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