The 2014 annual Catholic Archives Society conference was held at High Leigh Conference Centre, Hoddesdon, Hertfordshire, from 19th to 21st May. The conference programme followed the format of previous years, consisting of seven sessions including an afternoon’s excursion to a local archive or place of interest, time for the CAS AGM and an open forum for raising and sharing general information and best practice. There was also, as always, time for informal discussion, making new contacts and renewing old ones.
Abbot Geoffrey Scott began the conference excellently with an insightful and often amusing talk on the Douai Abbey Library and Archive. He shared some background on the new library and archive, and how his inspiration for the project came from his realisation that what had happened to monastic library collections in the 1970s as communities closed and downsized was now likely to happen to archives. He also offered information about certain collections which had been acquired since the opening of the library in 2010, and concluded his presentation by pointing out the accessibility of this material now to researchers and the future hopes for the library and archive.
In the evening, the delegates had a choice of several interest groups: ARA Registration Scheme, Writing and Sharing Policies, New (or Almost New) Members to CAS/Conference or Conservation Issues. A representative of each of these groups reported back on their group’s discussion at the Open Forum on the last day, providing the opportunity for everyone to learn a little about the other groups’ sessions.
Tuesday morning began with a talk by Hannah Thomas about her PhD research into the Cwm Jesuit Library and the work she has carried out to rediscover this library, confiscated in 1768, for which no complete inventory list has heretofore existed. There are two focuses to her research: the physical books themselves and what can be learned about their readers and owners. She shared her discoveries on these matters.
Kate Jordan spoke next about using religious archives to research the Mater Admirabilis, a fresco in the Trinità dei Monte in Rome, painted by a young Sacred Heart sister, Pauline Perdrau, in 1844. Kate Jordan spoke of the parallels she had discovered between this work and that of Sr Mary Tomaso of the Poor Servants of the Mother of God. Her talk highlighted the vital role archivists play in assisting researchers to understand buildings and artefacts through providing access to documents, as cultural heritage cannot be understood in a vacuum. This talk linked in well with an exhibition mounted for the duration of the conference, showing the Charism of the Poor Servants of the Mother of God as shown in art and architecture.
Following Mass and lunch, most of the delegates then joined the excursion to Hertfordshire Record Office, where in small groups we toured the facilities there including the Local Studies reading room, the Archives reading room, storage facilities and conservation studio. The staff were welcoming and made every effort to provide answers to questions posed. Sadly, time was pressing and the coach had to depart for St Edmund’s College, the oldest Catholic college in England, and a continuation on English soil of the famous English College that was founded at Douay in Flanders in 1568. There a tour of the Chapel designed by Pugin and time to view some of the artefacts reflecting the college’s history was followed by a welcome tea break and prompt departure back to the conference center, where after the evening meal the Annual General Meeting took place.
On the final morning there was a panel session consisting of Paul Shaw, Kate Vicic and Liz McCarthy, giving presentations on looking after artefacts, textiles and rare books respectively. The principles of caring for and handling these materials had much in common. The speakers highlighted many useful resources available online to assist archivists in dealing with such objects.
The last session before the close of the conference was the open forum which began with a demonstration by Martin Price about overhead scanner options. This was followed by the reports of the interest groups, and then several delegates raised questions and issues to be considered by the Society.
The conference gave me much to think about and reminded me of the wonderful sector I am privileged to work in.
Feedback received after the conference included the following:
- “Wonderful to see so many enthusiastic young members joining and attending conference…”
- “…Loved the [Tuesday] afternoon visits”
- “I have had a wonderful time-feel more enthused”
- “The social time together was invaluable.”
- “So interesting to hear from people doing the job on a daily basis.”
- “Very friendly as always.”