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GUEST POST: Donna Sanders

The following post is by Donna Sanders, the Fall 2021 intern for the EJLPP.

My name is Donna Sanders. As a non-traditional student majoring in history (class of 2023), I am finding that there is always something new and challenging in higher education. When the opportunity to be considered as an intern for the European Jesuit Libraries Provenance Project was presented to me, I was elated but also hesitant. I did not know anything about the project except that it is of great importance in meticulously cataloging details of these valuable textual works in the early modern period.

At the beginning of my involvement with the project, I was not sure where or how I could contribute. As the first few weeks unfolded, I was tasked with sorting data into categories based on the countries where particular texts were found and, at which institutions texts were held. Later, we compiled the numbers and percentages of texts in particular locations. This was quite in-depth and allowed me to become more familiar with the nature of EJLPP.

Although I had worked with Microsoft Excel for many years in the private sector, I had not utilized the software on this scale and to this depth in many years. Dr. Comerford patiently allowed me time to refamiliarize myself with it and taught me a few new tricks along the way. Excel has been a valuable tool in the data compilation and provided useful visual aid options. Visual aids are extremely helpful when looking for patterns in library connections throughout the early modern period. Data visualizations are engaging when sharing this fascinating data with the rest of the world.

In the later part of the semester, we worked more closely with the countries where texts are located and their consolidated subject matter. This is probably where I felt most connected with the project. Dr. Comerford provided me with formula templates, then entrusted me to write the formulas which would calculate the quantities of texts in specific locations. This required a great deal of time and attention to detail, but I found that once I had a rhythm, parts of it went a bit faster. For me, I was not so much concerned with getting the necessary tasks done quickly, but more with ensuring that formulas were correct, and tallies were accurate.

As is sometimes the case with projects, there were some things we had to set aside (as unfinished) because they were just taking too long, and we needed to move forward to the next phase. Continuing to put time into searching for statistical differences that equate to a half of a percent is not a productive use of time at this juncture of the project. These small discrepancies can be pursued later. Having 95.5% of the data is extremely helpful in allowing us to capture an intelligible view right now; thus, providing us a solid foundation and a better sense of where the current data will take us.

There were also aspects that came together quickly and accurately, which revealed interesting connections and avenues for further research. What this project revealed to me is that the research and discovery areas of being a historian are incredibly vast within just one project. There are so many distinct but also connected spheres of research which might not initially seem relevant but prove to be quite significant to the project as a whole. I am excited to realize that the work we’re doing here is going to provide valuable information and historical insights for future researchers and interns as well as provide the general public with a database for their own research endeavors.

There is a great deal of critical behind the scenes work that lays the foundation for historical revelation, which in turn provides solid information for future generations to view and consider, and perhaps develop their own new questions as they take up the mantle as keepers of the knowledge. The EJLPP has provided me with opportunity to learn more about the research and data configuration aspects of being an historian and given me a unique and fascinating experience.

As the project moves forward, I think an interesting avenue of continued research might be to query books which are in institutions that may be geographically close at this time but through the centuries, have been controlled by varying seats of power. To see what we can learn about those changing power regimes and their relationships with these texts.