The Archivist’s Nook: Curating the Catechism

This week’s post is guest-authored by Mikkaela Bailey is a PhD student at CUA studying medieval history with special interests in women’s history, public history, and digital humanities. You can find her on Twitter: @mikkaela_bailey

Curation is a long, detailed conversation between individuals, offices, texts, and objects, as students from Catholic University’s History and Public Life class learned this semester.

It’s easy to evaluate an exhibit and poke holes in the choices made by its organizers. It’s far more difficult than I imagined to craft an exhibit.

With most of the logistics arranged long in advance by our professor for the class History and Public Life, Dr. Maria Mazzenga, our job as a class was focused on assembling and advertising the physical exhibit itself.

The first thing we had to do was break up the objects into thematic categories so we could decide what should be included in our display. Then, we had to plan how to best demonstrate the common themes between them and also establish continuity in the display. After that, we had to craft captions and marketing materials that communicated why our visitors should care about our work and choose to come see it.

We used minimal materials to set up the exhibit. Aside from the items featured, we added captions and some text as well as stands for the books and weights to keep the books open for display.

One of the ideas about organizing the books rested on the idea that the Eucharist is a central and essential element of the catechism and one’s first Communion is an important life event. Since our audience is likely to be heavily Catholic, there is resonance with their own experiences in the exhibit here. This thematic approach connected well with the objects in the exhibit, and inspiration flowed from that idea as we assembled catechisms aimed at children and teens in the same display case. One thematic element of change over time was the implementation of more children’s catechetical education as the age for first Communion shifted from around 13 to around 7 years of age.

The caption writing process was difficult, and you can see unique touches from the students who collaborated on them. We divided them between ourselves, working in groups of two or three to write them.

But, there were still two more cases to fill and many more objects to consider. In the first case, which we actually finished last, we installed the oldest books, including a Latin catechism from 1566. These 16th and 18th century books were connected by the vernacular languages in which they were printed. Printing educational materials in the vernacular was a very important emphasis of the Tridentine Catechisms, so grouping these non-English catechisms gave emphasis to the importance of the catechism worldwide, outside our own framework, and outside the Latin-based world of the church.

The central case features several interesting pieces, but it also provides context for the cases flanking it. This is where we chose to place the bulk of our textual engagement through questions we are asking the audience and a QR code linked to the digital exhibit.

A sneak peek at the finished display cases that will be on exhibit for the next few weeks!

At the end of this process, I am so thankful for teammates who were engaged from the beginning and expressed great passion for this project. I shudder to think of undertaking something like this alone! In fact, looking at the finished product, I feel as though no idea I had for the display was totally my own and I think almost every decision made was by committee. From the marketing materials to the captions and display case arrangements, this exhibit was completely collaborative and has benefitted from open communication and easy acceptance of constructive criticism. In public history, I think all of these qualities are essential for a successful, cohesive exhibit. This experience has been the highlight of my first semester as a PhD student at CUA!

This is an “insider’s perspective” of what it was like to arrange the items in the case while my co-curators directed me from outside the case. We had a challenging time arranging many of the items and it took a lot of collaboration to put it together.

Meet the Humans of Mullen

Chris Suehr
Ph.D. candidate Chris Suehr says that in addition to being a great place to study, Mullen Library has “the second-best water on campus.”

From uniting a community to sparking imagination to supporting scholarship and lifelong learning, libraries change lives.

“Without libraries we have no past and no future.” – Ray Bradbury

With a library you are free, not confined by temporary political climates. It is the most democratic of institutions because no one – but no one at all – can tell you what to read and when and how.” – Doris Lessing

“I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library.” – Jorge Luis Borges

“The very existence of libraries affords the best evidence that we may yet have hope for the future of man.” – T.S. Eliot

It’s not just the books that make libraries special–it’s the people. Librarians, scholars, teachers, and patrons of all ages make their mark on a library as much as it makes a mark on them. Here are a few examples from our own Mullen Library:

Karen Berry
Karen Berry received her master’s degree at Catholic University; she also launched her career here in Mullen Library.

Professor Laura Daugherty loves libraries so much that she once accidentally almost spent the night in one; now she hopes to instill that same love in her National Catholic School of Social Service students. Ph.D. candidate Chris Suehr says that in addition to being a great place to study, Mullen Library has “the second-best water on campus.” And former liaison librarian Karen Berry not only studied for her master’s degree here–she also launched her career here. 

What’s your library story?

This fall, Mullen Library is launching the “Humans of Mullen” campaign, an ongoing series of video vignettes. We’re highlighting the students, faculty, and staff who come to Mullen–to study, to browse, to help others do research, to view artwork or attend lectures, to receive tutoring or writing assistance, and more.

Carly
Ph.D candidate Carly Jones talks about how she uses Mullen Library in her studies.

We were inspired by Humans of New York, a photoblog launched in 2010 by the photographer Brandon Stanton. Stanton’s intimate street portraits and brief interviews with ordinary citizens put a personal face on a huge and thriving city. We want to do the same for Mullen Library–a place where academic journeys are launched, where friends and classmates gather, and where a lifelong love of learning is instilled. 

What brings you to Mullen Library? Perhaps:

  • you met your best friend here
  • you took a class in the Instruction Room or searched the Stacks to select research materials
  • you found inspiration for your first undergraduate research paper–or for your last university opus, your dissertation
  • you explored your career path or took the first steps toward a career in librarianship as a student worker

Whatever your Mullen Library story is, we want to hear it–and to share it with the rest of the Catholic University community. 

Watch for our weekly videos on the CUA Libraries’ social media accounts:

Laura Daugherty
Professor Laura Daugherty loves libraries so much that she once accidentally almost spent the night in one; now she hopes to instill that same love in her National Catholic School of Social Service students.

Help us share our stories–and if you have a Mullen story of your own you’d like to tell, let us know.

To volunteer or to learn more about the Humans of Mullen series, contact a member of the Mullen Library social media team:

  • Julie Loy: (loy@cua.edu)
  • Emily Brown: (brownec@cua.edu)
  • Tricia Bailey: (baileytc@cua.edu)