Jesuit Books and Libraries in Europe, 1540s-1770s
The European Jesuit Libraries Provenance Project
The EJLPP: Our Story
--Kathleen M. Comerford
The EJLPP began with an attempt to identify the full bibliographical information for inventory lists, found in Florentine and Roman archives, relating to the contents of libraries in Jesuit colleges of Florence (1565 and 1578) and Siena (1565). The notaries who recorded that information intended them to be used by the Collegio di San Giovannino in Florence and the Collegio di Siena (later called the Collegio di San Vigilio), so they simply wrote basic identifying information. I have undertaken to decipher these inventories and to create a companion census of books once owned by other Jesuit libraries, hoping that this window into the Republic of Letters can provide insight into what our early modern counterparts read, what they learned, and what they did with that learning. Among the questions which interest me are: what was Jesuit about these books, or these libraries? Were the members of the Society of Jesus really "the first globalists," as some have claimed? What was it like to be a teacher or student in the Jesuit colleges?
The European Jesuit Libraries Provenance Project has proceeded along the following steps:
seeking out relevant archival documents, including library inventories, to convert the basic identifying information into bibliographical references
collecting basic biographical information on authors and printers, from a variety of authorities files and biographical dictionaries and databases
seeking out digital copies of books found in those inventories, and books by authors found in the inventories, to collect provenance information (using word processing, spreadsheets, digital collections of libraries, and online repositories like Google Books, Hathitrust, and the Internet Archive)
interpreting the information in order to understand more about the books, authors, printers, and readers of early modern Europe.
I will periodically update the inventories; students are working on the Digital Commons site.
Combined inventory of multiple European Jesuit institutions' pre-suppression libraries which I have seen in person (currently Siena, Florence, Bologna, Livorno, Bagnacavallo, Antwerp, and Leuven)
Inventories transcribed from printed sources or electronic copies of inventories (currently St Omer, Delft, Maastricht, and the Irish College)
Census of printed books, created from modern library catalogues, including books I have seen as well as those I have not
Digital Commons site, with photographs of books I examined at Yale and Emory Universities and at the Folger Shakespeare Library. I own the copyright for these images. Both undergraduate and graduate students have worked to create this site since 2018.
The data were collected at archives and libraries in the US and Western Europe.
We thank the following for their financial support of this project over the years and for allowing on-site access to their collections:
Yale University, Beinecke Library (short-term grant, 2016)
Princeton University Library Friends of the Library (short-term grant, 2018)
Georgia Southern University (Educational Leave, Fall 2016; travel support; graduate and undergraduate student research assistants [for credit and paid]; and Digital Commons training, expertise and support)
The UK's Middling Culture Project, which allowed PhD Candidate Michael Davies-Powell to photograph some images at the British Library
Research Infrastructure on Religious Studies, which provided funding for Dr. Elisa Frei's time in Mainz
We are still collecting data--and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. However, in the meantime, we are also engaged in interpretation. The most significant interpretive project to date is the capstone project completed by Lauren Della Piazza Hartke in the pursuit of her MA in Public History (Georgia Southern University, May 2020). Lauren shared her thoughts in a blog post (April 14, 2020), and provided an excerpt from her written project for me to post here. Please look at her graphs and interpretation of the data on books associated with English Colleges prior to the suppression. Data visualizations can teach us a great deal about books and readers!
The books in this study were all printed in Europe, with the earliest (as of August 23, 2022) an edition of Livy's Historiae Romanae from 1469 (printed by Konrad Sweynheym and Arnold Pannartz in Rome) once owned by the college in Olomouc (present-day Czech Republic) and the most recent a copy of Acquinas's Summa printed in Naples by Vincenzo Orsini in 1773. We are working on learning more about the women printers and their networks; see the Printers tab for more information.
You can also read about some other aspects in recent and forthcoming publications. See, for example, my article about the presence (or absence) of texts related to missionary activity in Amy E. Leonard and David M. Whitford, eds., Embodiment, Identity, and Gender in the Early Modern Age (New York: Routledge, 2021): "Did the Jesuits Create 'Global Studies'?" (197-209). I am also working on an article focusing on the northern, central, and eastern European aspects of the data set for a forthcoming book about the early modern book trade and book culture.