World of Jesuit Archives (WJA) is a collaborative project with Jesuit archives around the world and aims to raise awareness and appreciation of the documentary heritage of the Society of Jesus, the institutions responsible for the conservation of archival material, and the people involved in the management of the collections in which the Society’s history and memory is preserved.


Aim of the project

The primary goal of the project is to promote Jesuit Archives, their history, and their holding. The WJA project aims to raise awareness of the global dimension of the activities carried out by the Society of Jesus.

In addition, WJA intends to simplify archival procedures and inspire research, by being a meeting point between researchers and archivists. Secondary objectives can be pointed out by considering the different profiles of users interested in Jesuit archival material or different institutions in charge of the preservation of documents concerning the Society of Jesus.

A common experience of all those who have ventured into historical research is that of having had an intuition for a new line of investigation, held back by the need to wait for the opening of the archives. WJA helps in not interrupting the stream of thoughts, by giving mediated access to primary sources through the lens of the archival tools developed by specialists. It could be useful for:

  • Scholars experienced in Jesuit Studies: provide advanced insight of the holdings or receive help exploring new projects
  • Scholars new to Jesuit Studies: get in touch with archives, discover beneficial sources for their researches, or receive help exploring new projects
  • Non-historians or general public: access the world and the history of the Society of Jesus from the privileged point of view represented by primary sources

The growing interest in Jesuit Studies has undoubtedly increased the volume of visitors to Jesuit archives over the past decade, requiring an ever-increasing effort on the part of archivists and staff. WJA intends to come to the aid of archivists and archives by:

  • Simplifying the communication with their users by collecting all the basic information needed to access Jesuit archives in one single place online
  • Creating a new online archival tool that can indirectly optimize spaces and visitor flows
  • Enhance the value of the preserved material and promote the research activities carried out

On the level of archival science, the challenge is to create a new archival toolkit that is easy and quick to implement, yet respects the essential elements for archival description. The ultimate goal is to be able to identify a shared descriptive standard for the documental heritage of the Society of Jesus, in order to realize a more accurate digital tool customized for Jesuit Archives.


Access to resources

Users can access the database from two different platforms:

In 2001, Thomas M. McCoog, S.J. published “A Guide to Jesuit Archive”. The guide has been an innovative working tool and an important moment of reflection for the Society itself, as Padberg shows in the preface. Data from McCoog is still an essential starting point for accessing the Society’s documentary holdings, and its consultation is complementary to the WJA project updates. In fact, WJA wants to continue the work started by McCoog, being able to be easily updated thanks to the digital environment. The Partners page thus provides access to essential information about the archives of the Society.

The interactive map, which is also accessible via mobile, allows users to get the essential information to reach or get in touch with the archives.

Icons below the map allow users to obtain more detailed information. Depending on the availability of the archives, users can consult the website, the card containing the institution’s master data, and the inventory records made available by archivists.

Open-access inventories. WJA provides access to inventories or portions of inventories that archivists have made available to the project. Users can browse and query the information contained in the room inventories directly from their devices.
The database can be accessed in three different ‘toggle views’:

  • Simple search. Users can enter key terms or portions of terms in the search field
  • Tree diagram. Users can consult a simple tree diagram of each individual archive
  • List view. Users can access all available records in the database through the list view

Methodology

The guiding criterion for the creation of the different components of WJA was to provide maximum descriptive ductility from an archival point of view, in order to respect the idea of inclusiveness and equity among the different conservative institutions. At the same time, the selection of descriptive models adopted during the implementation phase of the database was oriented by the intent of reducing the number of interventions on the original search tools in order to adhere to the peculiarities of each single context. Moreover, the project kept the intention to ensure that users could easily move through inventories written according to different descriptive standards as if they physically were in the archives.

In the end, the idea was to create a common plan of dialogue that favors the identification of a descriptive standard common to all institutions, regardless of their history and the specificities of the institutional and geographical context. It was therefore preferred not to use archival description software, but to build an essential database that is easy to implement and to consult, which would guarantee the highest degree of customization within the individual columns.

The archives that took part in the project filled out a form in which they entered essential information. For a template of the archive card see this document. Information in the archival description cards were submitted directly by the head archivists. The format of the archival description cards’ entries were derived from the model suggested by McCoog, and adapted to the specific needs for understanding the “collective inventory table.” The data contained in the inventories made available by the archivists were organized in order to adhere to the columns of the table described in the next section.

  1.  ID: ID of each record. It is not visible to the public
  2. Archive: the name of the archive
  3. Fonds: the name of the fonds as it appears on the inventory
  4. Series: the name of the series as it appears on the inventory
  5. Reference: all the subsequent levels of descriptions (subseries, categories or subcategories) as they appear on the inventory. This section is organized in order to reproduce the structure of the related archive; thus, they can differ from each other according to the peculiar composition of each single fond. This choice makes it possible to smooth out the differences in each archive’s descriptive standards regarding the location of the folder. It is then possible for the researcher to refer to this field when requesting archival material. It is highly recommended to access information related to each single record from the link on “Link”
  6. Content: the field is composed of two elements
    • The historical time frame of the folder as suggested from the inventory or communicated by the archives
    • The summary of the folder, as it appears in the inventory. The original language of the archival description has been preserved. For this reason, it is recommended to check linguistic variants of the same key term while searching
  7. Post quem: starting date of the folder
  8. Ante quem: ending date of the folder
  9. Link: hyperlink to external resources that may provide useful context of the record

The search function queries the series and reference fields. For technical details, see the “digital environment” section.

Archivists have complete control of the data during the input phase. The selection of information to be displayed in WJA is entirely at the discretion of the archivist, who can decide at any time to remove a particular record from the system.

Data contained in the “collective inventory table” are also accessible through the tree view, allowing the user to simulate the reading of the research tools present in the archive consultation room. Data are grouped according to the criterion of vertical importance: archive, fond, series, reference. To the right of each record is the historical time frame. The “Content” column with the summary is accessible at the minimum level of description of each record together with the “Link” reference.

The information contained in the tables of the database reproduces the content of the search tools developed by the different conservation institutions over time, in compliance with the rules for the protection of privacy. The data have been provided by the partner archives of the project and revised by archivists in order to publish them online and protect the privacy of the subjects mentioned in the reports. For this reason, they may be incomplete compared to the original files. More information about the material made available by each archive can be found in the description cards of each individual archive. For any report about a record, please contact the archive related to that record or contact the Institute for Advanced Jesuit Studies (iajs@bc.edu).


Digital Environment

Data Source – LAMP Stack (Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP)
Website – WordPress 6.3


How to collaborate

Each archive can decide the level of collaboration from sharing the essential descriptive information of the institution, to sharing their own inventories. If you want to collaborate to the project, please do not hesitate to contact us by sending an email to corsial@bc.edu.


Development team

This project could not be realized without the precious collaboration of all the institutes listed in the Partners page.

Project Editors
Alessandro Corsi, Institute for Advanced Jesuit Studies
Emanuele Colombo, DePaul University

Development and Visualization Team
Christopher Sonn, Principal Developer, ITS Boston College
Kul Thapa, Principal UI/UX, ITS Boston College

Research Assistance
Antonio Taiga Guterres, Institute for Advanced Jesuit Studies