Last week we were delighted to receive an email from Dr. Christoph Egger of the Institut für Österreichische Geschichtsforschung about Ms. Codex 615, a fourteenth-century manuscript from Bohemia of Alain de Lille’s De planctu naturae. Penn purchased this manuscript from Philadelphia bookdealer William H. Allen in 1951, but we knew nothing about its journeys before that. Thanks to our digital facsimile available online, Dr. Egger identified Ms. Codex 615 as formerly MS 478 in the library of Stift Admont, the Benedictine monastery in the town of Admont, in central Austria. The monastery’s library still owns more than 1,400 manuscripts. Our manuscript has the Admont shelfmark on a label on its spine, shown here, and is described in a catalog of the monastery’s manuscripts, itself a manuscript compiled by Jakob Wichner in 1888, which is also fully available online thanks to manuscripta.at. The entry for MS 478 has a note added in pencil recording the sale of this manuscript in 1938 to Brecher, who, according to Dr. Egger, was an antiquarian bookdealer in Brno. For the source of this excellent information, details on more manuscripts from Admont now in other libraries, and a reunion of Ms. Codex 615 with some of its old friends, please see Dr. Egger’s post, “olim Admont,” on the Iter Austriacum blog.
We’re looking forward to the fourth annual offering of the SIMS manuscript skills summer course! Aimed at graduate students in medieval and Renaissance studies who want to use manuscripts in their research, the course gives students a hands-on introduction to handling, reading, and studying European manuscripts up to the 16th century, as well as to digital humanities projects built on manuscript images. Students are paired with manuscripts from the Penn collection in their areas of interest to give them an opportunity to apply the content of the course and become the local experts in “their” manuscripts. The class sessions, which run from 10 am to noon on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays from May 22 to June 27, include lectures, exercises, and time for independent study of students’ manuscripts. The course is free, not for credit, and open to graduate students from any institution. Penn students may register through the Graduate Division of Arts and Sciences here through March 29; students from other institutions should send an email about interest, languages, and paleography experience to Amey Hutchins (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Thanks to “The Arabic original of (ps.) Māshā’allāh’s Liber de orbe: its date and authorship” (British Journal for the History of Science 48.2 (June 2015), p. 321-352) by Taro Mimura, associate professor at Hiroshima University, Japan, new information is available about LJS 439, formerly cataloged as an unidentified 14th-century cosmological treatise. Using the digital facsimile of LJS 439, Dr. Mimura was able to identify this manuscript as one of two known copies of the 10th-century Arabic original of the Book on the Configuration of the Orb. The other copy is Berlin, Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin, Ms. or. oct. 273. The Arabic work was previously known only through Maimonides’s use of an example from it and through Latin translations. Dr. Mimura attributes the text to Dunash ibn Tamim, a student of Fatimid court physician and philosopher Isaac Israeli, and he is preparing an edition of the Arabic Liber de orbe based on these two manuscripts.
At this moment the Penn Libraries are embarking on a search for a senior conservator and eagerly anticipating the September opening of a new, 3,500-square-foot conservation lab in the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts. It’s a good time for a story about what conservation can do.
For some students, a 600-year-old manuscript works its magic on their imagination and curiosity even if they can’t read what’s written on its pages. But, not surprisingly, being able to make out even a few lines of text takes students to another level, slowing them down to experience script and page layout for themselves. So opportunities to read open up more pedagogical possibilities for faculty. Students with skills in Latin or Italian have an abundance of choices among the manuscripts of the Kislak Center. Students with skills in French or German have a respectable array from which to choose. But for students whose needs would be best met by early English manuscripts, we have only a precious handful — five manuscripts.
Middle English manuscripts are now extremely difficult to acquire, and we are fortunate to have these five manuscripts from acquisitions of the 1940s and early 1950s. But they had hard lives before coming to the library, all but one having been rebound by owners of past centuries, often trimmed to fit into not particularly durable new bindings, and at the library the manuscripts continue to work hard for students, faculty, and library staff.
Thanks to a gift from long-time Libraries friend Bruce McKittrick and the work of Richard Homer, a conservator at Philadelphia’s Conservation Center for Art & Historic Artifacts (CCAHA), one of these manuscripts is newly useful for research and teaching. It has a solid new binding that better reflects the probable weight and shape of the manuscript’s original binding and that provides stability, flexibility, and protection for the manuscript inside. Continue reading
Kyle Ann Huskin, a Ph.D. student in English at the University of Rochester, spent a week in July at the Schoenberg Institute for Manuscript Studies as one of the students in The Medieval Manuscript in the Twenty-First Century, a course under the auspices of Rare Book School, headquartered at the University of Virginia. Here she shares her experience of that week and its impact on her work.
I never expected to be accepted to RBS course M-95: The Medieval Manuscript in the Twenty-First Century, taught at the University of Pennsylvania by Will Noel and Dot Porter, and I certainly never expected to have a life-changing experience (academically speaking) over the course of just five days. The class introduced us to just some of the ways digital technology can be used to enhance traditional codicological research endeavors. Although my experience seemed to be more traditional than other students’ in its reliance on paleography and internal “detective work” on a manuscript, my discoveries would not have been possible without UPenn’s open-source digital images, photo enhancement software, and open-access academic journals. I hope that my account of what Will and Dot put together in M-95 will encourage other institutions to take similar steps as SIMS towards producing open-source data and also encourage more students and scholars to conduct hands-on research in archival collections.
Will and Dot tried to find manuscripts to suit our interests based on our personal statements. I had said I was interested in representations of material texts in popular medieval literature, and accordingly, they had planned to give me a mid-fourteenth-century French copy of the Roman de Sept Sages (Ms. Codex 931). Due to its lack of binding, however, they decided on LJS 184, a late thirteenth-century Spanish copy of Isidore of Seville’s Etymologiae. I doubt they knew about my fascination with the Etymologiae, but their decision turned out to be perfect for my interests because LJS 184 actually contained a text within the text — a legal document that had at one point been glued to the manuscript’s wooden back cover. Stating only that LJS 184 contained a “loose pastedown,” the catalog record in Penn in Hand made no mention of the fact that there was writing on this parchment. I could tell that it was some kind of Latin legal document written in a later hand than the main text. Hoping that it contained valuable provenance information, I became obsessed with deciphering it. Continue reading
The latest Manuscript Road Trip post by SIMS friend Lisa Fagin Davis announces a new adventure in digital fragmentology.
If you’ve been travelling with me on this virtual road trip around the United States, you have almost certainly come to know the dismembered beauty known as The Beauvais Missal. I’ve mentioned it many times and shown you several different leaves found in various collections. And I’ve ruminated about the possibility of digitally reassembling this masterpiece of thirteenth-century illumination. Well, it’s time to stop dreaming and start doing.
Working with the “Broken Books” project at the St. Louis University, I have begun a digital reconstruction of the Beauvais Missal. The “Broken Books” project will result in the development of a platform for reconstructing broken books as well as the establishment of a metadata structure designed specifically for manuscript fragments and leaves. My Beauvais Missal project will serve as one of several case studies in…
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On Tuesday evening Penn medievalists and early modernists kicked off the new academic year with the annual Welcome Back reception and the first Penn Medieval Studies program of the year: a panel discussion on “Why the Middle Ages Matter.” In addition to questioning the question, Rebecca Winer (Villanova University), Matthew Boyd Goldie (Rider University), Elly Truitt (Bryn Mawr College), John Haldon (Princeton University), and our own director Will Noel offered a variety of answers:
* the Middle Ages are relevant to the politics of Europe and the Middle East today
* the Middle Ages are NOT relevant in many ways, meaning they offer the challenge of entirely foreign conceptual frameworks
* the Middle Ages are part of mainstream culture through the medievalism of popular literature and games
* the challenge of understanding people distant from us in time prepares us to understand people who are distant from us in other ways
* historical studies sensitize us to the uses and abuses of history in politics today
* the interdisciplinary nature of medieval studies challenges specialists to make their projects matter to a wider audience
* we love the Middle Ages, they are a part of us.
Why DO the Middle Ages matter (to you)? Add your comments!