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


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Stars on the Small Screen: Creating Digital Editions of Penn’s Astronomical Manuscripts

by Aylin Malcolm

The first time that I handled medieval manuscripts was nearly the last time. It was the final semester of my undergraduate degree, and my Middle English class was visiting Rare Books. After viewing a selection of Islamic and of Christian manuscripts, we concluded the class by passing a hefty facsimile of the Rothschild Miscellany around the room. Just as I was handed the facsimile, my professor announced that it had cost over $10 000, and I nearly dropped it in shock. It was probably for the best that I did not learn the value of original manuscript codices until I was a graduate student.

The Rothschild Miscellany (Jerusalem, Israel Museum MS 180/51).

The wonder that I felt that day, both at the manuscripts (and facsimiles) themselves and at being permitted to touch such precious objects, highlights one of the dilemmas of this field, which we might frame as a conflict between the present and past uses of manuscripts. Today, premodern manuscripts are valuable, irreplaceable objects, and every opportunity to handle them must be weighed against the risk of degradation. Yet while some manuscripts were created for display purposes, many others were designed to be annotated and manipulated by generations of readers. Understanding these objects often requires us to engage with them in the personal, tactile ways that their creators intended, a privilege generally reserved for those with institutional access and specialized training.

The recent proliferation of manuscript images and metadata has therefore both raised questions and created opportunities for new types of work. Digital facsimiles cannot replicate the experience of viewing original manuscripts, nor fully capture their smells, sizes, or textures. Yet digital resources can prompt us to ask new kinds of questions before we settle down with the objects themselves, and can allow for more extensive research on texts too brittle for frequent viewing. Moreover, digital tools can offer us new ways of combining and annotating manuscripts. Examples include the Fragmentarium project and the Mirador viewer, both of which allow users to assemble and compare manuscripts from different repositories.

Inspired by resources like these, I set out this summer to create two digital tools based on late medieval manuscripts in the Kislak Center’s collections. The first, a series of interactive diagrams from a copy of Johannes de Sacrobosco’s De sphaera mundi (MS Codex 1881, fols. 15r-36v), is designed for students and specialists who are interested in premodern astronomy and scientific illustrations. The second project, an edition of an astronomical miscellany (LJS 445) that is intended for a broader audience, places the emphasis on how readers through the centuries altered this manuscript by annotating, cutting, and rebinding its pages.

UPenn LJS 445, endpaper stub and fol. 1r.

As Nicholas Herman writes in his Manuscript Monday blog post, MS Codex 1881 contains several Latin texts that were central to the basic astronomy curriculum of later medieval Europe. These include the Theorica planetarum attributed to Gerard of Cremona and Johannes de Sacrobosco’s De sphaera mundi, both of which had appeared in print before this manuscript was copied. Yet the most striking feature of MS Codex 1881 may be its numerous, intricate, and text-heavy images, such as its fascinating diagram of the seven climes.


Climata diagram from fol. 33v of MS Codex 1881.

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Adding to the story of Ms. Codex 615

Admont shelfmark

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.


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My Virtual Classroom Visit: One Professor’s Experience

Today we welcome Dr. Megan Cook, Assistant Professor of English at Colby College, to talk about her experience bringing SIMS into her classroom through a Virtual Classroom Visit. We offer VCV’s for instructors an institutions that don’t have their own strong special collections holdings. If you’re interested in a VCV please contact us, but be sure to check with your local librarians first! You might be surprised by what’s available on your own campus.

I teach in the English department of a small liberal arts college in rural Maine. As a medievalist and a book historian, I consider myself hugely fortunate to be teaching at a moment when increasingly large numbers of medieval manuscripts are being digitized and made available online, but even these have their limitations.

Until some friendly donor buys us our own medieval codex, I’m looking for ways to give my students a better sense of the materiality of early books: not only what they look like in a two-dimensional photograph, but how ink sits on parchment, how bindings fall open to a frequently referenced page, how a manuscript sits in the hands.

In the past, I’ve made use of the video introductions to some of the University of Pennsylvania manuscripts available online. This semester, I took things a step farther, and arranged for a virtual visit to Penn’s collections with Dot Porter, a Curator at the Kislak Center for Special Collections at Penn, for my class on the Global Middle Ages. This visit would allow my students to see, up close and in real time, some manuscripts related to our work in the class.

In my class on the global middle ages, we study travel literature from Christian, Muslim, and Jewish traditions. Through texts like Marco Polo’s Book of Wonders of the World, Ibn Battutah’s Travels, and the account of Benjamin of Tudela, students come to understand that a significant body of shared knowledge and ideas about the shape of the world circulated among writers of diverse backgrounds in the later Middle Ages. We note, for example, how often discussions of Gog and Magog appear in travel writing when it turns its attention toward central Asia, and trace a fondness for the Alexander stories shared by writers from all three traditions.

Although Penn does not have manuscripts of any of the texts we were reading in class, their collection includes numerous titles in Latin, Arabic, and Hebrew. Dot helped me plan the class by identifying several texts (mostly of the scientific variety) that Penn has copies of in all three languages. A complete list of the manuscripts we looked at is appended to this post.

A note on the tech side of things: at Colby, I’m fortunate to have access to an “experimental” classroom with a series of flat screens mounted on the walls (in addition to the standard LED projector) that can be paired with laptops or other devices using AirMedia. Dot and I wound up using Zoom, which we both found to be a more stable alternative to Skype that offered a higher quality of video connection. We created a group meeting on Zoom, and connected a series of laptops to individual screens in my classroom. With the laptops and their paired screens connected to the group meeting, Dot’s feed was broadcast to four screens around the classroom. Students could gather around individual in groups of four or five, so that no one was more than a few feet away from a screen and could see the details over the feed.

For many of my students, this was the first time they had seen a medieval book being manipulated in real time. Because of the high quality of the connection, they were able to observe small details like the grain of the parchment and the mark where the point of a compass had been placed to make a diagram showing the movement of the stars. We also discussed some of the paratextual elements and signs of use and ownership that accompany almost all medieval books, and which can be minimized or omitted entirely in some digital facsimiles– end papers and binding, as well as marginalia and visible wear on particularly interesting or important pages.

Though my students did not necessarily connect what we were looking at with our reading, this small exercise has allowed them to treat the other evidence we’ve looked at with a more critical and informed eye. As we close the semester, we are reading Mandeville’s Travels, the great and highly fictionalized account of a (probably fictional) Englishman’s travels throughout the known world. Mandeville’s Travels was a medieval bestseller, and translated into a wide array of languages. Having seen the manuscripts we looked at with Dot, my students are able to ask smarter questions about what the manuscript evidence can tell us: they want to know if a particular book is illustrated, what other kinds of texts it appears alongside, and even what kind of material it was written on.

Book historians know that these questions matter and these non-textual clues often unlock big mysteries about a work’s origins and circulation. Although our visit with Dot in some ways raised more questions than answers, it certainly piqued students’ curiosity and appetite for more encounters with medieval books.


Manuscripts we looked at during the visit (Penn in Hand is a page-turning view, while OPenn contains data suitable for download and reuse):

The first two manuscripts contain versions of the same text, written in different parts of the world and almost 300 years apart.

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LJS 459, fol. 1v

LJS 459 Sirr al-asrar

Language: Arabic

Origin: Probably written in Mosul, Iraq, between 1193 and 1211 (reign of owner named on f. 1r).

Date: between 1193 and 1211

Place: Mosul?, Iraq

Summary: Early copy of the long form of this popular treatise presented as a letter from Aristotle to Alexander the Great on statecraft, astronomy, astrology, magic, and medicine. The ending of the manuscript is missing; the text breaks off during a discussion of magical alphabets.

 

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Ms. Codex 864, fol. 1r

Ms. Codex 864 – [Extract from Secretum secretorum]

 Language: Latin

Origin: Written in Germany, 1450-1499 (Zacour-Hirsch).

Date: 1450-1499

Place: Germany

Summary: A portion of a work purporting to be a letter of advice from Aristotle to Alexander the Great.

 

The next four manuscripts illustrate the popularity of the astronomical works of Johannes de Sacro Bosco and Georg von Peuerbach over time and across geographical areas.

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LJS 42, fol. 31v

LJS 42 – Bet Elohim

Language: Hebrew

Origin: Written in Thessalonikē (Salonika), Greece, 1551 (f. 76r, 168r).

Date: 1551

Place: Thessalonikē

Summary: Commentary on Solomon ben Abraham Avigdor’s Hebrew translation of Joannes de Sacro Bosco’s Sphaera mundi, followed by a commentary on a Hebrew translation, possibly by Almosnino himself, of Georg von Peurbach’s Theoricae novae planetarum, with the assistance of Aharon Afia. This copy was made 5 years after the works were composed in 1546 (f. 168r). Almosnino’s commentary on Sacro Bosco includes the earliest reference in Jewish literature to Amerigo Vespucci and America (f. 23v), among discussion of other geographical discoveries.

 

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LJS 26, fol. 10r

LJS 26 – Algorismus : Tractatum de sphaera [aka Sacro Bosco]

Language: Latin

Origin: Written in Italy in the mid-13th century.

Date: between 1225 and 1275

Place: Italy

Summary: Treatise on the fundamentals of arithmetic (Algorismus), followed by a treatise on cosmography that describes and illustrates the Ptolemaic model of a spherical earth divided into climactic zones at the center of the concentric spheres of the universe. The second treatise has marginal notes in the same ink and possibly hand as the text, as well as notes in a later cursive hand in faint ink and a bifolium written in this later hand bound in (f. 23-24).

 

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LJS 494, fol. 1v

LJS 494:  [Marʼeh ha-ofanim]

Language: Hebrew

Origin: Written in northern Italy in the second quarter of the 15th century (based on watermark information).

Date: between 1425 and 1450

Place: Italy

Summary: Hebrew translation of a fundamental treatise on medieval astronomy and cosmology [ed. Sacro Bosco] that describes and illustrates the Ptolemaic model of a spherical earth divided into climactic zones at the center of the concentric spheres of the universe. Followed by Ruaḥ ha-ḥen, a 13th-century philosophical work that was a popular introduction to science, here attributed to Yehudah ibn Tibon. It has also been attributed to Jacob ben Abba Mari ben Samson Anatoli and Zeraḥyah ha-Yeṿani. Occasional marginal notes. Final page contains Hebrew notes and pen trials by various hands (f. 22v).

 

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Animated gif of diagram Theorica motuum et orbium spherae solis, LJS 64, p. 8

LJS 64: [Illustrations to Georg von Peurbach’s Novae theoricae planetarum]

Language: Latin

Origin: Written in northern Italy, probably Padua, in the mid-16th century.

Date: between 1525 and 1575

Place: Padua?, Italy

Summary: Diagrams, many with moving parts, designed to accompany the work Theoricae novae planetarum by 15th-century Austrian astronomer Georg von Peurbach, who taught at the universities in Padua and Ferrara. The diagrams demonstrate increasingly complex planetary motion. An early 17th-century inscription on the first flyleaf refers to an edition of Peurbach published in Venice in 1616.

 


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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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Penn Libraries Announces New MOOC: “The History of Medieval Medicine through Jewish Manuscripts”

The Penn Libraries is proud to announce the launch of the first Massive Open Online Course Collaboration (MOOC) from the Herbert D. Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies and the Schoenberg Institute for Manuscript Studies: “The History of Medieval Medicine through Jewish Manuscripts.”

Launching on June 1st, this online mini-course is a general introduction both to medieval medicine and to the value of manuscript study taught by Professor Y. Tzvi Langermann, Professor of Arabic at Israel’s Bar-Ilan University and last year’s Schoenberg Institute for Manuscript Studies-Herbert D. Katz Center Jewish Manuscript Studies Fellow. Professor Langermann presents a case study that builds from a unique manuscript codex produced in the 15th century containing three important medical manuscripts in Judeo-Arabic (Arabic in Hebrew characters). Compiled in Sicily by a physician identified as David ben Shalom, the manuscript bears witness to the rich cultural exchanges among Latin, Jewish, and Arabic communities during this time, especially in the sciences. In this course, Professor Langermann not only walks the student through the basics of medical knowledge, training,

Langermann

and practice in the Jewish Middle Ages and beyond, but also shows how clues gleaned from elements of a particular manuscript (such as marginal notes, mistakes, and handwriting) shed light on the purpose, use, and readership of these texts. The course includes eight 5–7 minute long video lectures that explore the highlights of this extraordinary manuscript.

 

“The History of Medieval Medicine through Jewish Manuscripts” is offered free to anyone with an internet connection at http://www.edX.org (search the term “Langermann”). The course is self-paced and takes about 2 hours to complete. The content will not be inaccessible to the novice, but the nature of the material and the level of scholarship should interest graduate students and colleagues from a range of disciplines. There is an active discussion forum, and a link to the full manuscript in digital form. The course will initially be monitored by a TA with specialties in medieval Jewish history, and Hebrew and Judeo Arabic language. Professor Langermann himself will also occasionally participate in the discussions and respond to student queries.

 


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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.

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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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Penn Libraries’ OPenn Manuscript Portal to Host the Country’s Largest Regional Collections of Digitized Medieval Manuscripts

Free Library of Philadelphia Lewis E 7, Processional, f. 116v (http://libwww.freelibrary.org/medievalman/ecw.cfm?ItemID=mca0071162)

Free Library of Philadelphia Lewis E 7, Processional, f. 116v (http://libwww.freelibrary.org/medievalman/ecw.cfm?ItemID=mca0071162)

Philadelphia, PA, January 6th, 2016—The Penn Libraries is proud to announce their role as online host and one of the leaders in a partnership that will create the country’s largest regional collection of digitized medieval manuscripts. This role is made possible through a grant of almost $500,000 awarded to Bibliotheca Philadelphiensis, a new project organized by the Philadelphia Area Consortium of Special Collections Libraries (PACSCL) and funded by the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) with generous support from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

The project, involving a total of 15 partner institutions, and led by the Penn Libraries, the Free Library of Philadelphia, and Lehigh University, will complete the digitization and online presentation of virtually all of the region’s medieval manuscripts – a total of almost 160,000 pages from more than 400 individual volumes. PACSCL first showcased the variety and depth of Philadelphia collections in a 2001 exhibition, “Leaves of Gold: Manuscript Illumination from Philadelphia Collections,” at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.  The exhibition and its associated catalogue drew heavily upon the manuscripts to be digitized in this project and sparked a surge in scholarly interest in the Philadelphia collections.

The manuscripts in this project range from simple but functional texts intended for the students of science, philosophy, and religion to jewel-like works of art in the collections of such institutions as Bryn Mawr College, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the Free Library of Philadelphia’s Rosenbach Museum.

Bibliotheca Philadelphiensis’ images and metadata will be hosted by the Penn Libraries’ manuscript portal, OPenn (http://openn.library.upenn.edu). The images will be released into the public domain at high resolution and available for download (by the page, manuscript, or collection) with descriptive metadata. “Penn Libraries is thrilled to be collaborating with the Philadelphia Area Consortium of Special Collections Libraries to create data on the Middle Ages for the twenty-first century from American collections,” remarked William Noel, Director of the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts at the Penn Libraries.

The project participants include the following area libraries and museums: Bryn Mawr College, Chemical Heritage Foundation, College of Physicians of Philadelphia, Franklin and Marshall College, Free Library of Philadelphia (lead contributor and co-principal investigator) Haverford College, Lehigh University (principal investigator, fiscal agent, and dark archive), Library Company of Philadelphia, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Rosenbach Museum and Library, Swarthmore College, Temple University, University of Delaware, University of Pennsylvania (OPenn host and lead imaging/metadata center), Villanova University.

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About the Penn Libraries
The Penn Libraries serve the world-class faculty and students of Penn’s 12 schools. The Libraries’ collections comprise more than 7 million volumes, over 100,000 journals, some 2 million digitized images, and extraordinary rare and unique materials that document the intellectual and cultural experience of ancient and modern civilizations. Through our collaborative relationships, we supplement Penn’s great local collections with physical access to the Center for Research Libraries (approximately 5 million items), the combined holdings of the Ivies (more than 70 million volumes), and exclusive electronic access to some 2 million public domain titles in the HathiTrust. Today, the Libraries play an instrumental role in developing new technologies for information discovery and dissemination and are noted for groundbreaking work in digital library design.  To learn more about the Penn Libraries, visit http://www.library.upenn.edu.

Press Contact:
Sara Leavens
lesara@upenn.edu