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


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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.


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Digital Editing and the Medieval Manuscript Roll @ Penn

SIMS was delighted that a group of graduate students from across the country were here at the Penn Libraries last week to make the most of one of our medieval manuscripts and our digital resources.  Judith Weston, one of the graduate student organizers, reported on their experience.

UPenn Ms. Roll 1563, verso (detail)

You don’t have to be an engineer to learn to encode a medieval roll! Penn’s Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts, with the generosity of Penn’s Price Lab for Digital Humanities and the Delaware Valley Medieval Association, hosted a workshop on Digital Editing and the Medieval Manuscript Roll this past weekend, March 30-31, 2018.  This two-day graduate workshop is part of an initiative by Yale’s Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library. Nine graduate students in a variety of disciplines from institutions near (Rutgers) and far (University of Washington) convened to create a digital facsimile of a medieval manuscript roll, complete with searchable transcription and commentary. Graduate students lead and organize the workshops as well, with guest lecturers offering additional expertise. Penn graduate students Judith Weston and Aylin Malcolm organized the Penn iteration of the workshop with the help of Yale graduate students Gina Hurley and Eric Ensley. Over the two-day period, participants acquire the skills to edit digital editions and learn the process of TEI markup by encoding a medieval roll in the collection of the host institution, in this case Ms. Roll 1563, a 15th-century devotional roll written in Latin and Middle English. The workshop kicked off with a session on transcription and cataloguing, lead by Penn graduate students Nathalie Lacarrière and Matt Aiello, with an introduction to Penn’s collection of manuscript rolls by Manuscripts Cataloging Librarian Amey Hutchins. The afternoon consisted of an introduction to text encoding and markup language and the TEI, led by Penn graduate student Mariah Min, Aylin, Eric, and Gina. Day 2 began with Beiler doughnuts and continued with further teaching of the TEI as well as a discussion of the challenge of linking images with texts in non-standard digital editions, taught by Mariah, Aylin, Eric, and Gina. The final portion of the workshop was devoted to the implementation of the material covered in the previous sessions, as participants transcribed and encoded the devotional roll, creating a digital edition of the 15th-century manuscript.  This digital edition should be available later this year on a website hosted by the Beinecke Library, together with digital editions of other manuscript rolls produced by previous workshop participants at other institutions.


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10th Annual Medievalists @ Penn Graduate Conference: Vulnerability

Fragile masculinity: Narcissus at the fountain (London, British Library, MS Royal 20 A XVII, fol. 14v)

Event Wrap-up (March 17, 2018)
by Oliver Mitchell
Graduate Student Intern, SIMS

This year’s Medievalists @ Penn Graduate Conference marks the group’s tenth anniversary, and the day saw ten scholars come together to present the insights and discoveries of their research in relation to the theme of “Vulnerability.” The conference conveners, Shoshana Adler and Aylin Malcolm (both Penn), grouped the day’s graduate student papers into three sessions, dedicated respectively to the themes of textual vulnerability, nature and nationhood, and women’s voices. Though the topics of these individual papers ranged across Western Europe from the tenth to the fifteenth centuries and also managed to address problems inherent in modern scholarly practices and politics, the conference as a whole offered a stimulating and coherent dialogue on its chosen theme and was characterised by lively— at times irrepressible—debate.

In the morning’s session on textual vulnerability, Rachel Hanks (Notre Dame) spoke about how damage to a physical manuscript can inform and distort scholarly understanding of the text contained therein, taking as her subject the fragmentary Old English poem known appropriately as The Ruin. Seamus Dwyer (Yale) shifted the conversation from a physical manuscript to a text itself, examining the precarious balance of citation, quotation, and translation at work in a fascinating fifteenth-century tri-lingual Christmas carol. Judith Weston (Penn) brought text and object together in her discussion of Ovidian myths in the Roman de la Rose and its illustrative programme, exploring the denial of human agency to Narcissus, Echo, and the titular Rose either through gradual ossification or in a single moment of violent rupture. Respondent Nicholas Herman (Curator of Manuscripts, SIMS) ended the session with a reiteration of the fundamental importance of physical manuscripts themselves to medieval studies, and made some exciting predictions about the future of digital facsimiles and the democratisation of data. This meeting of the medieval and the modern would become a recurrent theme throughout the rest of the conference.

Nicholas Herman discusses the damaged Exeter Book (Exeter Cathedral, MS 3501) in response to the panel on textual vulnerability. Photo: M. Aiello.

In the second session, on nature and nationhood, Lauren Therese Geiger (Michigan) invited us to take an eco-critical approach to John Gower’s Confessio Amantis, expounding the significance of the natural environment to late medieval English politics, while Scott Long (Penn) spoke about the fifteenth-century Chrónica Sarracina and its complicated relationship with historical truth in service of a Spanish nationalist ideology. As Kersti Francis (UCLA) interrogated the perfect knight’s extreme masculinity and its vulnerability to preternatural forces in Marie de France’s Guigemar, it struck me that the threats and vulnerabilities explored in this session – environmental, nationalist, sexual – were not far from the concerns and anxieties of our present. Courtney Rydel responded with questions about the vulnerability of political and social frameworks themselves to acts of war and violence.

In the final session of the day, Nathalie Lacarriere (Penn) took Christine de Pisan as her subject in a discussion about the vulnerability of women’s voices in the Middle Ages. Her paper on the “Querelle de la Rose” discussed Christine’s metaphorical transformation into a man in La Mutacion de Fortune and the dangers of asserting her voice in the traditionally masculine space of literary criticism. Courtney Watts (Virginia) presented a harrowing analysis of paternal rape in medieval romance, dissecting the genre’s predisposition to silence the voices of female victims when confronting the taboo of familial incest. In a remarkable paper on the Old English poem Wulf and Eadwacer, Matthew Aiello took a bold step away from others in his field to offer a new translation of the poem, re-casting the enigmatic verse not as romantic yearning for lost love but as a visceral exploration of the aftermath of a rape. Respondent Emily Steiner (Penn) evoked a lively discussion on how the very idea of vulnerability is gendered, and how that vulnerability to threats of violence itself functions as a social and cultural restraint.

The Iconic Poster for the Vulnerability Conference, designed by Benjamin Brown.

The highlight of the day came when keynote speaker Masha Raskolnikov, Associate Professor of English at Cornell University, took the floor with an honest and at times intensely personal consideration of sexual politics in Chaucer’s “The Clerk’s Tale.” Prof. Raskolnikov exposed Griselda and Walter’s relationship as queer and kinky precisely because it is so hyper-normative and insistently heterosexual. Exactly where Griselda’s suffering falls between consensual masochism and outright sexual abuse was questioned by both speaker and audience, reminding us all to continually check the assumptions we bring to medieval studies. Ranging from Derrida to Donald Trump, Boethius to Joan Osborne, Prof. Raskolnikov’s paper was in turn genuinely affecting and truly funny, as she drew together threads from throughout the day’s papers into a stimulating and compelling investigation of the forms and contexts of vulnerability in the Middle Ages.

The 2018 M@P Graduate Conference provided ample food for thought not only on the various forms and contexts of vulnerability in the Middle Ages but also on the vulnerability of the material itself to both changing fashions of editorial practice and to our own ideological blind-spots. The medieval past has always been vulnerable to the political manipulation of the present, and in recent months scholars have spoken out against the “ideological misappropriation” of the discipline. The strength and self-reflexivity of the papers presented at this year’s M@P Graduate Conference left me optimistic about the dedication of emerging scholars to the robust defence of the efficacy of medieval studies in negotiating the fraught political climate of our own times. Attendees stayed well into the evening to continue the discussion, testament not only to the quality of the catering but to the successful vision of the conference organisers.


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Manuscripts Summer Course 2018

LJS 101, f. 1v

We’re looking forward to the fourth annual offering of the SIMS manuscript skills summer course!  Aimed at graduate students in medieval and Renaissance studies who want to use manuscripts in their research, the course gives students a hands-on introduction to handling, reading, and studying European manuscripts up to the 16th century, as well as to digital humanities projects built on manuscript images.  Students are paired with manuscripts from the Penn collection in their areas of interest to give them an opportunity to apply the content of the course and become the local experts in “their” manuscripts.  The class sessions, which run from 10 am to noon on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays from May 22 to June 27, include lectures, exercises, and time for independent study of students’ manuscripts.  The course is free, not for credit, and open to graduate students from any institution.  Penn students may register through the Graduate Division of Arts and Sciences here through March 29; students from other institutions should send an email about interest, languages, and paleography experience to Amey Hutchins (ameyh@upenn.edu).


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MAA 2019: Call for Digital Workshops

Dear medievalists,

As you consider your submissions for MAA 2019, I hope you will take note that you may propose a “poster, paper, full session, or workshop that explores the role and uses of digital technologies.” (The full Call for Papers is here)

Given the strength of Digital Humanities at Penn, particularly with the work of the Schoenberg Institute for Manuscript Studies, we are very keen to organize a group of introductory workshops, aimed at medievalists at all levels who are interested in incorporating digital tools and approaches to their work.

If you have used a particular tool or approach in your own work, and you would like an opportunity to teach other people, please consider proposing a workshop. If you have a digital project you’d like to have reach a wider audience, please consider proposing a poster. (If you’re unfamiliar with the concept of a poster session, this blog post is a good description of how they function and what they are good for)

Please feel free to email me with any questions. The Program Committee looks forward to considering your proposals. Thank you!

Dot Porter
dorp@upenn.edu


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The Fall 2017 issue of Manuscript Studies is now available!

The editors of Manuscript Studies: A Journal of the Schoenberg Institute for Manuscript Studies are pleased to make the following announcements:

  • The Spring 2018 special issue will be devoted to the Galen Palimpsest Project. Don’t know what this project is? Subscribe to find out!
  • We are seeking submissions for the Fall 2018 issue and beyond. Peer-reviewed articles for Fall 2018 are due soon (next week at the latest), but non-peer reviewed Annotations can be submitted up to February 1.
  • Thanks to a generous agreement with the University of Pennsylvania Press, all Articles and Annotations in Manuscript Studies are made available on an open access basis after one year from the date of publication. Articles and Annotations from the 2016 Spring and Fall issues are now available for downloading and sharing on Penn’s Scholarly Commons repository. To access the pdfs, go to: http://repository.upenn.edu/mss_sims/.

Manuscript Studies brings together scholarship from around the world and across disciplines related to the study of pre-modern manuscript books and documents. This peer-reviewed journal is open to contributions that rely on both traditional methodologies of manuscript study and those that explore the potential of new ones. We publish articles that engage in a larger conversation on manuscript culture and its continued relevance in today’s world and highlight the value of manuscript evidence in understanding our shared cultural and intellectual heritage. Studies that incorporate digital methodologies to further understanding of the physical and conceptual structures of the manuscript book are encouraged. A separate section, entitled Annotations, features research in progress and digital project reports.

For more information and to subscribe, go to http://mss.pennpress.org. For direct inquiries, please don’t hesitate to contact the editors at sims-mss@pobox.upenn.edu .


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Professor Alessandro Guetta leads a Virtual Seminar and films a MOOC

The SIMS/Katz partnership hosted its first Penn Virtual Seminar in Manuscript Studies on June 29, 2017.

Professor Alessandro Guetta, the Institut National des Langues et Civilisations Orientales, Paris

“The Hebrew-Italian Translations of the Early Modern Period: A Presentation and a Few Questions.”

In collaboration with Professor Alessandro Guetta, the Schoenberg Institute for Manuscript Studies (SIMS) and the Herbert D. Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies at the University of Pennsylvania hosted the first-ever Penn Virtual Seminar in Manuscript Studies.

The seminar invited some of the finest advanced graduate students and early career academics on the topic of Italian Jewish literature of the early modern period to join a live discussion. The participants, drawn from institutions across Europe, the United States, and Israel, gathered in conversation with Professor Guetta virtually in real time.

Virtual SeminarProfessor Guetta presented a thus-far neglected phenomenon in Jewish textual history. In his words: “Since the brilliant articles by M. Steinschneider more than 100 years ago, little scholarly attention has been paid to the fascinating phenomenon of literary translations of Hebrew texts into Italian in the early modern period. Among the texts translated from Hebrew were fundamental classics–biblical, poetical, philosophical, sapiential, and other sources. These translations are especially interesting when compared with what happened in the other Jewish communities of the Christian world, where the local language was often not mastered, and certainly not written, until the late 18th century. Thus these texts teach us about the level of participation of Jews in the general cultural phenomenon of the volgarizzamenti—the translation of the classical corpuses into Italian. We will read together some significant texts, in both Hebrew and Italian, and ask ourselves the question: who were the potential readers of these works? Why were they written? We will also speak about the translations in the other direction, from Italian into Hebrew, in that period and later, and try to understand why such endeavors were undertaken at all.”

Participants:

Branka Arrivé, Paris
Miriam Benfatto, Bologna
Ilaria Briata, Verona
Giada Coppola, Hamburg
Debra Glasberg Gail, New York
Francesca Gorgoni, Paris
Rachele Jesurum, Paris
Sarah Parenzo, Ramat Gan
David Sclar, Princeton
Anamarija Vargović, Paris

 

Our aim with this project was to create networks of exchange among scholars working on similar topics in various locations and between scholars and manuscripts. We saw through this first trial that this can be a model for strengthening scholarship in a community of researchers.

Filming a MOOC

Filming a MOOCThis week the Center has been delighted to welcome Alessandro Guetta, Professor of Jewish intellectual history at the Institut national des langues et civilisations orientales in Paris, to be the second annual Schoenberg Institute for Manuscript Studies [SIMS]/Herbert D. Katz Center Distinguished Fellow in Jewish Manuscript Studies. The fellowship, funded in part by the David Ruderman Distinguished Scholar fund, pairs a prominent scholar in any field of Jewish studies with a manuscript in one of our collections. Guetta spent the week looking at an early modern Italian Manuscript in the Schoenberg holdings: Malkiel Aschkenazi’s Tavnith ha-mishkan and Hanukath ha-bayith (now CAJS Rar Ms 460), produced in Mantua in the early seventeenth century. The full digital manuscript is available online.

On Wednesday June 28, 2017, Professor Guetta filmed a short-form Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) —a minicourse on the value of manuscript studies for Jewish history. The course explored the nature of the document, the significance of its material form, and what this rare document reveals about the Jewish landscape of Renaissance Italy. He moved from libraries to book burnings, and philosophy to architecture, in his wide-ranging introduction to the early modern fascination with the biblical Tabernacle and Temple.

The mini-MOOC is now in production and will be available free and universally this winter. It will sit alongside the one filmed last year by Professor Y. Tzvi Langermann, on a 15th -century Sicilian medical miscellany. To watch Langermann’s MOOC click here, and for more information click here.