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

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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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LJS 229 paper at Gersonides conference in Geneva

Charles Manekin, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Maryland, gave a paper this week about LJS 229, a Hebrew manuscript commentary on commentaries by Averroës  on Aristotle and Porphyry, at a conference at the University of Geneva.  The conference, “Everyone contested his views, no one denied his importance” — Gersonides through the Ages, focused on the transmission and reception of the works of medieval Jewish philosopher and astronomer Gersonides.  Professor Manekin started working with LJS 229 last spring, while holding the Ellie and Herbert D. Katz Distinguished Fellowship at the Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies, and discovered that the unidentified author of these commentaries was a member of the school of Gersonides.  Available online are a description by Professor Manekin of the manuscript and its context; the catalog record for the manuscript; and a full digital facsimile.

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Penn Ms. Codex 201, Presented by students in The World of Manuscripts Freshman Seminar (ENGL 016.304)

Dispatch from Will Noel:

Last semester I had the very great pleasure of teaching a Freshman  Seminar, The World of Manuscripts, with Penn’s own Peter Stallybrass.  It was a wide ranging course that took advantage not only of the special collections in the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts, but also the phenomenal manuscript  holdings in other institutions in Philadelphia, including those of the Penn Museum (special thanks to Steve Tinney), The Library Company (where we were educated by Jim Green), and the Free Library of Philadelphia (where we were generously hosted by Janine Pollock). We studied cuneiform tablets, illuminated manuscripts, drafts of the Constitution, and the letters of Mary Shelley.  We had fabulous students, Alexandra Pierson, James Bessolo, Linda Valadez, and Patricia Kamwela, who made a particular study of Penn’s Wycliffite New Testament, Ms. Codex 201, which they transcribed using the online transcription tool T-PEN, run out of St Louis by the magical Jim Ginther and his associates.  As part of the course the students made a short movie of their work, produced in the Kislak Center, with the help of Dot Porter and Dennis Mullen.  Here it is. Congratulations and thanks to all involved!

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Dr. Will Noel, on the Physical Collation of Manuscripts

Dr. Will Noel, director of the Kislak Special Collections Center for Rare Books & Manuscripts and the Schoenberg Institute for Manuscript Studies at the University of Pennsylvania Library, speaking at the Delaware Valley Medieval Association Meeting, September 21, 2013, on the physical collation of manuscripts. Visit the Rare Book School Global Digital Library Symposium at .

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MESA, the Medieval Electronic Scholarly Alliance.

Dot Porter speaking about MESA, the Medieval Electronic Scholarly Alliance (MESA), and about Manuscript Mondays at Penn. Presented at the Delaware Valley Medieval Association Meeting. September 21, 2013, at the Kislak Special Collections Center of the University of Pennsylvania Library.

Dot Porter is the Curator for Digital Research Services at the University of Pennsylvania Library and is a member of the Schoenberg Institute for Manuscript Studies, and a founding co-Director of MESA.

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The Dispersal of the Medieval Libraries of Great Britain

(Reblogging from Mapping Books)

“Today I’m teaching a workshop on using “screen scraping” in the digital humanities. No workshop is really useful without practical examples so last week I decided to try out my screen scraping chops on an exciting  new database of book history data. The Kislak Center at Penn (where I’m Scholar in Residence) is quickly becoming one of the most important sites for book and manuscript provenance research and I wanted to see what I could do to highlight the potential for making extant provenance data more useful through new visualizations.

Several years ago, a few of the scholars behind the monumental Corpus of British medieval library catalogues project (now at fifteen volumes) led by Richard Sharpe began working on an online database to update and provide access to the wealth of information on medieval manuscripts contained in Neil Ker’s Medieval Libraries of Great Britain (1941, 1964, and 1987). These volumes include accounts of books and manuscripts known to survive today which once were owned within Great Britain before the mid-16th century. Recently, through grants from the Mellon foundation and others, the team has taken much of this information and made it available online in the MLGB3 searchable database. The site appears to be in beta mode at the moment and intermittently accessible but when it launches fully it will be an amazing resource and the culmination of a good deal of work by Sharpe and others. Looking through the database I was especially intrigued by the wealth of data on the current location of many of these medieval books and manuscripts. Given how comprehensive and detailed the project data is, even at this stage, I wanted to get a sense of what kind of picture would develop if we looked at the points of origin and current location of all these manuscripts in aggregate.”

For the full post visit

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Classroom debut of a new manuscript

The Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books & Manuscripts has just acquired an early 14th-century manuscript of Thomas of Ireland’s Manipulus Florum.  The Penn community has the opportunity to see the manuscript tomorrow evening at an open meeting of the Graduate Paleography Group, at 5 pm in the Vitale 2 Digital Media Lab in the Kislak Center.  Please join us! Emily Steiner, professor of English at the University of Pennsylvania, has a research interest in medieval reference works and was the faculty organizer for last year’s Schoenberg Symposium on Manuscript Studies in the Digital Age, with the theme of Taxonomies of Knowledge. This fall she is teaching a graduate seminar on Piers Plowman. Here she writes about the first use of the manuscript in her (or anyone’s!) classroom.

Ms. Codex 1640, Headings A-D, with Abstinence and Conscience

Ms. Codex 1640, Headings A-D, with Abstinence and Conscience

I was thrilled to have the opportunity last week to show my graduate class Penn’s new acquisition, UPenn Ms. Codex 1640, the lovely manuscript of the Manipulus Florum (A Handful of Flowers). As it happened, the students and I were discussing the most famous episode in William Langland’s Piers Plowman, a 7,000-line alliterative poem written in England in the mid-fourteenth century. In this episode, in passus 7 of Piers Plowman, Piers and a priest have an argument about what kind of learning is required to understand the requirements for Christian salvation. Piers says, “Abstinence the Abbess taught me my a.b.c., and Conscience came after her and taught me much more.” Piers seems as if he’s saying, “you don’t need to be learned – you just need to be good!” but actually he is referring to medieval reference books like the Manipulus Florum, alphabetically-ordered key words indexes, from which preachers could easily put together sermons, even if they didn’t have access to a big library. “Abstinence,” “Abbess,” and “Conscience,” are very typical keywords in such reference books. Penn’s Manipulus Florum, which contains the entry for “Conscience,” as well as the heading for its mostly missing (first) entry on “Abstinence,” is a perfect example of the kind of book to which the poet, Langland, probably had access, and to which he owed his conception of literacy. For a medieval writer, a book like the Manipulus Florum was similar to today’s Wikipedia: a seemingly complete source of cultural information.

Emily Steiner,

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13th Century Entanglements, Part 2

Katelyn Mesler received her Ph.D. from Northwestern University in 2012.  In 2012-2013, she held the Erika A. Strauss Teaching Fellowship at the Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies, and she is currently a Mandel Fellow in the Scholion Interdisciplinary Research Center in the Humanities and Jewish Studies (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem).  She has published several articles on topics ranging from medieval Christian eschatology to magic, medicine, and science in the medieval Jewish and Christian traditions.  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. Mesler chose LJS 449, and her text from the exhibit follows.

If You Find an Engraved Stone: The Transmission of Science and Magic

Among the scientific writings of Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages are treatises known as Lapidaries, short encyclopedic works on the properties of stones and minerals. One type of lapidary, exemplified by Marbode of Rennes’s famous Latin work On Stones, listed the name of each stone (often alphabetically), followed by details such as their color, where they are found, and any special “virtues” or powers that the stone possesses (such as the loadstone’s power of attraction or the bezoar’s reputation as an antidote for poison). Another type of lapidary was concerned with the symbolic meaning of the twelve biblical stones of the high priest’s breastplate and the heavenly Jerusalem.

The Techel/Azareus Complex, pictured here, is a Latin lapidary in which engravings of astrological symbols are said to imbue the stones with powers. The prologue (in red) offers an origin story for the text and the stones it describes: “In the name of the Lord, Amen. This is Cheel’s great, precious, and secret little book of the sigils that the children of Israel made in the desert after their departure from Egypt, in accordance with the motion and course of the planets and constellations.” Entries for the stones begin with the phrase “If you find…” and then describe in detail the images, based largely on Greco-Roman astrological iconography, that one might find engraved on a stone. The reader is then instructed on the special virtues and magical uses of any stone that meets the description.

The origins of the Techel/Azareus Complex remain a mystery, but the text has roots and parallels in the Greek and Arabic lapidary traditions. The oldest identified copy of this Latin lapidary dates to the twelfth century. In the course of the next few centuries, it was translated into several vernacular languages and became one of the most widely circulated and cited of all medieval lapidaries. Notably, the text was also translated into Hebrew (via Anglo-Norman) in the thirteenth century. By the end of the Middle Ages, two more Jewish versions had appeared: one written in Italian in Hebrew characters and a second Hebrew version (via Castilian and Catalan) that may have originated outside the Latin tradition. The lapidary in all its versions is part of a wider movement in the Middle Ages to transmit and translate scientific works, bridging not only ancient and medieval traditions but also cultural, linguistic, and religious ones.


Penn Manuscript Collective: Students to Crowdsource Manuscript Transcriptions

Sophomore John Baranik takes a break from his busy schedule on a weekday to talk to me about a new group called the Penn Manuscript Collective.  The Collective was formed by Professor Peter Stallybrass in the Fall semester of 2012 while he was teaching the Freshman Seminar, The Bible as Literature.  The class took a hands-on approach, examining medieval and early modern Bibles in the Special Collections Center and students were turning in exciting papers based on original research with primary documents.  John was a freshman in this class in his first semester at Penn.

letter research pic

He got the book history bug in the seminar and in the Spring he took another class with Stallybrass and Roger Chartier, a regular visitor to Penn from the Collège de France in Paris: Topics in History of the Book: Printing, Writing and Reading in Early Modern Europe.  He describes the sample alphabet he and undergraduate Ben Notkin created using cropped images of each letter of the alphabet found in the manuscript of the Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin.  They analyzed the text using the online digital copy provided by the Huntington Library, where the original is housed.  They wanted to determine if Franklin himself was making these corrections, and for what purpose, so they used the alphabet to examine the hand used to make corrections to the text.  It turns out that Franklin was most likely making the corrections himself and they were mainly for stylistic purposes, and not self-censorship.

alphabet 1

It was a success like this that sparked the idea for the Collective.  Stallybrass wanted to ensure that the time-intensive research his students were doing would continue to be of use in the future, for full-text searching capabilities, scholarly digital editions, and other imaginings.   So the Penn Manuscript Collective was formed to create a platform for the crowdsourcing of transcriptions of manuscripts in the Penn Libraries’ collections.  Both undergraduates and graduate students can participate by examining documents that are of scholarly interest to them and creating their own transcriptions.

Stallybrass is searching for the right digital transcription tool to use for the project, one that will allow students to focus line-by-line on digitized texts of their choosing as well as to collaborate on shared projects.  There are a number of free open-source transcription tools available right now that could work for the Collective.  T-Pen, which is often used to transcribe medieval and renaissance manuscripts, uses image mapping to create a grid on each page image divided by the visible columns and lines on the page.  The transcriber can enter a line transcription into the box available below the line, as well as make notes about their editorial choices.  There are links to the Latin Vulgate, a Latin dictionary and an index of common abbreviations.  A new experimental feature available is glyph matching between manuscripts that are in T-Pen’s image cache.

Other options include Scripto, FromThePage, and WikiBooks.  Of these options, Scripto will probably be the choice for the Penn Manuscript Collective.  The Penn Libraries are going to begin supporting Omeka for library-related digital projects and Scripto works as a plug-in to Omeka or WordPress.  Scripto uses MediaWiki as the content management system.  The program itself allows a side- by-side comparison of the image and the transcription and the ability to look at all drafts too.  While it lacks some of the nice features of T-Pen, it has some advantages.  It can be installed quickly, it’s easy to use, and it makes more sense for a project with a broad scope of materials like this one.  Check out this demo in Sandbox to try out Scripto nested in Omeka:

Stallybrass and his students are already organizing a Penn Manuscript Collective conference.  They are meeting on January 31 at 4:00PM for participants to share their research and experiences.   If you are an undergraduate or graduate student interested in participating in the Penn Manuscript Collective, email John Baranik at

Learn more about some of the transcription tools mentioned above: