbell, K. L. (2014). Ireland’s History: Prehistory to the Present. Bloomsbury. 
Gerald of Wales. (1983). The History and Topography of Ireland (J. O’Meara, Trans.). Penguin Classics. (circa 1188).
Saint Bede. (1969). The Ecclesiastical History of the English People (Translation).  Oxford University Press. (731 A.D.).

The Archivist’s Nook: Bewitching Tomes

Wandering through the Rare Books stacks is always an adventure. The shelves hold all kinds of secrets, waiting for the right librarian to pull them, or the right researcher to request them. But on a rainy October afternoon, with Halloween on the mind, it is the witchcraft books that stand out to me.

The Rare Books selection of witchcraft volumes covers a wide range of fascinating topics: prophecy, astrology, somnambulism (which according to many of these volumes has some fairly magical connotations), and general folklore. If you’re having trouble with local witches tormenting you, Witches and the Second Sight in the Scottish Highlands, by John G. Campbell, published in 1902 may be able to offer you some relief. This book contains a near limitless selection of scenarios in which unsuspecting innocents might find themselves plagued by witches, and several practical solutions for ridding yourself of their evils. For instance, in the event that a witch is turning herself into a white hare and stealing your cow’s milk in the night (Don’t worry, it can happen to anyone), you need only put a bit of silver in your gun (a sixpence will work, or a silver button if you don’t have any obsolete currency on hand) before shooting at the hare. Naturally the silver is essential, for if you should forget to include it, the witch can easily use her powers to turn your weapon against you and you may find your gun exploding violently in your hand. Sound advice, and perhaps it’s better to follow the age-old ‘better safe than sorry’ and refrain from shooting at any hares unless you have silver in hand. Just in case.

The only know specimen of the devil’s writing from Ashton’s The Devil in Britain and America

Our next book, first published in 1896, is ominously titled The Devil in Britain and America and written by John Ashton on the grounds that “all modern English books on the Devil and his works are unsatisfactory.” He goes on to complain that most books redundantly cite the same examples of witchcraft and that, perhaps most importantly of all, “not one of them is illustrated.” Given this mission statement, it must come at no surprise that Ashton’s book is absolutely teeming with surreal little engravings with witches and devils, the odd and the obscene. The stories themselves come from all manner of sources, as Ashton proudly notes in his preface. (No ‘oft-repeated cases’ for him!) The material can range from an analytic (such as the word can be used in this situation) account of how witches are made, to a mid-seventeenth century English satirical ballad meant to demonstrate the devil as “sadly deficient in brains,” entitled, The Politic Wife or, The Devil Outwitted by a Woman, where one hapless man meets the devil (who introduces himself as ‘Dumkin the Devil.’) and is saved by his wife’s quick thinking. The book also contains what it claims to be the only known sample of the devil’s writing.

So far these books can be easily identified as the sort of things created for people who enjoy delighting in the taboo and the occult, stories meant to entertain and to thrill. Certainly there was an audience for them. The next work we’ll be looking at was actually given as a Christmas gift in 1930, so its handwritten inscription tells us. Ghost stories as Christmas gifts were not an uncommon tradition, especially in the Victorian era (think Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.)  This one seems ideal for reading aloud around a fire on Christmas eve. It’s a slim little pamphlet, (coming in at 7 pages, and that includes its paper cover) printed in 1928 and entitled The Story of Mr John Bourne. It tells of how the titular character was made the manager of an estate, and how when he was near death, the chest which held the details to that estate rose and unlocked itself, only to relock itself again upon his death, so that try as they might, no one could ever open it there after. Certainly it’s an uncanny little story, but I don’t know that it’s something I would traditionally associate with witchcraft, were it not for the “abracadabra” slowly vanishing down the title page. So why shelve it amongst all these other definitely witchy books?

The title page of The Story of Mr John Bourne, showing the descending ‘abracadabra’

As it turns out, The Story of Mr John Bourne is actually an excerpt from a much larger work, bearing the self explanatory and rather lengthy title, Saducismus triumphatus, or, Full and plain evidence concerning witches and apparitions in two parts : the first treating of their possibility, the second of their real existence / by Joseph Glanvil. With a letter of Dr. Henry More on the same subject and an authentick but wonderful story of certain Swedish witches done into English by Anth. Horneck. Although the excerpt of this work as we have it preserved seemed intended more to cause fearful delight, much like the books we were just discussing, the purpose of the larger text was much less recreational and its effects far more terrifying. Joseph Glanvill was an English preacher and philosopher, who believed that without the threat of demons and witches, people would see no reason for religion. In fact, he went so far as to view a lack of belief in the supernatural as akin to atheism. The book, which sought to prove the assured existence of witches, was hugely popular, and thought to be an influence on religious leaders such as Cotton Mather, a New England preacher known for stirring up witchcraft hysteria during the Salem witch trials.

In fact, if you’re interested in putting Saducismus Triumphatus in the historical context of Cotton Mather and the Salem witch trials, our library also contains his account of some of the witch trials he attended as well as a defense of the guilty verdicts given to those accused. It appears in a book called Salem witchcraft: comprising More wonders of the invisible world, collected by Robert Calef; and Wonders of the invisible world, by Cotton Mather; together with notes and explanations edited by Samuel Fowler, a man who served as a member of the Massachusetts Constitutional Convention in 1853, as well as being known for his collection of books on witchcraft and American history which far surpasses our own modest assortment. The book juxtaposed Mather’s account with the first publication to ever publicly condemn the trials. Written by Robert Calef, the essay is in direct response to Mather’s and attacks both the injustice of the trials, and Mather’s own part in it.

Picture from the Fowlers’ ‘Salem Witchcraft.’ The caption reads “Soul killing witches that deform the body.”

Salem witchcraft is not the only book in our Special Collections on the topic of the Salem witch trials, and perhaps it is not unsurprising that this tragedy has captured the fascination of so many people for so long. As general opinion on witchcraft shifted, it seemed strange (macabre, even) that the contents of stories you read for thrills or give as Christmas gifts were once accusation enough to earn a death sentence. Regardless, the Special Collections witchcraft section represents the long standing fascination with witchcraft that has captured peoples’ imaginations for centuries, for better or for worse.

Prior, M. E. (1932). Joseph Glanvill, Witchcraft, and Seventeenth-Century Science. Modern Philology, 30(2), 167–193.
Walker, R. (2001). Cotton Mather. Salem Witch Trials Documentary Archive and Transcription Project.

The Archivist’s Nook: The Encuentros – More Than Just a Meeting

June 19th, 2022 marked the fiftieth anniversary of the first Encuentro and, as it’s currently Hispanic heritage month, we’d like to take a moment to reflect on one of the events that have held an important part in shaping the modern Catholic Hispanic and Latino communities.

The word encuentro means ‘meeting’ in Spanish, but the Encuentros that have taken place periodically in the last fifty years have been far more than just a simple meeting. Leaders of the First Encuentro interpreted the word to mean a ‘coming together’ and this is exactly what they hoped to do for Hispanic and Latino Catholics. Initiated in part as a response to Vatican II reforms by a community that felt they were not being heard, the Encuentros were meant to provide a way to amplify the many voices, by combining them into one.

A liturgy celebration being held as part of the first Encuentro.

The First Encuentro (or Prima Encuentro) was held at Trinity college in 1972. Its results were encouraging. The Ad Hoc Committee charged with accessing the Encuentro document approved (at least conditionally) 50 of the 74 recommendations, with all the social concerns being accepted. According to Luis A. Tampe, “The First Encuentro viewed the Church as a work in progress and envisioned the Holy Spirit as guiding the Hispanic faithful so that the First Encuentro could be considered an expression of the sensus fidelium Hispanorum (the sense of the Hispanic faithful) and their reading of and responding to the signs of the times.”

A Poster for the second Encuentro to be held at Trinity College. The logo on this poster was used in the third Encuentro as well.

The Second Encuentro, which took place in 1977, built upon many of the themes and resolutions of the First Encuentro, while also looking for ways in which to improve and grow its vision. Some notable additions to the Second Encuentro were the creation of a Youth Panel, to address concerns of the younger generation falling out of the faith, and discussions over how to ameliorate the plight of migrant workers, who were given little to no protection from U.S. law. 

The Second Encuentro has been criticized by some as being somewhat chaotic and disorganized. However Pablo Sedillo, the head of the Secretariat of the Spanish Speaking of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, pushes back on this claim, saying of the disarray caused by so many unregistered people deciding to attend, “ I don’t attribute that to a lack of organization. I attribute that to just a community that was absolutely hungry to participate and tell [Church leaders] in a public forum how they felt about the Church. I really don’t see anything wrong with that.” Even disorganized as it was, the Second Encuentro provided an opportunity for Hispanic Catholics to have their voices heard by the Catholic Church.

An image of people demonstrating a dance as part of one of the events held at the third Encuentro.

In 1985, after many months of pre-planning, the Third Encuentro took place at Catholic University. Its focus was on growing inclusion, which sparked some fairly controversial debates. There were even discussions on whether or not women ought to be ordained. Excitement for the event sparked many other activities around which people could celebrate their faith, such as a pilgrimage to Guadalupe, which took place in 1984. Additionally, several smaller meetings were held after the Encuentro to insure that goals were being met and themes stayed relevant.

Continuing the prior themes of growing inclusion, the fourth Encuentro (or ‘Encuentro 2000’ as it was referred to due to its falling around the millennium) was designed as a means of increasing solidarity amongst other minority groups within the Catholic Church. Encuentro 2000 was as much a celebration of culture as it was a call to action.

The Encuentros are still happening; the last one was as recent as 2018. For many, they represent a unified effort for Hispanic and Latino Catholics to come together and make their voices heard. They brought out leaders in the community, and gave the people a sense of empowerment. They are a testament to a community committed to their culture and their faith, and to making sure others are admitted to it as well.

To see Encuentro materials housed in the Catholic University archives, go to the finding aid of the division of Cultural Diversity, part of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Deck, A.F., SJ (2022). The Hispanic/Latino National Pastoral Encuentro Processes: Harbingers of Pastoral Conversion and Synodality. American Catholic Studies 133(2), 97-109. doi:10.1353/acs.2022.0035.
Tampe, L.A. (2014). Encuentro Nacional Hispano de Pastoral (1972-1985): An Historical and Ecclesiological Analysis [Unpublished doctoral dissertation/master’s thesis]. The Catholic University of America.

The Archivist’s Nook: Of Art and Industry – A Sample of 19th Century Literature in CatholicU’s Rare Books

The nineteenth century was a period of rapid growth and change for England and America, and one can find a microcosm of these changes reflected in the English novel, in both the pages themselves, and the culture around printing their printing and distribution. Further advancements in printing, and intense industrialization had made books cheaper than ever to produce and ease of access naturally spurred an increase of interest. Lending libraries began to spring up all over England, where users could pay a small fee to receive access to a communal collection of novels. Throughout the nineteenth century, but particularly during the Victorian era of literature (lasting from 1837-1901) the novel blossomed, coming into its popularity just in time to help document the culture of a society diving headfirst into modernity.

The cover page to the first volume of the two part “Frankenstein” including some reviews describing it as “universally acceptable.” Surely, Shelley was duly flattered.

Despite the relative opulence that industrialism brought with it, many people felt an understandable skepticism towards a society that seemed to have forsaken pastoral life for a life crushed into the bustle of polluted cities, toiling away at dangerous machines, gradually allowing the beauty of the natural world to be rendered strange, carved up for wailing steam engines and smoggy factories. Mary Shelley was a writer of the Romantic movement, known for venerating the wonder of the natural world, and she viewed this zeal for industry with a certain amount of skepticism. In her novel Frankenstein, first published in 1818, the monster is cobbled together from various bodies, with its parts being selected for beauty. Yet despite it being made of only the most beautiful bits and pieces its creator, Victor Frankenstein, could find,  the end result is something grotesque. Frankenstein cannot hope, even with all his scientific arts, to match the beauty that comes naturally to the world. Instead he creates a mockery. A first edition of this work, of which only 500 were printed, sold last September for a record breaking $1.17 million. Catholic University’s special collections cannot boast to have such a rare copy, but we do own a first American edition, printed in 1833 and generally believed to be pirated from the original 1818 British text. (Pirated in this context means that American publishers set unauthorized copies of the text by lifting it from a book published overseas. Clearly, the “industrial spirit” was alive and well in America as well.)

An issue of the weekly journal All The Year Round, in which some of Dickens’ greatest works were printed as serials.

Our copy of Frankenstein was printed in Philadelphia by Carey, Lea & Blanchard. This is the same press which was publishing Charles Dickens’ first book, The Pickwick Papers, before the man had even finished writing them. Given that Dickens dedicated the book to the lawyer Tomas Talfourd for his work on copyright laws in Britain, this seems in particularly poor taste but in fact, pirated texts of foreign novels were incredibly common in the United States. Dickens, on his tour of America in 1837, campaigned heavily against this practice, citing the wrongs it inflicted upon already underpaid authors and their families, but to no avail. Indeed Dickens was, and is, famous for his championing of London’s poor, and could speak first hand to their suffering, having grown up in poverty, and worked in factories as a child to help support his family. Two of his later novels, Great Expectations and A Tale of Two Cities, which, among other topics, explore the universal hardship of extreme poverty, can be found serialized in the weekly journal All the Year Round. The journal was owned and run by Dickens himself and a full collection can be found in Special Collections.

America may have been home to a bustling business of pirated publications, but as the nineteenth century pressed on, its history and culture became increasingly re-entwined with Britain’s own and these themes of transatlantic cultural exchange made their  presence known in the literature. And not all of it was uncomplimentary. The writer Henry James often explored themes of American idealism and naivete, mixed with its reputation for forward boldness through the characters of young American women, such as Isabel Archer in The Portrait of a Lady. An expansive collection of American and British first editions of the works of Henry James are available in the Catholic University Special Collections, as part of the Richard N. Foley collection. The late Professor taught in the English department here at Catholic University from 1940 until 1974 and his collection was acquired by Rare Books in 1982.

This copy of Apologia pro vita sua contains a letter written by Cardinal Newman bound into its pages, requesting that the editor of the Union not publish a note on Newman’s “Visions of Hope.” It was given to us by bibliophile and prolific donor, Msgr. Arthur Connolly.

America fostered a reputation for embracing freedom, even from its colonization. It offered refuge to those religious dissenters who could not practice their faith as they liked amongst the Anglican church. But even this was changing. In George Eliot’s Victorian pastoral masterpiece, Middlemarch, the characters express their concerns over land rights and railroads. Yet in the background of these concerns, there are often references to “the Catholic question,” and what to do about it. In 1791, practicing Catholicism in England was legalized, and in 1829, parliament voted in favor of the Catholic Emancipation Act, which restored most civil rights to Catholics. Although Roman Catholicism remained something of a minority, the church did manage to gain some notable converts, the first of which was John Henry Newman. As anti-Catholic sentiment rose, his autobiography, Apologia pro vita sua was one of the pieces of literature which helped render Catholics more sympathetic to the average Englishman. 

Cardinal Newman had another piece of writing which, while perhaps not achieving the same lofty heights as Apologia pro vita sua, is certainly very dear to us here at Catholic University. Upon our founding, Catholic University’s first chancellor, James Cardinal Gibbons, received a letter of congratulations from Cardinal Newman. This letter is a cherished piece of CatholicU history, and held in a secure place in the Catholic University Special Collections, where it keeps good company with the other works mentioned in this blog post, along with numerous other wonderful treasures. If you would like to visit them sometime, drop us a line. We are a library after all, and unlike the Victorian lending libraries of old, we won’t even charge you.


Foley-Hoag. (2017, January 17). Charles Dickens And Copyright Law: Five Things You Should Know. JD Supra.
Herringer, C. (2012). Catholicism and Anti-Catholicism. Oxford Bibliographies.
University of Delaware. (n.d.). The Realistic Novel in the Victorian Era. British Literature Wiki.

The Archivist’s Nook: Many Voices, One Church: Archiving the Cultural Diversity Committee of the USCCB

Hannah Kaufman is a Graduate Library Pre-Professional (GLP) at The Catholic University of America, who also works in Special Collections.

Since starting my position as the new archives GLP, I have been working on the finding aid for the USCCB/NCCB Secretariat for Cultural Diversity. Having never created a complicated finding aid before, I took one look at the 25 boxes that made up the collection (with more, Catholic University archivist John Shepherd assured me, possibly on the way) and felt a little overwhelmed. However, after spending a little time browsing other finding aids and getting acquainted with the boxes themselves, I began to feel a little better.

This collection could be easily divided into two distinct ‘series’ or categories within which archival material is organized. Although all diversity task forces were merged under a new Secretariat of Cultural Diversity in the Church, the Hispanic Catholics and Black Catholics subcommittees of USCCB were originally their own distinct entities and are thus easy to differentiate. Armed with a preliminary inventory done by a former practicum student, I set to work identifying which boxes contained which materials. A few things quickly stuck out to me. The materials devoted to Hispanic Catholics were generally older, and there were fewer to sort through. My still lingering trepidation over the amount of material I would be working with was certainly a part of my decision when deciding how to organize the collection, but in the end the materials’ age was what convinced me to put it first. All of the Hispanic Catholic materials date from the seventies and early eighties, with only a few exceptions. Meanwhile, the Black Catholics materials issue from the eighties up to the early two-thousands. Although within the series, material organization is prioritized alphabetically, I decided to organize the series chronologically, as it felt more intuitive to have the older organization first in the finding aid.

Logo used for the Third Encuentro in 1985 which appeared on posters, pamphlets, and facilitator guidebooks to name a few.

The Secretariat for Hispanic Affairs (directed by Paublo Sedillo for the duration of the papers currently held in the Catholic University Archives) came as a result of one of the recommendations of the First Encuentro. It called for the then USCCB Division for the Spanish Speaking be upgraded to that of a special office directly under the USCCB’s General Secretary. The Encuentros were events designed as a way of reaffirming the Hispanic Catholics’ place in the faith, both for themselves, and for the Catholic Church. Encuentros often spawned other events which drew off the energy the anticipation for these events wrought, such as the pilgrimage to the Shrine of Guadalupe, in Mexico, 1984. Each event culminated in the creation of a pastoral document presented to the church, with a plan for creating a more welcoming environment within the church for Hispanic Catholics, as well as expanding involvement within Hispanic Communities. A significant amount of materials in this collection are devoted to the planning and production of these Encuentro events.

Bishop Patrick Flores, the First Mexican-American Bishop, addresses the First Encuentro, June 1972.

But the Secretariat for Hispanic Affairs did much more than plan Encuentros. Other examples of material one can find in these records include campaigns to protect migrant workers, to fight against welfare cuts, to push for positive immigration reform, and to denounce racist policies. There are also pastorals, papers, and a large collection of audio visual materials containing, among other things, Spanish liturgy and sermons.

The Secretariat of African American Affairs papers hold some content similar to that of the Hispanic Affairs papers, in that it consists of the efforts of a group of people which had historically not been prioritized by the Catholic church working together to amplify their voices. These papers contain talks and interviews given or conducted by Beverly Carroll, surveys on the numbers of Black priests serving in the United states, and records of both Bishops’ Committee on African American Catholics materials and National Black Catholic Congresses.

The later National Black Catholic Congresses was numbered in homage to the Colored Catholic Congresses held in 1889. As there were five of these, the first Black Catholic Congress, was referred to as the sixth, and ect.

Additionally, the collection deals with issues being faced by Black Americans both inside and outside of the church. There are several folders devoted to the effects of racism and ways to combat it, as well as the AIDS crisis, by which Black people were disproportionately affected. The collection contains ways to combat and ameliorate these issues, both through legislation and volunteer work, as well as through community support and prayer for victims.

There are also records for events and information distributed by the Secretariat of African American Affairs for Black History month, and research and materials on Black theology and Black liturgy, as well as publications such as The African Bible, or the Black Biblical Heritage, all of which seek to celebrate Black Catholics and demonstrate that their place in the faith has been there since its very beginnings.

A leaflet from the Maryland Teachers Association for Black History Month in the African American History Month 2000 folder of this collection.

Looking over my finding aid, you may notice that the first half, devoted to the Secretariat of Hispanic Affairs, is intensely specific. It seems almost as though each file has been labeled individually and put in its own folder. That’s because this is mostly what I did. As an archivist in training, I fell victim to the same mistake many new archivists do: over processing. This collection is important; I knew that and I didn’t want to miss anything, or cause a researcher to miss anything, through my negligence. By the time I reached the Beverly Carroll files, I knew better. Ms. Carroll was assiduous with her filing, and all the folder titles for the second half of the finding aid are predominantly of her own making. Indeed, it was Mrs. Carroll’s careful filing (she often wrote the location of the paper she wanted to preserve on the corner of the page with a ballpoint pen) which helped me realize I should be focusing more on the original order. This is not to say that Mr. Sedillo was not well organized, rather that sometimes you need something spelled out for you (in the corner of a page. With a ballpoint pen). After I realized this, I simply removed paper clips and staples and re-foldered them into acid free folders. I learned a few important lessons here. The first is to trust researchers to be able to find what they’re looking for, and the second is to learn when you can trust the original owner of the work you’re processing as well. After all, Mrs. Carroll had a good system, one that made sense to her and that she was careful to preserve. Why destroy that, when that organizational context adds so much to each piece of the collection?

One of the primary functions of an archive is to hold recorded history, so that someone can come back years later and examine that history. I cannot help but think about this purpose in conjunction with these two groups’ work to be recognized as they deserve in the Catholic church, to assert that they have always been valuable members of the Catholic community. They have always been here, and this collection is yet another resource that people can point to as documented evidence of a long term commitment by Black and Latinx Catholics to their committees, to their faith, and to themselves.

Marquette Archives. (n.d). Inculturation Task Forfces Records of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. [Finding Aid]. Inculturation Task Forces Records of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Marquette University, Milwaukee, WI.
Sharpe, R., (1997). Black Catholic Gifts of Faith. U.S. Catholic Historian, 15(4), 29-55.
Tampe, L.A. (2014). Encuentro Nacional Hispano de Pastoral (1972-1985): An Historical and Ecclesiological Analysis [Unpublished doctoral dissertation/master’s thesis]. The Catholic University of America.
Tilghman, M. T. (2021, November 29). Former USCCB official and leading voice for Black Catholics dies at 75. Catholic Standard.
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. (n.d.) Cultural Diversity in the Church.
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. (n.d.) Timeline 1917-2017.