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The EJLPP: Our Story

--Kathleen M. Comerford

The EJLPP began with the 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, along the lines of "Io: Gersonis opusculum" and "Revelationes S. Brigida." I have undertaken to decipher these inventories and to create a companion census of books once owned by other Jesuit libraries, hoping that this particular window into the Republic of Letters can provide us with 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 in the Jesuit colleges?

The European Jesuit Libraries Provenance Project has to date proceeded along the following steps.  The collected information is "housed" in a series of spreadsheets.  

  1. seeking out relevant archival documents, including library inventories, to convert the basic identifying information into bibliographical references

  2. collecting basic biographical information on authors and printers, from a variety of authorities files and biographical dictionaries and databases

  3. 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)

  4. 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.

  1. 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)

  2. Inventories transcribed from printed sources or electronic copies of inventories (currently St Omer, Delft, Maastricht, and the Irish College)

  3. Census created from modern library catalogues, including books I have seen as well as those I have not

  4. 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.


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 has graciously consented to share her thoughts in a recent blog post (April 14, 2020), and has 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!

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.