Introducing Amanda Ferrara – Instruction & Public Services Librarian

Amanda Ferrara – Instruction & Public Services Librarian

Who Are You?

Hi, I’m Amanda Ferrara, Instruction & Public Services Librarian within Burns Library at Boston College. The role involves teaching all classes about primary, historical materials, enhancing the access of our spaces and the materials we steward, and supervise the reading room where research takes place.

What Is Your Background?

Prior to Boston College, I spent time as an employee within the Special Collections repositories at Princeton University and, before that, Smith College. I’m passionate about increasing the diversity of, and outreach to, underrepresented groups in academic archives. My education includes a BA in History from Smith College and a MA in Library and Information Science from Indiana University, Bloomington.

What Motivates You?

I believe that any and all people interested in archival materials should be welcome and encouraged to use them. Seeing the moment when researchers get truly excited about locating a document that is integral to their work is such a bright point in my job. I get great joy from holistically critiquing policies and procedures, encouraging mindful conversations about the impact of said policies on researchers, and working with academic, archival, and research communities to suggest and enact ethical solutions.

What Are You Working On?

Right now, I’m getting used to the demands of our instruction schedule! We have a great number of classes that visit the Library each semester so it’s important to prepare for them appropriately. I’m reviewing the policies of our reading room, visiting the library, the Burns Library website, and others. Most importantly, I’m getting to know the team of staff that I work with and supervise to give us all the best opportunity to move forward in this work together.

What Do You Do For Fun?

At this point, I do anything to keep my two-year old toddler happy and learning! While that doesn’t leave much room for personal tasks at the moment, I enjoy puzzling, taking walks with my dogs, and keeping up with as many tv shows and movies as I can.

Posted in Instruction Program | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Friends of Learning: The Generosity of BC’s Women’s Auxiliary, The Philomatheia Club

Images of a Philomatheia Winter Carnival at Boston College from the yearbook, Sub Turri: the Yearbook of Boston College, vol.8, p.178, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Until the 1920s there were no female students at Boston College. The first were those attending Extension School classes on Saturdays and summers in the early 1920s who earned certificates and Masters degrees in the field of education. The pioneering undergraduate women who joined the male students at the heights were those in BC’s new School of Nursing (1947) and School of Education (1952). Boston College did not become fully coeducational until the College of Arts & Sciences admitted women in 1971, but there was a group of women who shaped BC through their contributions to the school before any could be called “alumni.”

In 1915, soon after Boston College moved from Boston to its expansive new campus in Chestnut Hill, a group of its alumni – the Athletic Board – entertained a number of Boston’s prominent Catholic women at the Back Bay clubhouse of the Boston Art Club and asked them to organize and provide financial support for the school’s athletic program. The organization was formed and was named Philomatheia, or, “Friends of Learning ” at a well-attended meeting in Gasson Hall later that year.

Philomatheia Club membership cards, 1916, 1918, undated, David Goldstein and Martha Moore Avery papers (MS1986-167), Box 81, Folder 57, John J. Burns Library.

The 1923 yearbook, Sub Turri, described Philomatheia as “the fairy god-mother of Boston College.” BC Magazine has called the group “The most important fundraising organization in the history of Boston College.”

For their own clubhouse, the group bought an estate adjacent to the campus which had been designed in the style of a Norwegian chalet for a wealthy owner. The garden and lawn behind it led down a slope to the edge of a reservoir. There they held monthly meetings, planned events and raised money, holding “whist parties,” raffles, and dances. The scope of the group’s mission had quickly broadened to include both academic and social support to its original focus on athletics. Membership in Philomatheia grew and later included both the original group and its “junior” section for younger women (1931).

Philomatheia clubhouse: side view, undated, Boston College building and campus images (BC1987-012), Box 8, Folder 49, John J. Burns Library.

At least four pieces of real estate were donated to Boston College by Philomatheia or its members, including estates at 86 Commonwealth Ave. (now Gabelli and Voute dorms),186 Hammond St. (now Roncalli, Welch, and Williams dorms), and 246 Beacon St. (administrative use), along with the land where St. Thomas More Apartments now stand. 

In addition, the group gave money to the school: gold medals and trophies for academic and athletic prizes; scholarships and financial aid for students; donations for Jesuit mission work; and furnishings for St. Mary’s Hall and the Jesuit scholasticate, Weston College. They donated not one but two grand pianos to the Chestnut Hill campus; equipped a new science lab in what is now Devlin Hall; and surprised both students and administrators by supplying and installing the first flag and flagpole on BC’s athletic fields.

They hosted an annual College Ball for the senior class and winter carnivals (a toboggan run once stood on a hill next to Gasson Hall). At Christmastime they held parties for local families in need. They arranged lectures and subsidized publications. They initiated BC’s first annual student prize (the General Excellence Award), and its first named chair of a department (Philomatheia Chair in English). In 1920 when 27 linden trees were planted along the road leading from BC’s main gate to Gasson Hall, the first to be planted was in honor of Philomatheia.

Mary Roberts plants the first Linden tree on Linden Lane, May 12, 1920, Sub Turri: the Yearbook of Boston College, vol 9, 1921, p. 234, John J. Burns Library.

The Boston College Libraries also enjoyed the organization’s support through donations of stained glass windows in an alcove in the new campus library (now Bapst Library); a table for what was then the Faculty Room (it has moved around the building over the years, but is still in use!); and a letter written in 1552 by St. Francis Xavier. Along with the Xavier letter was a new oak display stand designed for it by the architect of the original buildings on the Chestnut Hill campus, Charles D. Maginnis. The stand was given by one of Philomatheia’s members and can be seen in the Bapst lobby holding a reproduction of the letter.

Many women contributed to the success of the organization, but none more than its long-term president, Mary Werner Roberts (1882-1976). Roberts was the second woman in BC history to be given an honorary degree – an LL.D. in 1928. She was president of the club for most of its existence.

In the mid-1950s, three new athletic facilities on campus were built: the first of BC’s two Alumni Stadiums (football); McHugh Forum (a rink for ice hockey and skating); and the Roberts Center (a gymnasium and basketball court, now the location of Merkert Chemistry Center). A WWII surplus building had served as BC’s gym until Roberts was built in 1958. It was named in honor of university benefactors Mary and Vincent Roberts. 

The organization seems to have become defunct in the 1960s. The Philomatheia club house remained in use for a variety of functions until 1986 when it was razed to make way for new dormitories.

If you would like to see these resources, or anything housed in Burns Library, please contact us to make an appointment.

-Shelley Barber, Outreach & Reference Specialist, John J. Burns Library

Sources Consulted:

Posted in Archives & Manuscripts, BC History, University Archives | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Introducing Search Burns Archives

Image of processing space with archivist viewing folders, surrrounded by boxes of material.

Finding archival material can be a complex process. It begins with the often invisible work of expert archivists who organize and describe materials, creating groupings of detailed, hierarchical categories unique to each collection. These inventories help researchers determine if a collection holds information that is significant to their research. Published materials are usually easily found in library catalogs and databases because they have more consistent points of description: title, author, publisher, publication location, etc. With archival materials, those standard descriptive points can’t provide a full enough picture of an archival collection’s contents, making them harder to discover.

So what did we decide to do about this sticky wicket? Launch a multi-year, multi-department effort to increase the discovery, understanding, and use of Burns Library archival collections for teaching and research and try to improve the user experience of searching for archival material, that’s what.

Search Burns Archives home page

Search Burns Archives is a new public interface (built from the treasure trove of detailed archival description information stored in ArchivesSpace) that allows you to search across descriptions of all archival materials held in Burns Library, as well as within individual collections. That’s right, all of that collection information, listed, arranged, and classified to improve access for researchers. 

Whereas BC students had to start research on the history of the campus from a point that didn’t seem natural to them (aka, the college president at the time they were interested in), they can now search for specific buildings, events, or administrators and find all instances of these topics across collections. Graduate students working on dissertations about Tip O’Neill’s role in politics might have found the Tip O’Neill Papers, but not discovered topics also relevant to Massachusetts constituencies in other congressional papers like Margaret Heckler, Edward Boland, and Fr. Robert Drinan. Independent researchers investigating our holdings on Lady Gregory (Isabella Augusta Persse) would have found five related collections using the library catalog; with Search Burns Archives, results include more collections where Lady Gregory material appears in some capacity.

Our website has detailed information on how to search for archival materials, and we are currently working on video tutorials, as well, but you can always contact us for a consultation, as well.  

You can also use Search Burns Archives to build request lists in your Burns Library Account as you plan a research visit and/or request copies. 

We look forward to incremental improvements to this archival discovery, and hope that it meets the needs of our research community. We invite you to go ahead and test the system for us as researchers, and use the contact form linked at the bottom of all Search Burns Archives pages to send in your questions and observations. 

-Katherine Fox, Head of Public Services & User Engagement

Posted in Archives & Manuscripts, Digital Projects | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Remember the 5th of November: The Legacy of the Gunpowder Plot

On the 5th of November, 1605, several English lords discovered Guy Fawkes with barrels of gunpowder underneath the buildings of Parliament. Fawkes, with other conspirators, had planned to set these barrels aflame during a session of Parliament, killing King James I and most of England’s lawmakers. In his confession, Fawkes explains why they chose this location, declaring that “because religion having been unjustly suppressed there, it was fittest that justice and punishment should be executed there.” This religion was Roman Catholicism, and the conspirators had hoped that by destroying the Protestant government they would be able to prevent the further persecution of Catholics in England. However, with the plot revealed and several high ranking Jesuits executed without firm proof of their involvement, vitriol toward English Catholics actually increased as a result of this event. Parliament tried and executed the conspirators, and England celebrated the failure of what came to be known as the Gunpowder Plot. 

Handwritten frontmatter, Actio in Henricum Garnetum Societatis Iesuiticae in Anglia superiorem..., KD372 .G376162 1607 JESUITICA c.2, John J. Burns Library

This scheme, which never achieved its violent aims, and was only one of many plots against King James in his lifetime, never fully disappeared from public consciousness. The English have continually used the Plot as a lens for current cultural and political debates. In the late 1670s, when Anti-Catholic hysteria resulted in allegations of a “Popish Plot,” several publishers and commentators connected these events with the foiled Gunpwder Plot. One publisher decided to reprint a tract from 1605 called The Gunpowder Treason with several sections “never before printed.” This 1679 copy, now in the Burns Library stacks, used the lasting cultural consciousness of the Gunpowder Plot to comment on present day events. 

The effects of the plot spread beyond England itself. Scholars and historians across Europe continued to be fascinated by the stories around the conspiracy, especially those with vested religious interests. One Burns Library text is a particularly effective example of this longevity. Writing in Rome in 1710, more than a hundred years after the foiled plot, a “Josepho Juvenico” annotated a 1605 book on the trial of Henry Garnet, one of the Jesuits implicated in the Plot. The entire front and back matter of the book are crammed with his Latin notes, sympathizing with the conspirators in his own account of the events of November 5. His account stands in stark contrast to the book’s condemnation of English Jesuits. 

Josepho even carefully copied the signatures of the conspirators on the inside cover, including Fawkes’s signature before torture and his shaky writing after enduring “The Rack.”

Front paste down, Actio in Henricum Garnetum Societatis Iesuiticae in Anglia superiorem…, KD372 .G376162 1607 JESUITICA c.2, John J. Burns Library

His efforts in digging through the details of the plot show how it has continued to capture individuals’ imaginations through the centuries. Many in England continue to celebrate “Bonfire Night,” where they set off fireworks and occasionally even burn effigies of Fawkes. In Boston itself, this tradition took the form of “Pope Night” until the American Revolution, where Bostonians would fight for the chance to burn anti-Catholic effigies of the Pope. To this day, films like V for Vendetta, that celebrate Fawkes’s anti-government tendencies continue to contemplate the plot’s meaning and aftereffects. The Gunpowder Plot, without ever having come to fruition, has reverberated through the centuries. 

If you would like to see these resources, or anything housed in Burns Library, please contact us to make an appointment.

-Kelley Glasgow, Burns Library Reading Room Assistant & PhD student in the English Department.

Sources:

“Guy Fawkes.” Encyclopedia Britannica, June 13, 2022. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Guy-Fawkes.

Contributors: Dr. Mary Crane, William Allmendinger

Posted in Jesuitica, Rare books | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Ghost of a Handsome Estate: O’Connell House

Photograph of O’Connell House, box 7, folder 57, Boston College Building and Campus Images (BC1987-012), John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

In 1907, Boston College purchased 31 acres of land on the border of Boston and Newton. Students officially arrived in 1913, as soon as the first building on their new Chestnut Hill campus was ready for use, and construction has never ceased since. Over the decades, several properties adjacent to the campus were acquired and converted to school use. One of these was the ten-acre private estate bounded by Beacon Street, Hammond Street, and Tudor Road in Newton. Since 1941 it has been part of BC’s “upper campus.”

The new property’s centerpiece was a 25-room brick Tudor revival house that had been modeled on a (haunted) 16th-century Welsh fortified manor house, Gwydir Castle. Completed in 1896, the Chestnut Hill home was purchased by the Liggett family in 1916. Louis (1875-1946) and Musa Liggett (1873-1931) were the parents of four children, though their youngest son died at age 2. Many extended family members and servants also lived in the home, which the Liggetts occupied until the 1930s.

BC originally referred to the house as “Cardinal O’Connell Hall,” since William Henry O’Connell (1859-1944), BC class of 1881, paid for the purchase of the estate. During the first decades BC owned the property, it was put to use in a variety of ways. It acquired its own cafeteria in 1942. Its stable block was converted for use by the Athletics Department. Offices for various student publications were located in the house, and, importantly, it provided a place for the College of Business Administration (now Carroll School of Management) to move to from BC’s intown campus. In the 1970s it was saved from demolition and has functioned since as BC’s student union.

History aside, the one thing everyone at BC seems to know about O’Connell House is that it is haunted. In honor of Halloween, here are some examples from The Heights of O’Connell House’s ghosts:

Heights photo of Lorraine Warren touring O’Connell House by Dominic Nahous. Yunseon Kim, “School spirits, Ghost expert guides students through O’Connell,” The Heights, 18 October 2004.

Well-known paranormal investigator Lorraine Warren (1927-2019) visited the house several times and identified the spirits of two people who died in the attic, along with those of a boy, a dog, two women and a baby. She also perceived the former presence of the late US President, John F. Kennedy, in a room in the house.

It is said that there’s an uptick in supernatural activity at O’Connell House in early November, and while it is undoubtedly a contender for BC’s spookiest building, a claim has been made that another of BC’s Hammond Streetproperties, Hovey House, is actually the most haunted on campus. 

-Shelley Barber, Outreach & Reference Specialist, John J. Burns Library, Boston College

Posted in Archives & Manuscripts, BC History, University Archives | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Batman: Gothic

Cover, Legends of the Dark Knight 1, PN6728.B3955 COMICS, John J. Burns Library

While many Batman story arcs and graphic novels seem to have ubiquitous reach in the comic world – The Killing Joke, The Long Halloween, and The Dark Knight Returns to name just a few – there are some lesser known stories that are just as memorable and creative. One such story, “Gothic”, was originally printed from April to August 1990 in issues #6-#10 of Legends of the Dark Knight. Burns Library has the first 99 issues in the Edward J. Kane Collection of comics. This was a new series from DC, and the first solo Batman title since 1940. Legends of the Dark Knight was “DC’s first comic created to present separate stories by different creative teams…[and] to tell stories that…stand alone, outside the regular continuity of Batman and Detective Comics.” (Issue #1) The first story arc titled “Shaman” was written by Dennis O’Neil. O’Neil was a well known writer at this point, having created iconic characters such as Ra’s Al Ghul and the infamous Arkham Asylum – where the criminally insane of Batman’s rogue’s gallery spend most of their time between altercations with the Dark Knight.

Cover, Legends of the Dark Knight 6, PN6728.B3955 COMICS, John J. Burns Library

The second story arc of Legends of the Dark Knight, “Gothic”, was written by a comparatively unknown writer in the Batman universe: Grant Morrison. Though Morrison had successful runs on Animal Man and Doom Patrol, his first foray writing Batman was the graphic novel Arkham Asylum published in October 1989, just six months before “Gothic” was published. Though Arkham Asylum was a commercial success, there was no guarantee Morrison would be able to duplicate that with his story arc on Legends of the Dark Knight.

Title page Legends of the Dark Knight 6, PN6728.B3955 COMICS, John J. Burns Library

Each issue of “Gothic” begins with a stylized title page reminiscent of gothic romance tales. They each include a different quote from literary works such as Hamlet, Doctor Faustus and The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. It’s easy to see right away, that this isn’t your typical superhero tale.

The story itself begins with a pair of criminals torturing a third man for information about a missing shipment. Suddenly from out of the shadows comes a voice reciting poetry. When one gangster goes to investigate, he doesn’t come back. When the second goes to investigate, he finds a small record player along with a notecard containing some poetry. Out from the shadows steps a man in a trench coat “Remember me?” he says and you can see the panic and sheer terror in the eyes of the man being addressed. It’s clear he absolutely does remember the stranger and is terrified by it. This is our first introduction to Mr. Whisper. Throughout the rest of the issue we see Mr. Whisper bumping off mobsters. The terror-stricken criminals of Gotham have no choice and call on Batman with their own makeshift inverted bat signal. But will Batman answer the call? You have to wait until the next issue to find out!

Batman sees the inverted bat signal, Legends of the Dark Knight 6, PN6728.B3955 COMICS, John J. Burns Library

Of course, Batman is furious at being summoned by the criminals of Gotham that he crusades against. We do get some background on Mr. Whisper, however. He was supposedly killed 20 years previously by this very group of men, and now, those mobsters are being murdered one by one under mysterious circumstances. Somehow Mr. Whisper has returned from the dead. Batman is not interested in helping the criminals. “This city is sick. Its people are sick with fear. Now you know what it feels like. You and your kind have turned Gotham City into a Hell. Now rot in it.” The idea of Hell runs throughout the story arc, in issue six Batman even refers to himself as the “King of Hell” when intimidating some muggers.

Batman intimidating a mugger, Legends of the Dark Knight 6, PN6728.B3955 COMICS, John J. Burns Library

During the meeting, there is something said by the mobsters that reminds Batman of his childhood, Mr. Whisper doesn’t have a shadow. Batman recounts a story to Alfred, his trusted butler. When Bruce was at boarding school, he got in trouble by the headmaster, a man named Mr. Winchester. The headmaster favored corporal punishment and when Bruce leaned over a desk to receive his spanking, he noticed that the headmaster did not have a shadow. He swore he must have imagined it and never told anyone about it. Soon after the incident the headmaster was gone, involved in some kind of scandal. Could there be a connection between Mr. Whisper and Mr. Winchester?

One of Bruce’s nightmares, Legends of the Dark Knight 7, PN6728.B3955 COMICS, John J. Burns Library

Another interesting part of the story is that Batman is having recurring nightmares. He can’t quite figure them out, but they always involve his father, a strange warning about “turning the rose” and flashbacks to his childhood. There’s a cathedral floating on a boat and what looks to be zombies. Are the nightmares somehow connected to the return of Mr. Whisper?

Despite what Batman said to the mobsters, he still interferes when Mr. Whisper is in the midst of his latest murder. Batman crashes a penthouse suite and chases Mr. Whisper through the rooftops of Gotham. When Mr. Whisper plummets hundreds of feet to the ground and simply walks away we’re left with the true understanding of just how terrifying Mr. Whisper is. It seems nothing can kill him. Having seen Mr. Whisper up close, Batman has confirmed that it is indeed the same person as his headmaster, Mr. Winchester. But though it’s been twenty years, Mr. Winchester hasn’t aged a day.

Will Batman be able to discover the true identity of Mr. Whisper? Will he uncover the larger, more sinister plot beyond simple revenge? Why does Batman keep having nightmares about a cathedral and roses? If you want to answer any of these questions, what better place to read these comics than amidst the collegiate gothic architecture of the Burns Library?

-Andrew Isidoro, Public Services Specialist, John J. Burns Library

Posted in Comic Books | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

James F. Geary’s Booklists

Photograph album – Shadowbrook, 1926-1928, Box 8, Folder 2, James F. Geary, SJ papers, BC-2000-120

These days, there are about as many ways to record your reading as there are ways to read. Maybe your Kindle library serves as a reminder of the books you’ve read. Maybe you are a devoted user of Goodreads or StoryGraph, carefully tracking and reviewing each book. Maybe you’re just filling your Notes app with lists, or customizing the Reading List template in Notion until it perfectly captures your reading habits. Some people keep it old school, writing down their reading on paper in a bullet journal or dedicated reading notebook. No matter how you choose to track it, if you like to look back on what you’ve read, you and James F. Geary, SJ have something in common.

Geary at Boston College athletic fields, circa 1950s, Box 5, Folder 13, James F. Geary, SJ papers, BC-2000-120

James F Geary was born May 21, 1905 in South Boston. He attended Boston College High School before joining the Society of Jesus in 1925, later receiving both his Bachelor and Master degrees from Boston College in 1931 and 1932. He went on to teach history at Holy Cross College (1932-1934), Shadowbrook Novitiate (1939-1941), and Boston College, before volunteering to serve as chaplain for the United States Army in 1944. After reaching the rank of Captain and being honorably discharged, Geary returned to his life as an educator in the United States. He continued to teach history at Boston College, occasionally taking educator and administrative roles at Holy Cross and the School of Saint Philip Neri for Delayed Vocations, before finishing his career at Boston College with his retirement in 1970.

Booklists, 1929-1940, Box 1, Folder 18, James F. Geary, SJ papers, BC-2000-120

In his role as educator and calling as a Jesuit, Geary was a reader, and like many of us, he liked to keep track of what he read. In the James F. Geary, SJ Collection, we find a simple, worn red notebook labeled “Book – List July 1929”. Contrary to how he labeled it, Geary used this notebook for over a decade, creating numbered reading lists beginning in June of each year until 1940.

Entries span both pages, in a table listing each book’s title, author, publisher, and publishing year. This information would have been particularly valuable for Geary, since he would need to keep track of details in case he needed to refer back to what he’d read, because he didn’t have the cut and paste from the library catalog option. The fact that each entry is numbered allows us to see how many books he read each year, and to track changes over time as Geary read more or less.

Geary’s booklists were created in an important and formative time in his life, beginning four years after his entrance into the Society of Jesus and at the same time he began his Bachelor degree at Boston College. In some ways, Geary’s book lists are what you would expect from a young man who has become a Jesuit and pursued higher education in history, later becoming a history professor himself. There are many Catholic and Jesuit volumes listed, some of them contemporary to the time and others classics of their genres, particularly histories and biographies. Even those books not about the Church or the Jesuits are often histories of European monarchs and world wars. Some entries give insight into contemporary concerns, like the first entry in 1932 – Hitler. Others give us glimpses of Geary’s personality outside of his reputation as a dedicated servant of his country and God. In 1930, we know he took an interest in 19th century literature, reading both Moby Dick and Dracula early in the year.

Geary’s military identification photo, 1945 April 25, Box 5, Folder 10, James F. Geary, SJ papers, BC-2000-120


What would your book lists tell future researchers about you? Do you read more or less than Fr. Geary did? What titles in Geary’s book lists still remain relevant today in the world of reading for scholarship or pleasure? Even one simple notebook in a larger collection can inspire unique research avenues. Burns Library’s University Archives contain dozens of collections of BC Faculty and Alumni papers available to explore for research projects, digital scholarship, or personal interest. You can find information about the history of the school, and individual quirks of the creators. Find out more about the University Archives at https://libguides.bc.edu/burns/collections/university-archives, or contact us if you want to learn more.

-Kate Edrington, Multimedia & Administrative Specialist, John J. Burns Library

Posted in Archives & Manuscripts, BC History, University Archives | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Peter Levi and Travels to Greece

After two years of drive-thru birthday parties and staycations, Covid-19 related travel restrictions have gradually been lifted throughout the year for United States citizens traveling to Europe. Multiple countries tightened restrictions during the early winter months in hopes of clearing up the surging Omicron cases in time for summer. For many European countries, the summer tourism months are a major aspect of their economy and this industry was back in full force this year with everyone and their dog jet setting across the Atlantic in hopes of making up for the previous summers. If you did not get the chance to travel this summer or are missing the trip you did take, sources in John J. Burns Library such as Peter Levi’s Greek travel writings may be reminiscent of warm Mediterranean breezes or winding vineyard paths.

The Hill of Kronos, PR6023.E912 Z465 1987 BRITISH CATHOLIC AUTHORS, John J. Burns Library

Born and raised in Middlesex, England, Peter Levi (1931- 2000) was a self-declared man of many professions. Levi was a Jesuit, poet, professor, and archaeologist, among other things. Interested in Greece and the Greek language from a young age, Levi traveled to the Aegean multiple times and much of his writings are about or inspired by Greece and its history. John J. Burns Library has a variety of his writings, many of which are about Greece. Two pieces of literature in particular include, Hill of Kronos and A Bottle in The Shade: A Journey in the Western Peloponnese.

Despite loving and learning about Greece for most of his life and planning his education and life path around it, he did not visit until 1963. Published in 1980, Hill of Kronos records his years of living in Greece from 1963 and on. In the book, Levi discusses major aspects of his experience there, notably, what it was like to live in Greece in 1967-1974 during the reign of the Greek junta, a right-wing military dictatorship. A major methodology of this book is an emphasis on experiencing and learning about Greece through its people: friends, coworkers, and strangers alike. A Bottle in The Shade was written later in Levi’s life during his last trip to Greece and is a reflection not only on a land he loved and had become deeply familiar with but also on life and lived experiences as a whole. This piece of travel writing is not without contemplations on death, love, and friendship between descriptions of landscapes and traditions.

A Bottle in The Shade: A Journey in the Western Peloponnese, DF901.P4 L48 1996 GENERAL, John J. Burns Library

Another interesting dimension of this author and his body of work is Levi’s identity as a British author. Peter Levi’s writings are cataloged as part of John J. Burn Library’s British Catholic Authors Collection. This collection was the first one established at the library and “features the manuscripts and published works of leading Catholic writers in the British Isles from the mid-nineteenth century to the present.” As a British Catholic author writing about Greece, there is a certain perspective that Levi cannot escape. The cultural, socio-political, and economic history of the relationship of Britain and Greece is rich, going back to the early 19th century during the Greek War of Independence. Britain has a long history of producing philhellenics, some having been met with heavy criticism from the Greek people and some of which are immortalized in Greek history and culture, such as Lord Byron who famously died for the cause of the Greek War of Independence. Levi is not the first of his kind and may not be the last. However, in his writings about Greece, Levi expresses a care and interest for both the modern and ancient elements of this landscape in a way which diverges from the mindset of traditional philhellenic mold.

There is a rich history of travel and travel writing in and about Greece. From the turn of the 19th century through the 20th century, the rise of philhellenism and the popularity of the Grand Tour amongst European aristocrats bolstered this body of travel literature surrounding Greece. Most of this having been inspired by the rich antiquities and popular mythologies of the area as well as an understanding of Greece as the birthplace of Western civilization. Writing in the late 20th century, Peter Levi, who is also drawn to these aspects, learns to reconcile and appreciate this country’s modernity with its antiquity in these books. A poet in both nature and industry, Levi writes about Greece, its landscapes and people, with a rosier lense and care for language and the human condition than many other travel writers. His flowery language encapsulates not only the encyclopedic nature of travel writing but also life lessons and moral wisdom.

If you would like to see these resources, or anything housed in Burns Library, please contact us to make an appointment.

-Tabitha Bean, Burns Library Reading Room Assistant & Student in Morrissey College, Arts & Sciences, class of 2023.

The Hill of Kronos, PR6023.E912 Z465 1987 BRITISH CATHOLIC AUTHORS, John J. Burns Library
Posted in British Catholic Authors | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Astrology in the Early Modern Era

A 1647 edition of William Lilly’s Christian Astrology, located in the Burns library stacks, bears an ominous warning to those who would delve into the practice of reading the stars. The book’s owner cautions that “all those that peruse this book must own that it thou knowledge gives of things unknown.” William Lilly, and those who cautiously read his books, lived in an era when astrology was an established scientific practice. To many in early modern Europe (the period from approximately 1500-1750), astrology could be applied to everything from folk medicine to political fortunes, and so it appeared in a wide variety of literature. Burns Library holds some fascinating examples of the period’s astrological discourses.

Christian astrology modestly treated of in three books, 03-2595 GENERAL, John J. Burns Library

Before Enlightenment thinkers scrapped astrology as a pseudo-science, the study of the stars was an ancient practice that formed the basis of several scientific disciplines. Astronomy especially was fueled by the human desire to understand how the heavens could affect the lives of people on earth. Johannes Kepler, a key figure in discovering the way planets move around the sun, was also a dedicated astrologer who published several influential books on the subject. This interest stemmed from a greater sense that the human anatomy was influenced by their environment in many key ways. To early modern philosophers, the position of the planets had just as much capacity to change one’s bodily functions as the food one ate and the weather one experienced. Almanacs were published with directions on how to order one’s life around the influences of the stars, while extensive astrological treatises showed the interested how to read these influences for themselves2.

Burns Library collections contain various types of literature that contributed to the influence of astrology. William Lilly, whose book inspired so much caution in its purchaser, made his living publishing prophecies and guides to the astrological sciences. Burns Library collections contain his Prophecy of the White King, Lilly’s interpretation of a medieval prophecy about the downfall of a “White King” of England. He published this resurfaced prophecy during the English Civil War, inserting his expert astrological perspective into contemporary debates around the King’s right to rule. Lilly’s book Christian Astrology, besides its fascinating annotations, also contains a wide breadth of approaches to astrology, and is still foundational to astrological practice today.

Astrology’s wide influence did not mean that it was not subject to debate. One book in the Burns Library stacks called Astrologomania, the Madnesse of Astrologers (1624) condemns the field as  anti-christian, with its author writing that “the illusions of judiciary astrology have long beene maintained by the policies of Sathan.” Many Christians were uncomfortable with how astrology fit into established religious doctrine, and astrologers were sometimes portrayed as hacks dealing in illusions. Later in the same century, the playwright John Dryden wrote An Evening’s Love, or the Mock Astrologer (also at Burns Library), playing with these unflattering tropes on the English stage. Though astrology was, at this time, an established field, there was always suspicion about the limits of its applications. 

Christian astrology modestly treated of in three books, 03-2595 GENERAL, John J. Burns Library

In the following centuries, astrology was dismissed as a serious discipline of science, but it has never fully lost its cultural appeal. It has proliferated as a modern pastime, especially alongside interests like witchcraft and spiritualism. Numerous books and apps today help individuals find their birth charts and determine possible planetary influences throughout the year. But at Burns library, one can reflect on when this modern hobby was a major part of the scientific and political discourses of its day. 

If you would like to see these resources, or anything housed in Burns Library, please contact us to make an appointment.

-Kelley Glasgow, Burns Library Reading Room Assistant & PhD student in the English Department.

1  Westman, Robert S.. “Johannes Kepler”. Encyclopedia Britannica, 5 Apr. 2022, https://www.britannica.com/biography/Johannes-Kepler. 
2  Curth, Louise Hill. “Astrology and Popular Culture.” English Almanacs, Astrology and Popular Medicine, 1550–1700, Manchester University Press, 2007, pp. 105–16.

Posted in Rare books | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Flann O’Brien and the Irish Typewriter

Photograph of typewriter
Typewriter and case, Underwood No. 14″/178622, probably 1916 or 1917, Box 28, Flann O’Brien papers, MS1997-27, John J. Burns Library, Boston College

The turn of the 20th century brought with it the invention of the first “modern” typewriter, produced by the Underwood Typewriter Company in 1900. Prior to the release of the Underwood, typewriters were not as widely used nor easily accessible by people in the working world. However, by the peak of Underwood’s production, its factory in Hartford, Connecticut, churned out a typewriter a minute, and Underwood’s sales eclipsed all other typewriter company sales combined. 

Flann O’Brien (whose real name was Brian O’Nolan but was also known as Myles na Gopaleen), the famous Irish novelist and journalist, was one of the people who was very impressed with Underwood typewriters. There is documentation of him possessing the same one for over thirty years of his career and encountering very few issues with it, and this very typewriter is in the Flann O’Brien papers at the John J. Burns Library. O’Brien wrote to Underwood several times, in one case to boldly state that he would not pay for the shoddy repairs made to his typewriter, and that he could have done a better job himself. In another more interesting case, O’Nolan wrote to Underwood to inform them of steps they could take to create an accessible, practical, Irish language typewriter. 

Flann O’Briens angry letter addressed to Underwood, typed on the typewriter.
Letter from Flann O’Brien to Underwood regarding repair work done on his typewriter, Box 1, Folder 27, Flann O’Brien Papers MS1997-027, John J. Burns Library, Boston College

There were several issues to consider when creating an Irish language typewriter, as the language uses a variety of lenited consonants that used to be signified by an overdot (known in Irish as the ponc séimhithe [pronounced punk shay-vih-huh]) as well as vowels with fadas. Current Irish paleography now uses an “h” to show lenition, though it has retained the fada. As someone who was consistently publishing pieces in Irish, such as in his column “Cruiskeen Lawn”, as well as the Irish language novel An Béal Bocht (The Poor Mouth), O’Brien was rather invested in the production of an Irish language typeface. In one letter, he references “atrocious machines known as Gaelic typewriters… which produced copy in the old script.” The typeface was “most difficult to read and generally grotesque,” according to O’Brien. He also notes that the dots were oddly placed, though he does not know exactly how they were placed, and that because of this poor arrangement, the machines “must have been a horror to operate.” In the same letter, O’Brien provides his own suggestions for both how to simplify the number of keys and make it so that the typewriter would be bilingual- that is, one could successfully type in both Irish and English. Though invested in the process, O’Brien claims he has no “personal interest” in the creation of an Irish typewriter, and only wishes to offer a suggestion. This is simply another one of O’Brien’s many contributions to the Irish language. The Flann O’Brien Collection at the Burns Library holds evidence of many of these contributions. What can you find?

-Cassidy Allen, Burns Library Reading Room Assistant & PhD student in the English Department.

Posted in Archives & Manuscripts, Irish Studies | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment