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


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New attribution for a 14th-century manuscript

LJS 439, p. 17 (detail)

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.


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Keeping the portal open: conserving Ms. Codex 197

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.

64vCodex197detail

Decorated catchword, Ms. Codex 197, f. 64v

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.

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Ms. Codex 197 after conservation (Image by CCAHA)

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


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Manuscript Studies in Action: RBS at SIMS

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.

Historiated initial D, Isidore lecturing to two monks, LJS 184, f. 1r (detail)

LJS 184, f. 1r (detail)

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


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Manuscript Road Trip: Reconstructing the Beauvais Missal

The latest Manuscript Road Trip post by SIMS friend Lisa Fagin Davis announces a new adventure in digital fragmentology.

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

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.

Cleveland Museum of Art, ACC. 1982.141 verso Cleveland Museum of Art, Acc. 1982.141 verso

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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Happy new (school) year! Why do the Middle Ages matter?

On LJS 101, f. 1vTuesday 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!


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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

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.

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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