Catholic Almanacs

As part of BC Libraries Catholic Collections Initiative, the Digital Scholarship Group is making Catholic almanac data from the 19th century United States more widely available and searchable. Each almanac includes a list of all the institutions in each of the country’s dioceses–every elementary and secondary school; every university and college; and every hospital, orphanage, and asylum that was under a diocese’s supervision. Rather than telling the story of the predominately white, male Catholic leadership only, these almanacs record a bottom-up social history of Catholic people and organizations of all stripes in the 19th century United States.

Our job is to turn this dense list of institution names, places, and people into a searchable database, which will allow those small stories of regular people to reach more users than ever, all while making our grassroots knowledge of the past more complete. We want users to be able to search for individuals and institutions to see what the almanacs say about them, and eventually to connect to other existing data about those people and organizations. We also want users to be able to visualize the almanac data at a larger scale; for example, they should be able to see a map of all the institutions and how they change over time as new churches form and the boundaries of dioceses expand.  

Before we begin building the database and creating visualizations, there is some crucial and unglamorous transcribing and encoding work to be done. Luckily for us, we trained and now manage a team of outstanding BC humanities students who are hard at work extracting data from these amazing almanacs. Using an encoding language called XML, they are tagging (and, thus, structuring) each institution’s name, place, and affiliates. They will be kept quite busy, as the almanacs were printed every year from 1833 to 1895!