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


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The 2017–2018 SIMS-Herbert D. Katz Center Distinguished Fellow in Jewish Manuscript Studies lecture by Alessandro Guetta

“‘No Longer Alien Residents’: Italian Jewish Texts in the Late Renaissance,” a lecture by Professor Alessandro Guetta, Institut National des Langues et Civilisations Orientales (INALCO), Paris.

Delivered February 27, 2018, at the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books, and Manuscripts.

In this lecture sponsored by the Jewish Studies Program at the University of Pennsylvania, Professor Alessandro Guetta discusses early modern translations of Hebrew texts into Italian and Judeo-Italian, a language written and spoken by Italian Jews from the 13th to the 19th centuries.

Professor Guetta begins by positioning his work as a response to a lack of cultural and literary studies of these translations. Through a series of case studies, he argues that despite ongoing social segregation, Jewish writers were integrated within Italian society through their use of a common language, namely the Tuscan dialect that was becoming the national standard. In a period characterized by complex and creative literary production in both languages, a skillful adaptation of a Hebrew text into Italian allowed readers to appreciate the beauty of the text in both languages, and heightened their sense of its spiritual and intellectual meanings. Thus Prof. Guetta concludes that Italian was “not less beloved than Hebrew,” and encouraged his audience to seek out the unedited Italian and Judeo-Italian literary manuscripts from this period.

The link to the lecture on the SIMS YouTube channel is https://youtu.be/M6pwRWVISHQ.

The Schoenberg Institute for Manuscript Studies/Herbert D. Katz Center Distinguished Fellow in Jewish Manuscript Studies fellowship is supported in part by the David B. Ruderman Distinguished Scholar fund.


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Manuscript Monday: LJS 497 – Canones vel operationes…

Aylin Malcolm, PhD student at the University of Pennsylvania, offers a video orientation to Penn Library’s LJS 497, Canones vel operationes in operando quadrante. This manuscript was written in Italy, ca. 1502, in Latin, and it is an illustrated treatise on the use of the astrolabe quadrant, including locating and predicting the positions of stars; computing the 12 houses of the horoscope; and measuring altitude, latitude, and time. .

You can see the full online facsimile of this work in Penn in Hand and you can download all of the images and metadata from OPenn. You can also download a copy of this video from ScholarlyCommons, the University of Pennsylvania’s open access institutional repository.


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Manuscript Monday: LJS 445 – Prenosticatio

Aylin Malcolm, PhD student at the University of Pennsylvania, offers a video orientation to Penn Library’s LJS 445, Prenosticatio, by Johannes Lichtenberger. This manuscript was written in Nuremberg, Germany, after 1488, in Middle High German. It is an anthology of astrological and astronomical works, including material copied from three incunables: Johannes Lichtenberger’s Prognosticatio (Heidelberg, 1488), astrological predictions about the fate of the Church, the Holy Roman Empire, and the laity; and two editions of the calendar of Regiomontanus (Nuremberg, 1474; Venice, 1478).

You can see the full online facsimile of this work in Penn in Hand and you can download all of the images and metadata from OPenn. You can also download a copy of this video from ScholarlyCommons, the University of Pennsylvania’s open access institutional repository.


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Gothic Arts: An Interdisciplinary Symposium (March 23-24, 2018)

Event Wrap-Up
Oliver Mitchell
Graduate Student Intern, SIMS

A is for arts: historiated initial illustrating James le Palmer’s definition of arts in his Omne bonum (British Library MS Royal 6 E VI, fol. 138v).

Early modern thinkers used the term “Gothic” to criticize the dominant aesthetic of medieval art and architecture. The real-life Goths were a barbarian tribe who had sacked Rome in the fifth century CE, contributing to the eventual collapse of the Roman Empire and ushering in the so-called “Dark Ages.” In contrast to the enlightened rebirth of Classical civilization underway in their own times, these Renaissance men thought, there was little to distinguish the superstition and ignorance of late medieval Europeans from such genuine barbarians.

The negative connotations of “Gothic” lasted well into the nineteenth century. Only relatively recently have scholars working on the Middle Ages started to question, complicate, or dismantle entirely the stylistic and period boundaries set up in previous centuries. Now, the loaded term “Gothic” is often either discarded altogether or qualified by apologetic inverted commas. After all, what use is a pejorative post-medieval descriptor to historians seeking an authentic understanding of the period on its own terms? But then again, is there a danger that we’ve thrown an authentically Gothic baby out with the historiographic bathwater?

These and a host of related questions fueled two days of discussion and debate at Gothic Arts: An Interdisciplinary Symposium, held at the University of Pennsylvania on March 23-24, 2018. Organizers Mary Channen Caldwell, Sarah M. Guérin, and Ada Kuskowski (all faculty members at Penn) invited scholars working on medieval art history, literature, law, and music to explore the intertwined notions of “Gothic” and “arts” in their fields. Caldwell, Guérin, and Kuskowski delighted in breaking down disciplinary boundaries, doing their best to avoid placing, for example, multiple musicologists or art historians in panels together. As a result, the conference felt genuinely interdisciplinary and offered a sustained and coherent discussion on its theme over the two days.

Sharon Farmer (UC Santa Barbara) and Catherine A. Bradley (University of Oslo) took us deep into the material and conceptual processes involved in the creation a single Gothic work of art. Farmer’s exploration of the global networks of trade and labor involved in the production of a silk purse was particularly eye-opening. Papers by Anne Lester (University of Colorado Boulder), Sarah Kay (New York University), and Kevin Brownlee (Penn) were similarly concerned with the Medieval West’s complex relationship with worlds beyond its own, through both physical relics of the Holy Land and the intellectual traditions of Classical antiquity.

In a paper with real contemporary relevance, Sara McDougall (John Jay College and the CUNY Graduate Center) spoke about the disparity between theory and practice in thirteenth-century laws in relation to extra-marital pregnancy. In a masterly demonstration of the mathematical theory underpinning Gothic buildings, Meredith Cohen (UCLA) presented a digital reconstruction of Paris’s Saint-Germain-des-Prés based on only fragmentary physical remains.

Similarly enlightening was Brigitte Bedos-Rezak (NYU) speaking about the agency of medieval seals, which she showed could continue to exert authority even after their owner’s death. Richard Leson (University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee) also discussed markers of identity in his paper on a private prayer book embellished with an almost unrivalled profusion of heraldry, both real and fictional.

Thomas B. Payne (William and Mary) unpicked the typological iconography of sacred music in a paper neatly complimented by Mark Everist’s (University of Southampton) iconoclastic approach to generic distinctions in the thirteenth century. On the subject of performance, Carol Symes’s (University of Illinois) Saturday plenary on “How to Do Things with Written Words: The Ars scribendi of Vernacular Documentation” muddied the waters of medieval literacy, vernacularism, and notions of performativity. In a paper that was itself performed as much as spoken, Prof. Symes moved effortlessly through the medieval centuries in order to set her thoughts on the Gothic text in a deep and rich historical and cultural setting, picking up on many of the themes raised by Francis Gingras (Université de Montréal) on Friday.

The roundtable session chaired by William Noel (Director, Kislak Center and SIMS) asked five speakers to rethink Panofsky’s seemingly Hegelian notion of habitus. Carissa Harris (Temple University) drew striking comparisons between the obscene fourteenth-century English tale Gilote e Johane and a scene involving an unexpected sexual proposal from TV sitcom Broad City. Emily Steiner (Penn) showed the fundamental interdisciplinarity of medieval thought through a selection of encyclopaedias. Ivan Drpić (Penn), Meg Leja (Binghamton University), and Nicholas Herman (SIMS) expanded the discussion to encompass Eastern European, early medieval and post-medieval perspectives, blurring the clear geographic and chronological boundaries associated with the idea of Gothic.

The immersive atmosphere of the conference was completed by two Friday night treats: a small display of medieval manuscripts assembled by SIMS curator Nicholas Herman, and a performance of medieval music by the New York-based trio Concordian Dawn.

The organisers of Gothic Arts were hoping for critical and interdisciplinary discussion, and they got it in spades. On such an issue, consensus was always going to be slippery. Some delegates rallied to the defence of the term “Gothic,” recognising in it a certain utility and seeking to reclaim it from Vasarian oblivion. Others maintained that, if we are looking for an authentically medieval mind-frame supporting the aesthetic and intellectual unity of the “Gothic” arts, the advantages of this particular word are outweighed by its historiographic baggage.

With such a fabulous array of scholars sharing such exciting material, my feeling is that all who came left saturated with new knowledge and insight regardless of their feelings about “Gothic.” Perhaps the true value of the term lies in its capacity to stimulate precisely the kind of rigorous interdisciplinary debate both practiced and preached at Gothic Arts: An Interdisciplinary Symposium.


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Digital Editing and the Medieval Manuscript Roll @ Penn

SIMS was delighted that a group of graduate students from across the country were here at the Penn Libraries last week to make the most of one of our medieval manuscripts and our digital resources.  Judith Weston, one of the graduate student organizers, reported on their experience.

UPenn Ms. Roll 1563, verso (detail)

You don’t have to be an engineer to learn to encode a medieval roll! Penn’s Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts, with the generosity of Penn’s Price Lab for Digital Humanities and the Delaware Valley Medieval Association, hosted a workshop on Digital Editing and the Medieval Manuscript Roll this past weekend, March 30-31, 2018.  This two-day graduate workshop is part of an initiative by Yale’s Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library. Nine graduate students in a variety of disciplines from institutions near (Rutgers) and far (University of Washington) convened to create a digital facsimile of a medieval manuscript roll, complete with searchable transcription and commentary. Graduate students lead and organize the workshops as well, with guest lecturers offering additional expertise. Penn graduate students Judith Weston and Aylin Malcolm organized the Penn iteration of the workshop with the help of Yale graduate students Gina Hurley and Eric Ensley. Over the two-day period, participants acquire the skills to edit digital editions and learn the process of TEI markup by encoding a medieval roll in the collection of the host institution, in this case Ms. Roll 1563, a 15th-century devotional roll written in Latin and Middle English. The workshop kicked off with a session on transcription and cataloguing, lead by Penn graduate students Nathalie Lacarrière and Matt Aiello, with an introduction to Penn’s collection of manuscript rolls by Manuscripts Cataloging Librarian Amey Hutchins. The afternoon consisted of an introduction to text encoding and markup language and the TEI, led by Penn graduate student Mariah Min, Aylin, Eric, and Gina. Day 2 began with Beiler doughnuts and continued with further teaching of the TEI as well as a discussion of the challenge of linking images with texts in non-standard digital editions, taught by Mariah, Aylin, Eric, and Gina. The final portion of the workshop was devoted to the implementation of the material covered in the previous sessions, as participants transcribed and encoded the devotional roll, creating a digital edition of the 15th-century manuscript.  This digital edition should be available later this year on a website hosted by the Beinecke Library, together with digital editions of other manuscript rolls produced by previous workshop participants at other institutions.


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10th Annual Medievalists @ Penn Graduate Conference: Vulnerability

Fragile masculinity: Narcissus at the fountain (London, British Library, MS Royal 20 A XVII, fol. 14v)

Event Wrap-up (March 17, 2018)
by Oliver Mitchell
Graduate Student Intern, SIMS

This year’s Medievalists @ Penn Graduate Conference marks the group’s tenth anniversary, and the day saw ten scholars come together to present the insights and discoveries of their research in relation to the theme of “Vulnerability.” The conference conveners, Shoshana Adler and Aylin Malcolm (both Penn), grouped the day’s graduate student papers into three sessions, dedicated respectively to the themes of textual vulnerability, nature and nationhood, and women’s voices. Though the topics of these individual papers ranged across Western Europe from the tenth to the fifteenth centuries and also managed to address problems inherent in modern scholarly practices and politics, the conference as a whole offered a stimulating and coherent dialogue on its chosen theme and was characterised by lively— at times irrepressible—debate.

In the morning’s session on textual vulnerability, Rachel Hanks (Notre Dame) spoke about how damage to a physical manuscript can inform and distort scholarly understanding of the text contained therein, taking as her subject the fragmentary Old English poem known appropriately as The Ruin. Seamus Dwyer (Yale) shifted the conversation from a physical manuscript to a text itself, examining the precarious balance of citation, quotation, and translation at work in a fascinating fifteenth-century tri-lingual Christmas carol. Judith Weston (Penn) brought text and object together in her discussion of Ovidian myths in the Roman de la Rose and its illustrative programme, exploring the denial of human agency to Narcissus, Echo, and the titular Rose either through gradual ossification or in a single moment of violent rupture. Respondent Nicholas Herman (Curator of Manuscripts, SIMS) ended the session with a reiteration of the fundamental importance of physical manuscripts themselves to medieval studies, and made some exciting predictions about the future of digital facsimiles and the democratisation of data. This meeting of the medieval and the modern would become a recurrent theme throughout the rest of the conference.

Nicholas Herman discusses the damaged Exeter Book (Exeter Cathedral, MS 3501) in response to the panel on textual vulnerability. Photo: M. Aiello.

In the second session, on nature and nationhood, Lauren Therese Geiger (Michigan) invited us to take an eco-critical approach to John Gower’s Confessio Amantis, expounding the significance of the natural environment to late medieval English politics, while Scott Long (Penn) spoke about the fifteenth-century Chrónica Sarracina and its complicated relationship with historical truth in service of a Spanish nationalist ideology. As Kersti Francis (UCLA) interrogated the perfect knight’s extreme masculinity and its vulnerability to preternatural forces in Marie de France’s Guigemar, it struck me that the threats and vulnerabilities explored in this session – environmental, nationalist, sexual – were not far from the concerns and anxieties of our present. Courtney Rydel responded with questions about the vulnerability of political and social frameworks themselves to acts of war and violence.

In the final session of the day, Nathalie Lacarriere (Penn) took Christine de Pisan as her subject in a discussion about the vulnerability of women’s voices in the Middle Ages. Her paper on the “Querelle de la Rose” discussed Christine’s metaphorical transformation into a man in La Mutacion de Fortune and the dangers of asserting her voice in the traditionally masculine space of literary criticism. Courtney Watts (Virginia) presented a harrowing analysis of paternal rape in medieval romance, dissecting the genre’s predisposition to silence the voices of female victims when confronting the taboo of familial incest. In a remarkable paper on the Old English poem Wulf and Eadwacer, Matthew Aiello took a bold step away from others in his field to offer a new translation of the poem, re-casting the enigmatic verse not as romantic yearning for lost love but as a visceral exploration of the aftermath of a rape. Respondent Emily Steiner (Penn) evoked a lively discussion on how the very idea of vulnerability is gendered, and how that vulnerability to threats of violence itself functions as a social and cultural restraint.

The Iconic Poster for the Vulnerability Conference, designed by Benjamin Brown.

The highlight of the day came when keynote speaker Masha Raskolnikov, Associate Professor of English at Cornell University, took the floor with an honest and at times intensely personal consideration of sexual politics in Chaucer’s “The Clerk’s Tale.” Prof. Raskolnikov exposed Griselda and Walter’s relationship as queer and kinky precisely because it is so hyper-normative and insistently heterosexual. Exactly where Griselda’s suffering falls between consensual masochism and outright sexual abuse was questioned by both speaker and audience, reminding us all to continually check the assumptions we bring to medieval studies. Ranging from Derrida to Donald Trump, Boethius to Joan Osborne, Prof. Raskolnikov’s paper was in turn genuinely affecting and truly funny, as she drew together threads from throughout the day’s papers into a stimulating and compelling investigation of the forms and contexts of vulnerability in the Middle Ages.

The 2018 M@P Graduate Conference provided ample food for thought not only on the various forms and contexts of vulnerability in the Middle Ages but also on the vulnerability of the material itself to both changing fashions of editorial practice and to our own ideological blind-spots. The medieval past has always been vulnerable to the political manipulation of the present, and in recent months scholars have spoken out against the “ideological misappropriation” of the discipline. The strength and self-reflexivity of the papers presented at this year’s M@P Graduate Conference left me optimistic about the dedication of emerging scholars to the robust defence of the efficacy of medieval studies in negotiating the fraught political climate of our own times. Attendees stayed well into the evening to continue the discussion, testament not only to the quality of the catering but to the successful vision of the conference organisers.


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Manuscript Monday: LJS 266 – La generacion de Adam

Dot Porter, Curator, Digital Research Services at the University of Pennsylvania Library, offers a video orientation to Penn Library’s LJS 266, La generacion de Adam. This manuscript was written in France between 1425 and 1450, in Middle French, and it is a Collection of genealogical and chronicle material, including Biblical genealogy from Adam to Jesus and the apostles.

You can see the full online facsimile of this work in Penn in Hand and you can download all of the images and metadata from OPenn.  You can also download a copy of this video from ScholarlyCommons, the University of Pennsylvania’s open access institutional repository.