“An Aversion to Instruction from Book, or Tract, or Bible?” Recovering the Place of Print in Antebellum American Catholicism

Thursday, January 4, 2018: 1:50 PM
Columbia 6 (Washington Hilton)
Kyle B. Roberts, Loyola University Chicago
Scholars have long focused on Protestants, from their founding of Bible and tract societies to the catalyzing power of Beecher’s A Plea for the West, as the people of the printed word, especially in the nineteenth-century American Midwest. Catholics, however, equally availed themselves of print. A rare surviving ledger allows us to reconstruct the extent of the Catholic book trade at the time. The ledger meticulously documents the Catholic book trade overseen by the Jesuits between 1842 and 1849 in the Mississippi and Missouri Valleys. In its analog form, the ledger, with its 125+ pages of purchases from European and East Coast publishers and its 375+ pages of sales to a broad range of consumers, is difficult to analyze. Digital applications allow us to unlock the significance of the data contained in the ledger, offering the potential for powerful visualizations and complex calculations that reveal new insights into the place of print in antebellum Catholicism. The Bibles, books, and tracts published for Catholics remind us of their transnational, hybrid identities, balancing allegiances to the state, homeland, and the global Catholic Church. The distribution of Catholic print through gift and sale reinforced scattered communities of believers, both clerical and lay, across the nation. This paper builds on the collaborative work of the students, faculty, and librarians involved in the Jesuit Libraries Provenance Project <https://jesuitlibrariesprovenanceproject.com/> to reconstruct this lost world of Catholic print through digital humanities approaches.