The latest issue of the Journal of Jesuit Studies has arrived just in time for the end of the spring semester. Aficionados of Jesuit print culture are in for a treat: the whole issue is dedicated to fascinating new scholarship on Jesuit libraries. Editor Kathleen M. Comerford takes a global approach and has sought out articles on regions whose book and library culture have received less study over the past few decades: the Orinoco Delta, Japan, Ethiopia, Beirut, Canada, and Croatia.
Comerford identifies several overarching themes that tie the essays together, and which raise important questions about Jesuit libraries in other times and places. First, she reminds us that libraries need to be considered first and foremost as a component of Jesuit missionary activity, providing materials that will be shared with their target audiences and which will also be resources (and relief!) for Jesuit missionaries. Second, while the Constitutions of the Society often spell out the necessity of forming a library in a new field, they rarely specified which books had to be contained within it. As a result books in Jesuit libraries often comes from a variety of sources, by a range of means, and for a diversity of reasons. Third, and only tantalizingly touched upon, is the way in which Jesuits confronted modernity and modernization through their libraries. Finally, Comerford stresses the importance of placing Jesuit libraries, in particular, and print culture, in general, within the Society’s global context.
Three articles look at Jesuit missionary book culture in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The work of José del Rey Fajardo, SJ on seventeenth-century Jesuit missions to the Orinoco Delta reminds us of the preconditions — linguistic diversity, illiteracy — which needed to be addressed before a library could even be useful. In Fajardo’s telling, the libraries in these regions were more of a resource for highly-trained European Jesuits who felt isolated in the field. Yoshimi Orii explores the complex ways in which Jesuits translated European books for Japanese audiences. Books can also become proxies for people and faith reveals Kristen Windmuller-Luna in a fascinating essay on Ethiopian missions. There Jesuits encountered the exact opposite of the Orinoco Delta: a longstanding culture of the book. But efforts to erase doctrinal error led Jesuits to efface beloved works of the Ethiopian Orthodoxy, only to find their own libraries – and even themselves — erased not long after.
Two articles situate Jesuit libraries in the twentieth century. Through his study of the Oriental Library of the Université Saint-Joseph in Beirut, Rafael Herzstein reveals the way in which libraries were shaped in reflection to the context in which they were located. His focus on scholarly magazines published under the aegis of the library remind us of the way in which writing, translating, and printing have long been part of the Jesuit missionary enterprise, even as their preferred formats have changed over time. Gordon Rixon, SJ shows how the provenance of books collected from the relatively late library of Regis College in Toronto (founded 1930) illustrate the long history of Jesuit-Native American interaction, although he does not explicitly reveal if they were collected for that reason or (as it sounds) if the library collected everything that was sent to it from Canada’s Jesuit houses. Intention and chance are opposing but omnipresent realities of library growth. The real treasure in his essay is a fantastic reproduction, description, and analysis of a visual mnemonic for a pedagogical plan designed by Nicholas Point for one of the Native reductions in Canada. It is a rich document that will be incorporated into my teaching this fall semester.
Finally, Marica Šapro-Ficović and Željko Vegh’s article on Croatian Jesuit libraries takes a longue durée approach, spanning the pre- and post-suppression order. Particularly valuable in their account is the attention paid to the way in which Jesuits shaped their library collections in relation to local circumstances. Rather than all having identical collections, Jesuits built libraries that responded to local needs and opportunities.
Check out this excellent new issue of the Journal and share with us what you’re looking forward to reading in the coming months!