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


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 (

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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

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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:

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 For direct inquiries, please don’t hesitate to contact the editors at .

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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.”


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.



We at the Schoenberg Institute for Manuscript Studies have created a tool that we hope will be useful to manuscript scholars, art historians, incunabulists, and all those interested in the categories and formats of fifteenth century paper, and the impact they had on the sizes of books and works of art as we see them today. We have called this tool the Needham Calculator because it is dependent upon Paul Needham’s classification of categories of fifteenth-century paper.

Here it is:

The dimensions of books and works on paper in the fifteenth century are normally given in millimeters. Many people are not fond of millimeters, and for good reason. They are difficult to visualize in quantity (and they are so small that they come in quantity), and the issue is exacerbated in our digital world, through which reproductions are only seen at their original size by accident. We need to be able to visualize the dimensions of a book, a print or a drawing, because this frames the conditions through which the text is read and the image seen. The simple expedient of using centimeters to one decimal place helps in this regard. But more than this, while measuring in millimeters gives the paper’s current dimensions with useful precision, these dimensions more often than not were determined by the binder of a book, or the framer of an image, in a subsequent century. We need to know – if we can find out – the original size of the item, with the implications that this would have for its use, cost, aesthetics, and connoted meanings: will its large scale impress, for example, or will it instead conjure up the poetry of the miniature? Finally, millimeters are an imposed measure that does nothing to reveal decisions made by scribes, artist, and printers, in the creation of their works. The numbers don’t tell us what options were available to them in choosing the size of their paper, nor which ones they actually chose in specific instances.

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9th Annual Lawrence J. Schoenberg Symposium on Manuscript Studies in the Digital Age November 17-19, 2016


Save the Date! Registration opens at the end of the summer.

Reactions: Medieval/Modern

In partnership with the Rare Book Department of the Free Library of Philadelphia, the Schoenberg Institute of Manuscript Studies (SIMS) at the University of Pennsylvania Libraries is pleased to announce the 9th Annual Lawrence J. Schoenberg Symposium on Manuscript Studies in the Digital Age. This year’s theme, “Reactions: Medieval/Modern,” gives us space to explore the many and varied ways that people have reacted to, and acted upon, manuscripts from the Middle Ages up to today. Reactions take many forms. They include the manipulation of physical objects through, for example, the marking up of texts, addition of illustrations, the disbinding of books or rebinding of fragments, as well as the manipulation of digital objects, thanks to new technologies involved in digitization, ink and parchment analysis, virtual reconstruction, among many other processes. This symposium will also tackle how popular culture has reacted to manuscripts over time as witnessed by their use and appearance in books, games, and films. Our keynote speaker will be Michelle P. Brown, Professor emerita of Medieval Manuscript Studies at the School of Advanced Study, University of London, and former Curator of Manuscripts at the British Library.

For more information and a list of speakers, visit the website: