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


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Sacred Texts: Codices Far, Far Away – Episode 3, LJS 102

On October 8, 2018, Dr. Brandon Hawk and curator Dot Porter met to talk about these ancient books, and to compare them with manuscripts from the collection of the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts at the University of Pennsylvania. This series is a record of those discussions.

LJS 102 –Zena nagaromu and hymns

The very first manuscript we discussed is LJS 102, which isn’t medieval at all. Rather it’s an early 20th century manuscript from Ethiopia that represents a very long and established manuscript culture – similar in some ways, we think, to the manuscript culture being shown in The Last Jedi.

Screenshots from the film and images from The Art of Star Wars are used under the Fair Use doctrine described in Section 107 of the Copyright Act (https://www.copyright.gov/title17/92chap1.html#107)


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Sacred Texts: Codices Far, Far Away

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, Luke Skywalker gathered a small library of ancient Jedi texts and placed them in an uneti tree on Ahch-To.

Ancient Jedi Texts

On October 8, 2018, Dr. Brandon Hawk and curator Dot Porter met to talk about these ancient books, and to compare them with manuscripts from the collection of the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts at the University of Pennsylvania.

We’re publishing our conversations as a series of video clips, which we’ll publish on the YouTube Channel of the Schoenberg Institute for Manuscript Studies. You can subscribe to the series here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=snI2mkZ7hgw&list=PL8e3GREu0zuDCBZ1zju_uWTP5yiB5ZX75

We’ll release a new clip every couple of weeks until Star Wars Episode 9 is released on December 20th, 2019. We hope you’ll come along for our journey!

Six leaves as illustrated in the The Art of Star Wars: The Last Jedi by Phil Szostak

Folio 11v in University of Pennsylvania LJS 449

Screenshots from the film and images from The Art of Star Wars are used under the Fair Use doctrine described in Section 107 of the Copyright Act (https://www.copyright.gov/title17/92chap1.html#107)


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Manuscript Monday: LJS 286 – Tadhkirah uṣūl handasah al-ḥisāb li-Uqlīdis

Dot Porter, Curator, Digital Research Services at the University of Pennsylvania Library, offers a video orientation to Penn Library’s LJS 286, Tadhkirah uṣūl handasah al-ḥisāb li-Uqlīdis. This manuscript was written by Naṣīr al-Dīn Muḥammad ibn Muḥammad Ṭūsī in Persia around A.H. 890 (1485), in Arabic, and it is a commentary on Euclid’s Elements, with numerous diagrams in and marginal annotations around the text and additional commentary on leaves following the text.

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 and an eBook version of the manuscript (epub format) from ScholarlyCommons, the University of Pennsylvania’s open access institutional repository.

 


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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.