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


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In the Reading Room with the Manuscripts of the Online Exhibit “A Liberal Arts Education for the (Middle) Ages: Texts, Translations, and Study.”

by Christine E. Bachman

LJS 101, folio 1v-2r.

As the 2019-2020 SIMS Graduate Student Research Fellow, I have spent the past several months sifting through the collections of the University of Pennsylvania Libraries, searching for evidence of how the liberal arts were studied in the middle ages. The result of this search is the new online exhibit “A Liberal Arts Education for the (Middle) Ages: Texts, Translations, and Study” https://ljs101.exhibits.library.upenn.edu/. The exhibit explores the study of the liberal arts, the texts of Boethius, and the intellectual life of early medieval monasteries through a selection of manuscripts from the collections of the University of Pennsylvania Libraries. Here I would like to share my experience working in the reading room with some of the manuscripts that are featured in the exhibit. Looking closely at the original manuscripts has allowed me to observe the physical traces of the individuals who made, read, and studied them, and from this to better understand the human dimension of their production and use.

My search began with LJS 101, a Carolingian copy of Boethius’s translation of and commentary on Aristotle’s logical text, De Interpretatione. Examining the original manuscript, I was able to see its structure and how the pages were folded and arranged before being sewn together.  I was able to confirm that the collation of the first seven quires corresponded with that outlined by Jesse McDowell: https://schoenberginstitute.org/2015/11/16/an-ideal-collation-of-ljs-101/. I also verified the reordering of the last two quires suggested by Dot Porter: http://www.dotporterdigital.org/reading-and-writing-philadelphia-university-of-pennsylvania-ljs-101-c-850-1100/. I was able to study the pricking and ruling and observe how changes in the layout of the pages corresponded with changes in the writing and collation. For example, there is a notable change of scribes between fols. 36v and 37r. Not only does this change occur at a quire break, but I was also able to see that the page layout changes at the same point in the manuscript. The margins become smaller and an extra line of text is included in the ruling. Working with the physical manuscript provided these important clues to how LJS 101 was made and used by many individuals as part of a monastic community and as an educational textbook.

MS Codex 1058, folio 1v-2r.

It is within the same type of Carolingian monastic community that MS Codex 1058, a glossed Psalter dated to ca. 1100, was made. Upon first being presented with MS Codex 1058, I was immediately struck by its size. Its spine is thick, but the book fits easily in my hands. You can get a sense of the size of MS Codex 1058 in this video orientation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jRNBAPekAXQ&feature=emb_logo. Physically experiencing this makes it easy to imagine a medieval owner carrying the book and using it for meticulous, personal reading. The small text of the gloss makes it necessary to hold the book close to be able to decipher it. This is made easier by the small size of the manuscript. Handling MS Codex 1058 reinforced my understanding of how someone would use this manuscript for private reading, study, and prayer, the function of many early medieval Psalters.

MS Codex 1629, folio 1-r.

A similarly close engagement with the text is apparent through different physical indications in MS Codex 1629, a fourteenth-century commentary on the Commentaria ad Herrenium, the foundational ancient text for the study of Latin rhetoric. It is simply decorated with a red, flourished initial at the beginning of the text. It has been heavily used and contains numerous notes throughout. When looking at the manuscript in the reading room, I was able to see on several pages traces of erased writing faintly visible under the fourteenth-century text. These have been identified as legal documents. Being able to see this reuse of the parchment in MS Codex 1629 made the connection between the law and rhetoric that had existed since antiquity uniquely tangible for me.

LJS 57, pages 112-113.

In LJS 57, a Hebrew astronomical anthology of ca. 1361, it is evident that readers were not only engaging with the text, but also with the images. Within the pages of LJS 57 are magnificent illustrations of the constellations and diagrams of the celestial sphere. You can view these images using the digital facsimile of the manuscript: http://dla.library.upenn.edu/dla/medren/pageturn.html?q=ljs%2057&id=MEDREN_9948521743503681&. When looking at these images in person it is clear that readers have been constantly drawn to them during the course of the manuscript’s existence. The manuscript naturally falls open at the diagrams of the celestial sphere on pgs. 112-113 and those pages are visibly darkened compared to the other pages because they have been more frequently handled. These are the physical marks of the attention lavished on LJS 57 by its many readers.

At a time when we have been driven to increasingly experience objects virtually, including these manuscripts through the online exhibit, these reflections can serve as a reminder that these manuscripts are physical objects, designed to be handled, studied, and read. In the same way that I interact with the book by turning the pages, feeling the quality of the parchment, leaning closer to read the text, and sensing the weight of the book in my hands, so have countless others. These type of physical interactions between the book and the individuals making and using it are an essential component of how the books were designed and how they must be understood.


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SIMS hosts Advanced Imaging Data for Early Palimpsest from The Hill Museum & Manuscript Library

By Michael B. Toth, President of R.B. Toth Associates

On May 18, 2020, the Schoenberg Institute of Manuscript Studies (SIMS) began hosting image data on OPenn for its 48th data repository, the Hill Museum & Manuscript Library (HMML) a library and cultural heritage organization located in Collegeville, Minnesota. The new addition is a palimpsest manuscript leaf (a bifolium) from a Georgian book of liturgical chants dating to the late 10th century. The palimpsest, whose earlier writing was scrubbed-off so the parchment could be reused, is SJU Ms Frag 32 and contains two erased Syriac undertexts written between the 6th-8th centuries. The fragment, part of HMML’s rare book collection, comes from a larger manuscript that was in circulation in early monastic communities of Mesopotamia and will offer a rich array of information about the production and use of books by religious communities in the ancient Near East.

The HMML palimpsest, SJU Ms Frag 32, joins the Archimedes and Syriac Galen palimpsests on the SIMS OPenn site, and brings together data collected across a year and a half of wide-ranging digitization studies and experiments. This work spans the United States with the support of multiple institutions, disciplines, and technologies. With the HMML Palimpsest data and metadata now freely available on OPenn, researchers and the general public can access the full set of captured image data and metadata. Information on the palimpsest’s history, collaborative scholarship, and imaging events will be available on HMML.org (and natural light and selected processed images hosted on HMML’s digital library, vHMML.org).

Even before advanced imaging of the HMML Palimpsest, the scholarly research team at HMML began piecing together the history of the parchment fragment. As Melissa Moreton, HMML Assistant Director for Strategic Initiatives, noted:

“SJU Ms Frag 32 was initially described only as a bifolium in Armenian, likely copied in the 17th-century. HMML’s Curator of Western Collections Matthew Heintzelman noticed faint traces of erased writing and HMML’s Armenian cataloger, Malina Zakian, noted that the upper text was in fact Georgian, not Armenian, and much earlier than the 17th century. Though the Syriac underwriting was only faintly visible, HMML Executive Director Columba Stewart and Curator of Eastern Christian Manuscripts, David Calabro, were excited to see that it resembled a very early style of script – a rare find!”

As a palimpsest, all the information in SJU Ms Frag 32 could not be seen when viewed in natural light. When Fr. Stewart mentioned this palimpsest to me, I readily agreed it would be a great candidate for narrowband multispectral imaging during testing of our latest imaging system in our Washington DC area labs. Little did we know how complicated this palimpsest was – and the amount of imaging that would ultimately be required over the next 18 months to gather all the information the laws of physics currently allow. In a much longer tale than this piece allows, in collaboration with HMML and others, we ended up imaging the HMML Palimpsest not only in narrow bands of ultraviolet, visible and infrared light, but also with a powerful X-ray synchrotron in California.

The latter was accomplished with a team of scientists and technical experts at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory. From these XRF images the scholars concluded the palimpsest contained not just one, but two layers of Syriac undertext from the 6th and 8th centuries. Additional scholarly research will be required to truly analyze and understand the large amounts of data from all this imaging.

After the imaging was completed, we then transferred to SIMS all the captured image data from the multispectral and XRF imaging as TIFF images with the help of Doug Emery and Jessica Dummer at the University of Pennsylvania Libraries. Thanks to their work, the complex sets of image data were ingested without any apparent issues. SIMS’s high data standards and focus on preserving image data in context led to the creation of the all-important metadata and ReadMe documents and instructions to render them for full digital access and preservation.

The images hosted on OPenn represent two different imaging methods, with another available on the virtual HMML online library, vHMML.org. More information is available in various papers about the imaging, but in order of imaging, the data sets comprise:

1.   Digitization: Digitization starts with good quality color images. The natural light images of SJU Ms Frag 32 were captured at HMML and hosted on vHMML.org. The platform offers users the ability to enhance and compare images with zoom, exposure, and contrast features using the Mirador viewer.

2.   Narrowband Multispectral Imaging (MSI): For each side of the HMML Palimpsest we captured “stacks” of registered images with our integrated multispectral imaging system. This included a Phase One achromatic 100MP camera and the latest Equipoise Imaging narrowband illuminators. Each complete stack took about 5 minutes to capture – which is relatively quick by narrowband imaging standards. These were then digitally processed to produce representative pseudocolor images. With access to the captured MSI images on OPenn, users are able process their own images to meet their research needs and visual acuity (or lack thereof).

3.   X-ray Fluorescence (XRF): Evidence of text that could not be read with optical multispectral imaging then required us to turn to SLAC for XRF scanning at the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource. Each scan took 10-12 hours, half the time of the early Archimedes Palimpsest imaging at SLAC in 2006. Again we wound up with stacks of images, but this time with each created from the energy given off by each element detected on the leaf. These and similarly processed images are also hosted on OPenn.

The range of imaging and the hosting of all this data, even for a single bifolio, takes the support of a broad team and institutions. In addition to the people cited above, this includes Bill Christens-Barry of Equipoise Imaging LLC; Melissa Moreton, David Calabro, Wayne Torborg, Tim Ternes, and others at HMML; Uwe Bergmann, Nick Edwards, Sam Webb, Beam Operators and many others at SLAC SSRL; the team at SIMS and the Kislak Center in the University of Pennsylvania Libraries, as well as Will Noel, now at Princeton Library; Dr. Cerys Jones who just completed her PhD studies at UCL; Kristen St. John, conservators and others in the Stanford University Libraries Preservation Department; SSRL at SLAC supported by the US Department of Energy, Office of Science, Office of Basic Energy Sciences, under Contract No. DE-AC02-76SF00515.

About the author: Michael B. Toth, president of R.B. Toth Associates, is an international leader in the use of advanced imaging solutions for manuscript and cultural heritage studies around the globe and a long-time friend of SIMS. With 30 years of system engineering and program management, he leads teams of technical experts and scholars as they make previously unknown cultural heritage openly available for online research. Mike graduated from Wake Forest in 1979 and worked for the Federal Government for 28 years before heading up R.B. Toth Associates, founded by his father in 1982. http://rbtoth.com.


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Mapping Manuscript Migrations: A New Linked Data Portal for Manuscript Provenance Research

by Emma Cawlfield Thomson

The Mapping Manuscript Migrations portal publicly launched on January 30, 2020 at the Round Four Digging into Data Challenge Conference at the National Science Foundation in Washington DC: https://mappingmanuscriptmigrations.org/

Home Page

The Mapping Manuscript Migrations portal homepage.

The MMM portal enables you to track hundreds of thousands of medieval and Renaissance manuscripts by origin, owner, author, and title. You can also visualize their journeys over the centuries from their place of production to their last known location. The image below demonstrates the migration patterns of manuscripts in the collection of Sir Thomas Phillipps. Each arc indicates the movement of a single manuscript, changing color from blue to red as the manuscript moved from its place of production to its last known location.

MMM uses Linked Open Data principles and technology to combine data from three important manuscript databases:

The portal is the product of two and a half years’ work by the MMM project team, performed across four partner institutions: the University of Oxford (Oxford e-Research Centre and Bodleian Libraries), the University of Pennsylvania (Schoenberg Institute for Manuscript Studies), the Institut de recherche et d’histoire des textes (IRHT-CNRS), and Aalto University (Semantic Computing Research Group).

The MMM project has been funded by the Trans-Atlantic Platform under Round 4 of its Digging into Data Challenge (2017-2020). The national funding agencies contributing to the project are the Economic and Social Research Council (US), the Institute of Museum and Library Services (US), the Agence nationale de la recherche (France), and the Academy of Finland.

To contribute data to the MMM portal, do so via the Schoenberg Database of Manuscripts, which is free and open to all. Once you add your data to the Schoenberg Database, it will automatically flow down a linked data transformation pipeline into MMM.

Access the data and documentation of the MMM project via these pages:

The MMM dataset is available for reuse under a CC-BY-NC 4.0 license.


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Sacred Texts: Codices Far, Far Away – Episode 15, A Retrospective

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.

In this final episode of “Sacred Texts: Codices Far, Far Away” Dot Porter and Brandon Hawk reflect on how the medieval world and manuscripts have been used in the Star Wars saga.

Phil Szostak, The Art of Star Wars: The Last Jedi (https://www.amazon.com/Art-Star-Wars-Last-Jedi/dp/1419727052/)

Images of the “Tree Library” by Seth Engstrom & Rodolfo Damaggio

Mock-ups for six pages from the Jedi books by Chris Kitisakkul

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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Fifty-two discoveries from the BiblioPhilly project, No. 35/52 Michele Zopello, Litterarum simulationis liber; University of Pennsylvania, Lawrence J. Schoenberg Collection, LJS 225, fol. 1r One of the masterpieces of the Lawrence J. Schoenberg Collection at the University of Pennsylvania is the presentation copy of a work on cryptography made for Alfonso da Borgia (1378–1458) during…

via Who was Michele Zopello? — Bibliotheca Philadelphiensis


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Sacred Texts: Codices Far, Far Away – Episode 14, Ms. Codex 1065

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.

Ms. Codex 1065

Since we’ve been looking at bindings, we thought we would take a look at a manuscript that has no binding. MS Codex 1065 is a mid-13th century Latin Vulgate Bible written in England. When the manuscript came to Penn it was in a binding from the early 19th century – it was very common for book collectors to rebind their collections in the 19th century – but it was is such poor condition that it was eventually removed. The book hasn’t been rebound, which makes it difficult to use, but makes it easier to see the quire structure.

Online record and digital images of LJS 459: http://hdl.library.upenn.edu/1017/d/medren/9931765253503681

Phil Szostak, The Art of Star Wars: The Last Jedi (https://www.amazon.com/Art-Star-Wars-Last-Jedi/dp/1419727052/)

Images of the “Tree Library” by Seth Engstrom & Rodolfo Damaggio

Mock-ups for six pages from the Jedi books by Chris Kitisakkul

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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Fifty-two discoveries from the BiblioPhilly project, No. 34/52 Antiphonal, Philadelphia, The Library Company of Philadelphia, MS 19, front cover and fol. 150v The Library Company of Philadelphia possesses a small collection of about twenty Medieval and Renaissance manuscripts, which are interesting on account of their diverse provenance histories. These manuscripts entered the institution at…

via Which Dr. Wickersham? — Bibliotheca Philadelphiensis


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Fifty-two discoveries from the BiblioPhilly project, No. 33/52 Bullarium Augustinianum (Collection of Augustinian Bulls); University of Pennsylvania, Ms. Codex 85, fol. 1r, with border here attributed to the workshop of Giovanni Pietro da Cemmo (doc. 1474–1507) The manuscript we are looking at today—another University of Pennsylvania manuscript—is a collection of papal decrees and bulls pertaining…

via That’s a Bullarium — Bibliotheca Philadelphiensis


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Fifty-two discoveries from the BiblioPhilly project, No. 31/52 Denis Faucher, manuscript additions to Hendrik Herp, Speculum perfectionis (Mirror of Perfection), Venice: Sabio, 1524; University of Pennsylvania, Ms. Codex 1620, fols. 1v, miniature of a Nun on a Cross, and 3r, miniature of the Mememto mori, both by Denis Faucher, after 1524 As we approach…

via Question of the Week: “What will you do when he comes at you with the sickle?” — Bibliotheca Philadelphiensis