The English-speaking world's most comprehensive academic collection of material on religious pilgrimage is to find a home in the University of Leicester
The Department of English Local History is to house the Nolan Archive, the fruit of several decades of work by one of America's leading cultural geographers, Professor Mary Lee Nolan, of Oregon State University, and her husband Sidney Nolan, a writer, photographer and producer of educational videos.
Their seminal book, Christian Pilgrimage in Modern Western Europe, first published in 1989, has become required reading for students and scholars interested in studying religious devotion from cultural, anthropological and sociological perspectives. A review in the Journal of the American Academy of Religion called the book 'a landmark volume... (with) a wide variety of excellent maps and tables to illustrate the rich statistical data they have collected'.
Praising its 'wealth of information', another reviewer, in the Catholic Historical Review, declared that 'the Nolans have written a book that historians will be able to use to challenge and shape generalizations about one of the most important and enduring manifestations of Christian devotional life'.
The archive includes hundreds of rare books and pamphlets, together with a database of information on more than six thousand pilgrimage shrines in modern western Europe. The University of Leicester's Learning Technology Unit will assist in transferring the database on to more modern and accessible software.
The choice of Leicester as the archive's home was finalised during a visit to the department by Mr and Mrs Nolan at the end of September, prior to Professor Nolan's retirement in December. They also met other members of the University interested in the study of religious devotion, including the Dean of the Faculty of Arts, Professor Susan Pearce, and the general editor of the new Leicester University Press series, Medieval Religion and Society, Mr George Ferzoco, Head of Italian Studies in the Department of Modern Languages.
The archive, which is organised on a regional basis, will find an appropriate home in a department whose interest in regional history culture is gaining an increasingly international character. The Department of English Local History also provides a base for TASC, the projected trans-national database and atlas of saints' cults, for which the archive will become an important resource, and through which the guardianship of the archive was arranged.
The Director of TASC, Dr Graham Jones, an Honorary Visiting Fellow in the department, and currently Stott Fellow in the University of Wales, envisages a six-point plan to develop the archive and to integrate it into teaching and research.
Initially, scholarship or seed-corn funding will be sought to enable the publication of a catalogue. Students in relevant disciplines will then be encouraged to use the archive as a basis for dissertations and theses as well as reference, while academic staff will be able to access it for the development of teaching materials. It is hoped that Pilgrimage could be the topic of all or part of a module in future postgraduate teaching and find a place in undergraduate teaching also.
At the same time the archive will be advertised internationally to attract students and scholars, and an appeal will be launched for similar material from countries in central and eastern Europe where interest in the study of religion is undergoing a massive renaissance.
Dr Jones said: 'It is an immense honour for the department to have been chosen by Mr and Mrs Nolan to take care of this most important collection. On the eve of the Millennium there is a huge upsurge of public interest in religious matters, which inevitably will be reflected in university teaching and research.
'It is appropriate that the archive should be housed in a University which used to have a Department of Religious Phenomenology. Religious anthropology is little taught in the United Kingdom, so that the presence of this archive offers an opportunity to the university to develop a niche speciality.
'This important acquisition comes as a result of Mr and Mrs Nolan's generous spirit and the encouragement of colleagues in the department, notably its head, Dr Harold Fox, and Professor Charles Phythian-Adams, who are both intensely interested in the application of religious evidence to the study of local and regional history and culture.
'Marc Fitch House already houses several important special collections, including the papers and photographic slides of the department's founder, Professor W G Hoskins. The Nolan Archive will find a caring home in a department which sees a future in the study of localities and communities past and present.'
Note to editors:
1 Mary Lee Nolan and Sidney Nolan, Christian Pilgrimage in Modern Western Europe (Chapel Hill, The University of North Carolina Press, 1989), is available in paperback from E.D.S., 3 Henrietta Street, Covent Garden, London WC2E 8LU].
2 Dr Jones is available to answer enquiries at The Centre for Advanced Welsh and Celtic Studies, University of Wales: phone 01790 626717, extension 18, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
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