Loyola University Chicago

Department of History


Students Piece Loyola History Together, One Book at a Time

Students Piece Loyola History Together, One Book at a Time

Evan Thompson looks on as Zac Davis unpacks a box of books.

1,800 books and over 600 years of history – that’s what two Loyola seniors are nearly finished putting back together.

Evan Thompson and Zac Davis are interns for the Jesuit Libraries Provenance Project, which began three years ago and sought to reassemble the original 1878 St. Ignatius College Library catalogue.  The two, both this year's Center for the Catholic Intellectual Heritage (CCIH) Fellow, are now within a few hundred books of completion, and they’ve made important discoveries about the history and significance of the Loyola and Jesuit communities.

The initiative was first brought up in 2012 by Assistant Professor of Public History and New Media Kyle Roberts.  Roberts noted that many books from the St. Ignatius College Library were scattered throughout Loyola Libraries, either in storage, University Archives and Special Collections, or even in the main Cudahy stacks.  He started the project, wanting to recollect these books and learn the stories behind their acquisition and use.

Thompson was one of the first interns to join after learning about the project as a sophomore.

“I still remember photographing the first book,” Thompson said. “It feels surreal to be almost finished.”

Davis became a project intern this year, joining Thompson to finish recreating the catalogue. The two, both Catholic Studies minors, spend as many as nine hours a week collecting and restoring books from locations around campus, and tracing the trail of their ownership to find out how St. Ignatius College acquired them. They also photograph the books and upload them to the project's Flickr site.

Thompson and Davis have found that the books contain history from throughout the country and in France and Italy as well. Thompson said they’ve found some that date as far back as the 15th century, one being from a Dominican monastery in Italy.

Davis said that one of his favorite books in the collection is also from Italy. A nineteenth century travel book he found contained postcards from Italy, many with landmarks he had seen himself while studying abroad in Rome.

For Thompson, the most interesting book he found was one of the first to be catalogued. The small book contained an inscription to a woman he later found to be the great, great, grandmother of a current Loyola student.

“That really made it clear to me how much significance this project had,” Thompson said.

This year, the project received national attention when the two were invited to speak in New York for the American Catholic Historical Association. Among the audience were celebrated Jesuit historians John Padberg, S.J. of St. Louis University, and John O’Malley, S.J. of Georgetown.

Now, as the first phase of the project comes to an end, the completed catalogue could open the doors to new opportunities.

“There’s hundreds of hours of research in these books…there are a lot of projects possible,” Thompson said.

The project has had an impact on Thompson and Davis as well. Thompson said the project inspired him to pursue library science in graduate school. And although they’re both graduating this spring, the two hope to stay connected to Loyola and Jesuit history.