The Schoenberg Institute for Manuscript Studies at Penn brings manuscript culture, modern technology and people together.

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Manuscripts: The Archaeolozoology of Animal Skin, April 10, NOON

Please mark your calendars for this upcoming lecture on Thursday, April 10, at NOON in the Class of ’78 Pavilion, Kislak Center, 6th Floor Van Pelt Library. The presenter is Matthew Collins, professor of bioarchaeology at the University of York and PI on a project to use collagen samples to identify species of animals used for parchment, a project that Penn has been collaborating on since last year. It should be an interesting talk, hope you can make it. Please share this announcement widely!


Manuscripts: The Archaeolozoology of Animal Skin

As Peter Tiersma has argued, writing made it possible to begin distinguishing myth from history. If we were able to capture and map the path of each and every written idea it would look like a fractal tree, with branches expanding as concepts are developed, refined and dissected. Historians try to reconstruct the diversification of these ideas and many see parallels with our planets other great writing schema, the chemical language of DNA.  The rules of DNA are simpler (although this simplicity is nuanced by new discoveries). DNA is the book of life and most geneticists at some point try to recapitulate the history of a population or group, by identifying errors in DNA transcription, missing or newly incorporated text found in different populations or organisms.  The sheer quantity of dated animals skins held in archives across Europe is staggering.  We estimate that in the UK there are more skins (as parchment) from the last 800 years held in libraries and archives than there are sheep living in the island today.

More than a decade ago researchers revealed that the genetic code of the animal was not destroyed when its skin was used for parchment production. However the last year has been a tipping point for parchment research as a consequence of the ability to use the waste from conventional conservation treatment for protein and DNA sequencing.  We will overview results coming out from the EU funded CodeX and Palimpsest projects and consider a change in the landscape of codicology, both in terms of the balance of the relationships between science and the humanities, but also in the scale and scope of questions that can now be addressed.

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A Legacy Inscribed: the Lawrence J. Schoenberg Collection of Manuscripts

The exhibition A Legacy Inscribed: The Lawrence J. Schoenberg Collection of Manuscripts is now available online. The original exhibition was curated by Lynn Ransom and took place March 1 – August 16, 2013 in the Penn Library’s Goldstein Family Gallery, located in the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts.

In 2011, University of Pennsylvania Board members Barbara Brizdle Schoenberg and LawrenceJ. Schoenberg (C53, WG56) donated the Lawrence J. Schoenberg Collection of Manuscripts to the libraries. The Schoenberg collection brings together many of the great scientific and philosophical traditions of the ancient and medieval worlds. Documenting the extraordinary achievements of scholars, philosophers, and scientists in Europe, Africa and Asia, the collection illuminates the foundations of Penn’s academic traditions.

Each section of the exhibition – Arts and Sciences, Communication, Design, Education, Engineering, Law, the Medical Arts, and Social Policy and Practice – showcases texts, textbooks, documents, and letters that embody the history and mission of the schools that form the University. Often illustrated with complex diagrams and stunning imagery, the manuscripts bring to the present the intellectual legacy of the distant past.

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13th Century Entanglements, Part 3

S.J. Pearce is an assistant professor in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese at New York University, where her teaching and research focus on the intellectual history and literature of Jews, Christians and Muslims in medieval Spain.  She is currently completing a book-length project that examines the ways in which Jewish intellectuals in 13th-century Spain and France understood Arabic to be a language of cultural prestige.  She earned her Ph.D. at Cornell University (Near Eastern Studies, 2011); and during the 2012-13 academic year, held the Louis and Hortense Apfelbaum Fellowship at the Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies at the University of Pennsylvania.  The 2012-2013 Fellows contributed to a new web exhibit titled 13th Century Entanglements:  Judaism, Christianity & Islam, in which each Fellow presented a manuscript or printed work used in research during the year.  Dr. Pearce chose LJS 453, and her text from the exhibit follows.

Commentaries on the Scientific and Philosophical Texts of Aristotle

This substantial codex, copied in Germany in 1446 and consisting of 269 folios written in several Ashkenazi scribal hands, was recently acquired by the University of Pennsylvania through a gift made by the noted collector Lawrence J. Schoenberg and Barbra Brizdle Schoenberg. LJS 453 contains Hebrew translations of Arabic commentaries on the scientific works of Aristotle. Although it represents a fifteenth-century copy of the commentaries on works on various aspects of natural history, as well as on cosmology and meteorology, the texts themselves are the product of developments in intellectual history and tastes that flourished in earnest in the thirteenth century and continued into the fourteenth. As early as the second half of the twelfth century, Jewish readers living in regions of what are modern-day Spain and France began to translate Arabic-language scientific, philosophical and religious texts into Hebrew, with the consequence that these texts became available to a wider readership. The beginnings of this translation movement, which was consciously modeled on the ninth-century movement in the eastern Mediterranean to translate Greek-language texts into Syriac and Arabic, also led to the creation of a brand new technical vocabulary in Hebrew, since translators were often required to coin new terms for concepts in these fields that had not previously ever been discussed or written about in Hebrew.

The texts in this volume include: Solomon ibn Ayyub’s translation of Averroes’ commentary on De Caelo; translations by the noted Hebrew poet Kalonymos ben Kalonymos of the commentary on De generatione et corruptione and the Meteorologia; and Jacob ben Makhir’s translation of De Animalibus. The volume also contains Hebrew translations of Abraham ibn Ezra’s commentary on Psalms and fragments of Moses Maimonides’ Epistle to the Yemen. Taken together, these texts offer a coherent and complete, if not comprehensive, overview of the major intellectual and religious trends and debates that were current in thirteenth-century Spain and France. Beginning in the second half of the twelfth century, the father-and-son pair of translators, Judah and Samuel ibn Tibbon, began to adapt Arabic texts into Hebrew, often times at the request of particular communities with low levels of Arabic literacy but interest in reading texts of classical antiquity and the medieval Arabic commentaries upon them; this trend continued in northern Spain and southern France and allowed for the wide dissemination in the Jewish world of texts that were of scientific and dialectical-rationalist character.

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Manuscript Road Trip: Otto Ege, St. Margaret and Digital Fragmentology

Amey Hutchins:

The latest Manuscript Road Trip post by SIMS friend Lisa Fagin Davis is a great example of bringing manuscript culture and modern technology together, as well as a fun detective story.

Originally posted on Manuscript Road Trip:

The Flight into Egypt, Walters Art Museum, MS W.188, f.112r

The Flight into Egypt, Walters Art Museum, MS W.188, f.112r

This week, I’m going to get off the virtual superhighway to share a discovery. Digital publication seems appropriate given that most of this work was conducted using online resources and images, making this a great case study for digital humanities research and the newly-christened field of “digital fragmentology.”

I wear many hats at the moment: Acting Executive Director of the Medieval Academy of America, blogger, professor of library science, and medieval manuscript consultant. In the latter role, I have for some months been cataloguing the manuscripts belonging to the Five Colleges consortium of Western Massachusetts (Amherst, Hampshire, Mt. Holyoke, Smith, and the University of Massachusetts - Amherst). Smith and U. Mass. each happen to own one of the leaf collections compiled by Otto Ege titled “Fifty Original Leaves of Medieval Manuscripts”  (if you need to be brought up to speed, take a look at my Ege…

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LJS 229 paper at Gersonides conference in Geneva

Charles Manekin, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Maryland, gave a paper this week about LJS 229, a Hebrew manuscript commentary on commentaries by Averroës  on Aristotle and Porphyry, at a conference at the University of Geneva.  The conference, “Everyone contested his views, no one denied his importance” — Gersonides through the Ages, focused on the transmission and reception of the works of medieval Jewish philosopher and astronomer Gersonides.  Professor Manekin started working with LJS 229 last spring, while holding the Ellie and Herbert D. Katz Distinguished Fellowship at the Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies, and discovered that the unidentified author of these commentaries was a member of the school of Gersonides.  Available online are a description by Professor Manekin of the manuscript and its context; the catalog record for the manuscript; and a full digital facsimile.

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Penn Ms. Codex 201, Presented by students in The World of Manuscripts Freshman Seminar (ENGL 016.304)

Dispatch from Will Noel:

Last semester I had the very great pleasure of teaching a Freshman  Seminar, The World of Manuscripts, with Penn’s own Peter Stallybrass.  It was a wide ranging course that took advantage not only of the special collections in the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts, but also the phenomenal manuscript  holdings in other institutions in Philadelphia, including those of the Penn Museum (special thanks to Steve Tinney), The Library Company (where we were educated by Jim Green), and the Free Library of Philadelphia (where we were generously hosted by Janine Pollock). We studied cuneiform tablets, illuminated manuscripts, drafts of the Constitution, and the letters of Mary Shelley.  We had fabulous students, Alexandra Pierson, James Bessolo, Linda Valadez, and Patricia Kamwela, who made a particular study of Penn’s Wycliffite New Testament, Ms. Codex 201, which they transcribed using the online transcription tool T-PEN, run out of St Louis by the magical Jim Ginther and his associates.  As part of the course the students made a short movie of their work, produced in the Kislak Center, with the help of Dot Porter and Dennis Mullen.  Here it is. Congratulations and thanks to all involved!

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Manuscript Monday: LJS 477, pt 2

Jacqueline Burek, graduate student in English at the University of Pennsylvania, introduces Curator for Digital Research Services Dot Porter to the Library’s LJS 477 from the Schoenberg Collection, Florilegium, written in Latin with one inscription in Hebrew, probably in Oxford, England, ca. 1250. This collection of sermons was probably compiled from multiple sources belonging to a preacher, probably Dominican. There are many marginal notes, some indicating the liturgical season or the theme of a sermon, a few noting a cited source (including Ambrose, Gamaliel, and Isidore); excerpts from De animalibus, attributed to Aristotle; notes on natural history including information on birds and insects, arranged alphabetically, followed by information on metals (f. 4r-10v); and excerpts from Isidore’s Etymologies.

Jacqueline Burek also presented LJS 477 on September 21, 2013, at the Delaware Valley Medieval Association Meeting at the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books & Manuscripts of the University of Pennsylvania Library. This posting can be seen here. She also authored the online article “Etymologies, Natural Histories, and Sermons in LJS 477″ in the online publication Unique at Penn.


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