Dorothy Day’s America

Dorothy Day

At the dawn of the twentieth-century, the Catholic Church expanded in the United States for the same reasons it had over the past century—it was the faith of immigrants.  By then, however, the church was already well ensconced and ready to greet them.  Our course will begin right here…with Catholicism at a critical moment, grappling as it was with modernity.  New ways of thinking accompanied tectonic shifts in technology, culture, politics, warfare, and society forced the church to confront challenges to its orthodoxy.  Dorothy Day was born into this moment, though not Catholic (she did not convert until 1927).  This class will explore American Catholicism from the multiple angles of religious, political, cultural, and social history.  We will walk through the twentieth century in the footsteps of Dorothy Day: her life, career, and legacy will serve as our prism.   As the founder of the Catholic Worker newspaper and movement, Day left her strongest imprint on the church’s social justice tradition.  Topics to considered will include: Catholics in peace and war, labor politics, and the Catholic “life” doctrine.  In addition to the weekly seminars, the Fall semester will include guest speakers and field trips.  The Spring semester is devoted to independent research on seminar papers.


Research Colloquium, 30 April 2016

The 2015-16 Ramonat Scholars celebrate their final time together.

The 2015-16 Ramonat Scholars celebrate their final time together.

On Saturday, April 30th, the Ramonat Scholars, their families, and Loyola faculty gathered in Piper Hall for presentations of their final research projects.  The event was a fantastic success and a good time was had by all.

At the end of the event, the Susan Ramonat Prize for Scholarly Excellence was awarded to Daniel Snow for his paper “The Sacre-Coeur of Chicago: Franco-American Devotion and Community, 1880-1920.”  Honorable mentions were awarded to Shannon Koelsch for “Romance and Rebellion: The Nina Van Zandt Story” and Guy Valponi for “Holy Cannoli and Saintly Sweets: Confections in the Lives of Southern Italian Immigrants and their American Descendants.”

For pictures of the event, please visit the History Department Flickr page.

Ramonat Scholarly Prize winner Dan Snow is congratulated by Prof. Kyle Roberts and Dean of the College, Tom Regan, S.J.

Ramonat Prize winner Dan Snow is congratulated by Prof. Kyle Roberts and Dean of the College, Tom Regan, S.J.

Abstracts for the Final Papers

On Saturday, April 30th, the Ramonat Scholars made presentations on their research papers. The day was organized around three themes: Catholic Immigrant Identity; Chicago, 1870-1930; and Religious Objects.  Below are the abstracts for their papers.

Catholic Immigrant Identity 

Guy Valponi, “Holy Cannoli and Saintly Sweets: Confections in the Lives of Southern Italian Immigrants and their American Descendants”

ValponiHoly Cannoli and Saintly Sweets aims to explore the role that confections played in the lives of Southern Italian immigrants and their American descendants.  Confections are examined as the sum product of both specific ingredients and technique. This exploration draws off surveys of Italian immigrant colonies, oral histories, contemporary interviews, cookbooks, newspaper articles, and parish memorial booklets. This project argues that due to the technique heavy nature and relatively simple set of ingredients needed to prepare these devotional pastries, immigrants were able to more accurately reproduce confections than other traditional dishes. Within the domestic sphere, their confections revealed gender roles assigned to women, as well as the daily diet of immigrant households. Through the use of commercial confectioneries and pastry shops, confections played an essential role in elevating Italian immigrants from unskilled to skilled labor and highlighted the expectations of men to provide for their families. The rise of the Italian bakery replaced domestic production of traditional sweets, in tandem with several other changes. As parishes no longer observed popular Italian feast days and lay persons no longer organized feste, the sweets, traditionally associated with particular saints, have collapsed into major holidays like Christmas and Easter. Today fourth- and fifth-generation Italian-Americans are even more alienated from these traditions. The implication of this research is that knowledge of and ability to produce traditional confections becomes a scale by which to measure the Italian of Italian-Americans.

Daniel Snow, “The Sacré-Cœur of Chicago: Franco-American Devotion and Community, 1880-1920”

oyvvd0Chicago is not often associated with the French, save for references to Jacques Marquette and early fur traders. Yet during the latter 1800s, the city’s French immigrant population expanded far beyond what it had been during the French colonial era. Thousands of French-Canadians and French-nationals called Chicago’s industrial South Side their home, and from 1864 to 1892 founded five Catholic parishes, numerous ethnic associations, and ran a French language newspaper. This community lived in the shadows of Irish, Polish, and Italian communities, but its complex place within the “City of Big Shoulders” provides a useful look at the identity of a marginal Catholic group. Forming a “tri-national” outlook that blended elements of Quebec, France, and the United States, French-Americans defined their position in Chicago through the Catholic Church. French-American immigrants connected to their homelands by bringing native personnel, devotions, and traditions into their parishes. Additionally, the community actively sought to replicate the sacred spaces it left behind through the construction of shrines to St. Anne and grottos to Our Lady of Lourdes, capturing the miraculous and healing spirit found both in southern France and on the St. Lawrence River at Beaupré.  French-American Chicago also defined itself through processionalism and community organization. Ethnic societies linked together French-Americans spread out over Chicago, and brought them together to experience linguistic and ethnic commonality, while celebrations offered a chance to march in force through the neighborhoods the French could not control at any other time. Although the French seem lost in Chicago’s past, their story highlights the utility of religion for the immigrant community and speaks to the minority experience in an urban environment.

Andrew Kelly, “Revolutionary Narrative Formation in Polish Immigrant Communities”

KellyThe first major nineteenth century flows of Polish migration to the United States and Western Europe began in 1831. It was in this year that the Russian Empire brutally suppressed the nationalist November Uprising, an insurrection that had united Poles of all classes in an effort to reclaim their state’s independence after years of external domination. Of the cities to which Polish migrants fled after the uprising, two urban centers, Paris and Chicago, are distinct for the immensity of their significance within the global movement for Polish independence. It was in Paris that the exiled Polish nobility, led by figures such as Prince Adam Czartoryski, furthered a campaign directed towards the restoration of a Poland in which the aristocracy would remain preeminent. In contrast, the Poles of Chicago, who emanated predominantly from the peasantry of their native land, sought to establish through their movement a Poland in which American-modeled democratic power structures would allow all citizens, regardless of class, to possess political power. Furthermore, while the elite Poles of Paris advocated a Polish culture dominated by Enlightenment values such as secularization within their revolutionary narrative, the Poles of Chicago emphasized the centrality of religion and religious institutions in their vision for a liberated Poland. This paper analyzes the Paris and Chicago revolutionary narratives as the products of both divergent class-based cultures and the influence of the nations to which the Poles migrated. Hence, the analysis illustrates how Polish immigrants, driven from their native land by the repressive policies of external authorities, employed ethnic nationalism in the development of their expatriate communities and through their engagement with the social structures, religious institutions, and political organizations of their adopted nations.

Chicago, 1870-1930

Maya Sheikh, “Nineteenth-Century Catholic Responses to Mental Illness”

screen-shot-2016-04-26-at-12-16-21-amThis project involves discovering how mental health institutions in Chicago were shaped in the nineteenth century. The goal is to show that both Catholic institutions and the Catholic public played a large part in shaping practices, legislation, and policies during the 1850’s and beyond. This has been done by examining primary sources including newspapers, published works, manuals, and articles. Most prior research on public health institutional changes has focused primarily on understanding how secular or non-Catholic institutions have developed. This focus undermines the role Catholicism played in forming current mental health practices being practiced even now. By analyzing key events, ideologies, figureheads, and legislation, it becomes clear that Catholicism played a larger role in forming key treatments and ways of thinking surrounding mental health. Specifically, Catholic figureheads and institutions pushed for the implementation of the moral treatment as a different, more humane way of treating the insane. Through showing the impact Catholicism has on mental health practices and institutions, this paper aims to highlight how far mental health treatments have come, and how far we still have to go.

Shannon Koelsch, “Romance and Rebellion: The Nina Van Zandt Story”

ShannonHistorians have proven that there are a number of lenses through which to view and interpret the Haymarket Affair. However, previous scholars have tended to overlook two aspects of the story: 1) the role of religion in the lives of the defendants, and 2) the relationship between August Spies and Nina Van Zandt, the woman who visited him in prison and eventually became his wife. This paper argues that an examination of both topics is crucial to developing a more complete understanding of the beliefs and motivations of at least some of the Haymarket defendants. The project was written as a piece of historical fiction and relies almost exclusively on information from primary source material. Some of these sources include newspaper articles, the majority of which were published in the Chicago Tribune or the Alarm; the official trial transcript; assorted documents from the Chicago History Museum’s online Haymarket exhibit; the Franklin Rosemont-Haymarket Research Papers from the Newberry Library; and August Spies’ published autobiography. The conclusion reached as a result of this investigation is twofold. First, the research reveals that, far from being the staunch atheists that many of their contemporaries believed them to be, several of the Haymarket Eight simply had radically different understandings of Christianity that did not exist within more “mainstream” Protestant and Catholic communities. Additionally, Nina Van Zandt emerges as an independent, intentional actor in the Haymarket drama — not the easily manipulated, overly romantic, naïve young woman that the press made her out to be.

Brendan Courtois, “Righteous Commerce: Catholic and Protestant views on the Market in Post-Fire Chicago”

BrendanRighteous Commerce: Catholic and Protestant views on the Market in Post-Fire Chicago looks to examine the actions of Catholic and Protestant businessmen in relation to questions that were raised during America’s Market Revolution (roughly 1815-1846). These questions were not original to the Market Revolution, as the roots of the discussion can be found as far back as the Bible in Matthew 6:24 “No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon” (King James Bible) but they did take on more significance as commerce and industry changed the landscape of America, moving populations from rural to urban and creating vast trade networks. Protestants and Catholics argued what Mammon’s role should be in one’s life, as its influence appeared to grow in America.  These arguments were not formerly resolved, but responded to by the actions of religious businessmen involved in commercial activities. For Catholic and Protestant businessmen in Chicago in the last third of the 19th Century, these questions did not pose as significant of a quandary as those discussing it in the Market Revolution believed it to be. Protestant and Catholic businessmen pursued commercial interests and used their success to financially support their faiths. This choice put Mammon before God, but Mammon was used as a platform for God by funding faith-related activities and services. For Protestant and Catholic businessmen Mammon was a worthwhile pursuit, which they could use to serve God.

Bianca Barcenas, “Railroads, Catholics, and Prostitutes: The Levee, 1871-1900”

theleveeChicago’s infamous red-light district of the nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries swept the city off its feet for decades.  The Levee’s roots lie in the Great Chicago Fire, and the district grew into the vice trade, peaked, and then was shut down in 1912.  From 1871 to 1900, the Levee experienced a multitude of developments that contributed to this growth.  Outside developments cause internal stress on the residential community.  These developments, in the Levee’s case, were natural disasters, technological changes, and city attractions.  In the aftermath of the Chicago Fire, people moved to the South Side of Chicago, where the Levee was formed.  The residents that moved were laborers and skilled workers living among a wealthy community belonging to Old St. John’s, the only Catholic parish in the neighborhood.  Many established saloons and houses of ill fame in this time as part of post-fire reconstruction.  By 1880, the Levee gained more foreign-born immigrants than just Irish and Germans.  This was because of new railroad tracks being built directly in the district, which forced out the wealthy families of the Levee.  More laborers and railroad employees lead to a decline in overall household income, and the Levee toppled more and more into the vice trade.  In 1893, the World’s Columbian Exposition brought in thousands of visitors to Chicago, which provided the Levee with more business than ever before.  The demographics of the Levee also changed once more: residents moved from as far as the West Coast of the US, and thirty percent of Levee residents studied were African American (as opposed to about four percent in 1880).  In studying the various external developments that occurred in Chicago and the Levee between 1871 and 1900, insight into the stresses of the Levee community come alive, and this provides clues to more broad urban communities experiencing similar changes.

Religious Objects

Olivia Raymond, “A Roman Martyr in LA: The Impact of Fabiola on Catholic Literary History from 1854-1960 and Beyond Through Literature, Films, and Art”

the_revolt_of_the_slaves-2Persecution is a worldwide phenomenon but how it is remembered and retold in literature has a direct effect on the social imaginary constructed around it. By examining the impact of Fabiola; or, The Church of the Catacombs (1854) by Nicholas Cardinal Wiseman on Catholic literary history, this project aims to show how over a century of dialogue surrounding his work, and the use of saints to illuminate early Christian persecution, aides modern readers’ cultural understanding of the time. The convergence of archaeological voyages into the Roman catacombs, the establishment of the modern historical novel with Sir Walter Scott’s Waverley Series, and the Victorian shift towards production of novels directly influenced the creation of Fabiola. Nineteenth century literature upheld in the Great American and English literary canons has largely been protestant themed texts. All time bestsellers like Uncle Tom’s Cabin; or, Life Among the Lowly (1852) by Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Ben-Hur: A Tale of Christ (1880) by Lew Wallace are prime examples. However, stories like Fabiola that explore a minor narrative in the established canon, like the contribution of Catholic writers, enriches the whole. This research shows how the shift from textual representation to visualization in the twentieth century of Fabiola’s narrative was increasingly focused on the role of the saint. Consequently, Fabiola is pushed to the margins of her story. Her legacy still carries on as new artist draw upon Wiseman’s interpretation of saints, using Fabiola allegorically to address political and religious issues of their time.

Susie Heissner, “Celtic Catholicism: An Architectural Study of Irish Parishes in Chicago”

untitledArchitecture is a disciple that has continued to morph and evolve with each passing moment in history. What exactly drives these changes? While there is a multitude of factors coming into play here, one influential one is that of identity. The concept of identity is also one that holds a very important role in the spectrum of religion. Through the study of three mid 19th century Irish catholic parishes in Chicago, Old St. Patrick’s Parish, Holy Family Parish, and Holy Name Cathedral, this research will map out the trends in interior and exterior design work and analyze how the concept of the ethnic parish may have affected these structures. Delving into the notion of Celtic pagan influences combining with an Irish Catholic identity, this paper seeks to explain how specifically the Irish brand of Catholicism was unique. Due to the renewed fervor, these Irish Catholic parishes were reflections of the Irish ethnographic identities that resulted from the disintegration of other aspects of the immigrant’s cultural lives.

Claire Blankenship, “BVM Visibility: The Removal of the Habit and Its Consequential Implications”

ClaireA habit acts as a window to the ever-evolving role of women religious. The visual impact of the habit created a culture that revered the “good sister” with her conservative, docile image. This culture prohibited the analysis of sisters as more than images, a stereotype that every habit modification hoped to rectify. Through a case study of the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary (BVMs), the habit is revealed to be a tchotchke that has always been in a state of change since its implementation in 1853, twenty years after the order’s founding. The BVMs continuously changed their habits in order to defy the expectations of “nuns” and move towards an image akin to that of modern women. The implications of habit modification are first established with the history of the BVMs’ habits with an emphasis on the shifting hierarchical structure that results from these changes. The habit is then evaluated for its cultural relevance, which shows the contrary nature of what is propagated in the media versus what is the reality of the BVMs. As the BVM Sisters undertook this journey of redefinition, they realized that Sisters were first and foremost women and needed to re-acclimate themselves with the expectations of women in the modern world. The habit was the instrument of vast changes for the BVMs, like the reversion of names to those given by parents or a steep decline in the number of members in the order. However, the habit needed to be removed for the BVMs to reclaim the ideals that initially founded their order and to reconnect with their identity as women.


In the final stretch of the semester the Scholars wrestled with revising their papers. The deadline for submission of the first draft at the midpoint of the semester gave them a chance to take a short break while Professor Roberts and another classmate read them over. Stepping back from something they have been working on so intensively, even for a few days, helped them to see their work in a new way. They could better identify what was working really well, and what needed further improvement.

As we discussed in class, there are several different coping mechanisms for dealing with critical feedback on a draft.

We're sure it's on the way, Andrew!

We’re sure it’s on the way, Andrew!

Some turn to humor. Andrew, for example, was surprised to be proven wrong in his assumption “that the only labor yet remaining for me to complete for the seminar was the drafting of an acceptance speech for the Pulitzer Prize.” News of that prize is likely still coming but Andrew agreed that there were a few ways he could strengthen his paper.

Guy found that he needed visuals to process his reaction to the feedback he had received.

Others initially felt disheartened and anxious. “I struggled to become re-infatuated with my topic after shoving it to the back of my mind for less than a week,” Maya writes, “But if this paper is anything like a relationship, it takes work …” Olivia likened herself to St. Sebastian c.1960 staring down her persecutors’ arrows as she faced the feedback on her draft!

How Olivia felt after receiving feedback on her first draft.

How Olivia felt after receiving feedback on her first draft.

One Scholar even chose a complicated food analogy.

Once the emotions had been processed, the Scholars employed a range of different strategies for digesting and incorporating the feedback into their papers.

The revising Scholar in her natural habitat.

The revising Scholar in her natural habitat.

Bianca decided she would take one subsection of her paper every day – with “a couple of grace days to relax” – which went smoothly until she came to remaking her charts. Those proved to be the real time suck.

Claire drew on a formative exercise from her High School English classes to make sure that all of her ideas were presented as clearly and intelligibly as possible.

Shannon brought in outside assistance to help her get over some of the trickier challenges that her paper posed.

Susie, like many of the other Scholars, turned to the community of the class. Who better commiserate than those similarly suffering? And who better to celebrate with when the final paper is completed!

At the end of the day, however, each Scholar experienced a deep satisfaction from pouring her or himself into the creation of this paper. As Dan shares, “The topic continues to surprise me, and I’ve enjoyed all that I’ve pulled from it. At times this paper seems like it is never going to end, but when it does, I’m sure it will be bittersweet.”

Weekend of Excellence 2016

On Saturday, April 16th, Loyola held its annual Weekend of Excellence, a showcase of the research achievement of bright undergraduate and graduate students. The Ramonat Scholars were present in full force throughout the day sharing their scholarship!


Ramonat Scholar Bianca Barcenas listens to fellow scholar Dan Snow's presentation.

Ramonat Scholar Bianca Barcenas listens to fellow scholar Dan Snow’s presentation.

Ramonat Scholar Brendan Courtois explains his research to fellow Scholar Maya Sheikh.

Ramonat Scholar Brendan Courtois explains his research to fellow Scholar Maya Sheikh.

Ramonat Scholar Hector Bahena shares his poster "Cardinal George William Mundelein: Chicago Catholicism from 1929 to 1933."

Ramonat Scholar Hector Bahena shares his poster “Cardinal George William Mundelein: Chicago Catholicism from 1929 to 1933.”

Ramonat Scholars Dan Snow, Brendan Courtois, and Andrew Kelly in front of Dan and Brendan's poster.

Ramonat Scholars Dan Snow, Brendan Courtois, and Andrew Kelly in front of Dan and Brendan’s poster.

Ramonat Scholars Hector Bahena and Olivia Raymond, Secondary Education and History Major Kyle Jenkins, and Prof. Kyle Roberts.

Ramonat Scholars Hector Bahena and Olivia Raymond, Secondary Education and History Major Kyle Jenkins, and Prof. Kyle Roberts.

Ramonat Scholar and Mulcahy Scholar Hector Bahena gives an oral presentation on "Cardinal George William Mundelein: Chicago Catholicism from 1929-1933."

Ramonat Scholar and Mulcahy Scholar Hector Bahena gives an oral presentation on “Cardinal George William Mundelein: Chicago Catholicism from 1929-1933.”

Ramonat Scholar Olivia Raymond gives an oral presentation on "Fabiola: or, The Church of the Catacombs."

Ramonat Scholar Olivia Raymond gives an oral presentation on “Fabiola: or, The Church of the Catacombs.”

Ramonat Scholar Claire Blankenship explains her poster, "The Cultural Defiance of Women Religious," to Patrick Green, Director of the Center for Experiential Learning.

Ramonat Scholar Claire Blankenship explains her poster, “The Cultural Defiance of Women Religious,” to Patrick Green, Director of the Center for Experiential Learning.

Claire Blankenship talking to another judge about her poster in the first session.

Claire Blankenship talking to another judge about her poster in the first session.

The First Draft

Sculpture of St. Tarcisius, patron saint of undergraduate paper writers?

Sculpture of St. Tarcisius, patron saint of undergraduate paper writers? Collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Often the most difficult part of writing is getting words on the page for the first draft. Blank screens haunt every writer. Replacing white space with text can cause undue frustration and anguish. This reality is reflected in my five favorite blog post titles from this week:

Reflecting on the process of writing the first draft, however, can reveal important insights about the craft of research and, even more importantly, about ourselves.

Shannon’s post provides a familiar snapshot of the final day of writing the draft. The long hours, the sheer exhaustion, the pajamas – we’ve all been there. Olivia found a kindred spirit in a sculpture of St. Tarcisius by sculptor Alexandre Falguiere! Brendan realized that he just needed to vent so that he could get his mind back to where it needs to be to keep writing and revising.

Some of the scholars felt lost among the trees, deep in the details, unable to see the larger forest. Bianca remarks in her post about how she had spent so long on the topic that she couldn’t tell what she needed to expand her draft and where she had enough information.

… And then there are the times when the words simply won’t come. Claire reflects on wrestling with that perpetual demon,writer’s block

What seemed to make so much sense in the outline phase sometimes proves unfeasible when writing the draft. Dan talks about how he wrote out a first draft that he then scrapped and began anew. Along the way parts of his original outline were jettisoned. Andrew found himself adding an entire new section to his paper that he had not initially intended to do.

Some quickly realized when they sat down to write they had way too much evidence; others had the opposite experience. Maya’s post reflects on how the process of writing involves constant re-adjustments and recalibrations. While it can be tough going in the midst of it, the effort put in pays off in the long haul. It’s a marathon, not a sprint!

And when going gets tough, we can always look back to the glory days of researching. Sitting down to write, Guy had fresh memories of his most recent research jaunt, a trip to New York City over Spring Break to interview Italian chef, food historian, and PBS personality Lidia Bastianich. If we can’t afford to jet off to another city, Susie notes the value of the support networks that surround us – our classmates, our professors, our roommates and friends – who can help us get over the hump and on our way to completion.

As every Ramonat Scholar acknowledges, there is much more work to be done. Check back in a few weeks to learn more about the final fruit of their labors!


Once the notes we have accumulated on our primary and secondary sources reach a critical mass, it is time to take stock of what we have uncovered. Organizing this material into an outline can be an initially daunting process. With enough perseverance, however, it can be ultimately exhilarating as the paper begins to take shape and come into view!

The Scholars touch on many different aspects of the research paper process in their blog posts on writing an outline.

Some wrestle with the data they have accumulated. Bianca asks: what do you do when you have a dataset of 1,000 residents of Chicago from the 1880s on spreadsheets and graph paper? The answer isn’t always so simple. Olivia knew it was time to start outlining as the notes in her Zotero and in various Word documents reached a critical mass.

Another part of the process involves coming to grips with what others have previously written on these subjects. Some of the Ramonat Scholars are revisiting topics that have been addressed by others, while others are drawn to subjects that have received far less attention. Brendan thinks about how absence, as much as presence, shapes the arguments that we can make. Andrew discovers how the outline forces us to put primary and secondary sources into conversation, each helping to refine the other.

Creating an outline can raise worries about how to put all of this material together. The challenge of balancing the fun stories, anecdotes, and personal accounts with the much larger picture haunts Claire. She realizes that she needs to stop looking at the trees and remember there is a larger forest. As Guy realized, outlining helps identify where more work is needed. It also forces us to think about how we are going to synthesize all of the material that we have uncovered. The Scholars have a range of options in how they present their findings. Shannon mulls over in her post the question of what does an outline look like when the final product isn’t a traditional research paper?

And sometimes outlining is as much a physical process as it is a mental process. Outlining might induce stress dreams, Susie explains, but it can be a productive tension, powering us towards bringing our papers together. Dan, too, knows what it is like to reflect on the challenge of trying not to be overwhelmed by the amount of material uncovered.

Exploring Primary Sources

Over the past few weeks, the Ramonat Scholars have been immersed in primary sources at a range of libraries and archives. They’ve been building their Zoteros, creating Microsoft Word documents, and even amassing a sizable collection of Post-It notes with all that they have uncovered. For their most recent blog assignment, they were asked to share some of their primary sources and explain how they read them for evidence about their topic.

One of the foreign language newspapers that Dan Snow has been exploring for his project.

One of the foreign language newspapers that Dan has been exploring for his project.

Periodicals are one of the most popular primary sources for study.  Andrew and Dan have both been reading late nineteenth or early twentieth century newspapers. While Andrew has been focusing on secular newspapers published in English, Dan has been looking at an ethnic newspaper published in French, which is not his native tongue. Reading their posts reminds us of the very different ways we might find ourselves approaching the same type of source – and the types of discoveries we make in the process.  In the later nineteenth century, the journals and magazines were just as popular as newspapers, as Maya has discovered, and documented all sorts of phenomena even when other sources have not survived.

Unpublished materials do not survive as often as published ones do, but they provide some fascinating insight into the lives of people and institutions. Diaries and personal papers can be rich sources as Brendan has been finding in his study of Catholic businessmen and the societies they formed in the second half of the nineteenth century. Economic records provide another illuminating source, Hector shows in his post, that speak to a broader range of issues than we might expect.

A 1900 cookbook that Guy is using in his study.

A 1900 cookbook that Guy is using in his study.

Many students are looking beyond these more traditional sources for evidence of past experience and belief — and often have to think creatively about how to read their sources. Most of us probably have never thought of a cookbook as a primary source for historical study. But when seeking out the meaning of different types of food to immigrant Italian Catholics, then cookbooks become an invaluable source. Guy’s blog walks us through how a scholar reads these intriguing documents. Susie takes on a much physically larger source – the churches in which immigrant Catholics worshipped – and shares the different types of questions she has to ask when studying such a source. While many Scholars are engaged in close reading of the words and buildings left to us by their subjects, Bianca is coming through city directories and census, records created by others, in search of her historic subjects. This type of record requires a different methodology for revealing its secrets, as her blog post nicely explains.

Shannon uncovered a cache of reporting on her subject in a range of different countries.

Shannon uncovered a cache of reporting on her subject in a range of different countries.


One of the more surprising iterations of the Fabiola story studied by Olivia.

These blogposts also have much to tell us about the process of doing primary source research. Sometimes we are only left with a fraction of what our historic subjects might have written. Shannon shows how much meaning there is to be found by close reading the scraps that have been left to us. It is not uncommon for our research to take us in a different direction that we had intended to go. Olivia discovered that finding the right intriguing book – Fabiola by Cardinal Wiseman – could draw her away from her plan to make a broader study of portrayals of women by Catholic authors in the nineteenth century. In the end, Claire reminds us of an important truth: “The art of research, I am beginning to realize, is learning that answers to questions deliver more questions and that preliminary topics evolve into a story more complex and fulfilling than my mind could contrive at the onset.”

The next stage in the researching and writing process is to craft an outline. Check back next week for posts on how the students went about creating their outlines and the challenges and opportunities this presented.


And we’re back …

After a restful break between the semesters, the Ramonat Scholars have returned to campus and are ready for the second semester of the seminar. The fall course exposed them to a wide range of scholarship on nineteenth-century Catholic immigrants in Chicago. This semester, the Scholars will be researching and writing their own works of original scholarship. The spring semester is designed around the various stages of identifying a topic, locating sources, developing a thesis, writing an outline and a first draft, revising, and finally giving an oral presentation at the end of the semester. Each student has access to her or his own generous travel budget to help acquire necessary materials, to travel to archives, and to pay for lots of photocopies and digital images!

The students will be blogging every few weeks about their progress. As you will see from their recent blog posts, they have come up with a rich and varied range of research topics:

  • By studying Chicago’s Polish-American community’s response to the Polish independence movement over the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Andrew is hoping to uncover how ethnic nationalism manifested itself in immigrants’ religious, political, and cultural identities.
  • Bianca seeks to uncover the origins of the Levee District, Chicago’s original nineteenth-century Red Light district. How did such a distinctive feature of the modernizing city come into being in Chicago? What role did Catholic immigrants play in that process?
  • Brendan is interested in how Catholics navigated the growing commercial economy in late nineteenth-century Chicago as the city rapidly industrialized.
  • The Second Vatican Council transformed Catholicism for many Americans. Claire is interested in the way in which one very specific change, the forced removal of habits from women religious, affected the women impacted by it.
  • Despite being Chicago’s original Catholic community, French immigrants have loomed larger in past memory than in present representation within Chicago Catholicism. Dan wants to look beyond those ethnic groups – Irish, German, Polish, and Italian – than came to dominate the city to recover the place of the French within this urban community.
  • Nothing is more often associated with the immigrant experience than foodways. Guy is researching the role played by food and drink in the lives of Italian immigrants between 1870 and 1920, a dramatic period of migration.
  • George Cardinal Mundelein has long loomed charge over early twentieth-century Chicago Catholicism. Hector is intrigued by how we assess the man and his influence over the city.
  • What is the line between sanctity and sanity? It’s an important question, Maya contends, especially for women in the Catholic Church in the nineteenth century. Her study will focus on Catholic responses to hysteria.
  • Catholic literature boomed during the nineteenth century. Olivia is interested in how authors represented Catholic women and what those works had to say about idealized notions of Catholic womanhood.
  • The Haymarket Massacre was one of the most dramatic and contentious incidents in late nineteenth-century Chicago history, the subject of much press coverage. Shannon is interested in recovering the influences that shaped convicted anarchist August Spies and his wife Nina Van Zandt and how Catholics responded to these two complex individuals.
  • Chicago is a city of Catholic churches, but how did they come to look the way they do? Susie wants to dig into the architectural and interior design histories of churches in different ethnic parishes to think about questions of transplantation and hybridity.

Check back frequently to learn more about how their projects are coming together!