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Flexibility and Fearlessness: Reflections from the EJLPP’s 2019-20 Graduate Student (guest post)

My name is Lauren Della Piazza Hartke and I had the privilege of working with Dr. Comerford as the graduate student on the project, starting in August 2019. A great deal has changed since then, and we are doubtlessly experiencing unprecedented times. I doubt any of us, if asked three months ago, would have anticipated the world that we are currently in. Certainly, if anyone had told me that I would be working on a digital history project for my Master’s degree (MA in Public History, May 2020, Georgia Southern University) and presenting my research via Facebook Live, I would have dismissed them outright.

However, much about my time on the European Jesuit Libraries Provenance Project has been a matter of “rolling with it.” For the past semester and a half, we have found what works, and moved forward with new ideas. During my time on the project, I completed over eighty galleries of photographs on the Digital Commons platform. For my internship I had to embrace my social media side and I managed to double our Instagram following through weekly posts highlighting noteworthy book pages and images.

In addition, I brought new tools to bear on our data set. Another professor in the History Department, Dr. Robert Batchelor, incorporated mapping and data visualization tools into his class. Application of data visualization tools revealed intriguing insights into the reading patterns of 16th and 17th century English Jesuits during the troubled early days of the English mission. What I discovered, to my own surprise and Dr. Comerford’s, were nuances that we would not have appreciated without these tools. While we anticipated that many English associated books would address matters of religious controversies, we were surprised to see that devotional literature made up a sizable subset of our data. From this, we concluded that not only were Jesuits concerned with defending the Catholic faith in Protestant England, but they were interested in encouraging the struggling Catholic community through hagiographical works (especially those which highlighted English martyrs) and devotional literature.

One requirement of the Public History MA program is a presentation of the student’s work - Rudy Bond did one in 2019 (and you can find photos at this website). We were prepared to do the same on March 16 of this year. Our adaptability was tested when we had to devise an alternative presentation method after our speaking engagement at Emory University was cancelled. By all accounts, the live-streamed presentation went far better than we dared to hope for. We got an audience more than twice what we expected for an in-person presentation. Viewers asked thoughtful and insightful questions in the comments that made Dr. Comerford and me think more deeply about the project and its broader applications. My online survey also showed that the presentation had attracted an audience way beyond the state of Georgia, including an unexpected audience member from Poland! Generous viewers responded to the survey and provided useful feedback for evaluating the effectiveness of the presentation. I was even asked by the department to write up guidelines and instructions for other students to move their presentations online.

Throughout their history, the Jesuits demonstrated that they were ready and willing to adapt to all kinds of circumstances and unique environments to accomplish their missionary and educational goals. For them, as well as for us, adaptability has opened up new opportunities to connect with a global community of scholars. If there is one thing that I have learned through my time in the Public History program at Georgia Southern, it is that public historians can be flexible and fearless. This current season has provided ample opportunity for flexibility. The fearlessness is still a work in progress!


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