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

Research at SIMS

Schoenberg Database of Manuscripts
The Schoenberg Database of Manuscripts (SDBM) makes available data on medieval manuscript books of five or more folios produced before 1600. Its purpose is to facilitate research for scholars, collectors, and others interested in manuscript studies and the provenance of these unique books.  The SDBM Tweets @schoenbergdb.

Penn in Hand
The site offers bibliographic information and digital facsimiles for selected collections of manuscript codices, texts, documents, papers, and leaves held by Penn’s Rare Book & Manuscript Library, including those donated to Penn by Lawrence J. Schoenberg (C’53, WG’56). Penn holds over 2,000 Western manuscripts produced before the 19th century; medieval and Renaissance manuscripts comprise approximately 900 items, the earliest dating from 1000 A.D. Its holdings of Indic manuscripts is the largest in the Western hemisphere with more than 3,000 items. The Lawrence J. Schoenberg Collection emphasizes secular topics, especially science and mathematics, and includes tablets from the 21st to 18th centuries B.C.

OPenn: Primary Digital Resources Available to Everyone
OPenn contains complete sets of high-resolution archival images of cultural heritage material from the collections of its contributing institutions, along with machine-readable descriptive and technical metadata. All materials on OPenn are in the public domain or released under Creative Commons licenses as Free Cultural Works.

LJS 225 – Liber Simulationis Litterarum
The Liber Simulationis Litterarum was written by Michael Zopello, and presented to Pope Callixtus III between 1455 and 1458. The book is written in humanist script, in Latin and Italian, with an ornate decoration, including Callixtus’ coat of arms, on the first page. The book contains two systems of code, invented by Zopello himself, to disguise the Papal correspondences. The first code is based on word substitution, while the second uses symbols to stand in for the letters of the alphabet and important terms. Much of the book is taken up by word tables for the code. The aim of this project was to create a transcription and translation of the Liber Simulationis Litterarum, and to publish these digitally. The finished product allows the viewer to see the digital facsimile of the manuscript, the transcription, translation, and a visualization of the encoded message. – Isabella Reinhardt

MS Roll 1066: Genealogical Chronicle of the Kings of England to Edward IV, circa 1461
Likely produced in London in the third quarter of the fifteenth century, the Genealogical Chronicle of the Kings of England, to Edward IV, known as Ms. Roll 1066, is a compilational tour de force of the greatest hits of medieval historians, assimilating the work of Geoffrey of Monmouth, William of Malmesbury, and Ranulf Higden, among others. The roll is an imposing physical presence: a staggering thirty-seven feet and thirteen membranes long; it chronicles the lineage of Yorkist king Edward IV beginning with Adam and Eve and ending with Edward IV (1461). This Chronicle also has a complex illustrative schema containing 174 bust-length portraits in color, five mandorlas with tinted full-length portraits, and eighty roundels containing crowns as well as several classic chronicle type-scenes including the Temptation of Adam, Noah after the Flood, and the city of Jerusalem. The digital project provides a complete transcription of the manuscript, linked to high-resolution images, as well as navigation for membranes and rondels.

Penn/Cambridge Genizah Fragment Project
A genizah (plural genizot) is a storeroom or repository for old, used and damaged books, Torah scrolls, and other documents containing the name of God, whose destruction Jewish tradition proscribes. Documents from the Cairo Genizah date from the 9th through through the 15th centuries. Written in Hebrew, Aramaic, Arabic, and Judeo-Arabic, they catalogue the social, cultural, and religious lives of Jews around the Mediterranean basin. The fragments were discovered in the late 19th century in the Ben Ezra synagogue in Fustat, a neighborhood in Old Cairo. While most of the fragments eventually wound up at Cambridge, many came to North America. In 2000, the Penn Libraries and the Taylor-Schechtor Genizah Research Unit of the Cambridge University Library began planning for a collaborative effort to reunite virtually the dispersed fragments from the Cairo Genizah. Thanks to a generous gift from Mr. Jeffrey Keil, Penn alumnus and member of the Penn Libraries’ Board of Overseers, this collaborative effort has led to the creation of a pilot web site that displays, for the first time, selected holdings of two distinct institutions. Web technologies are well suited to reuniting dispersed corpora, and we see our project as complementary to similar projects involving collections of papyri held by several North American universities.

Glossed Psalter: A digital project of MS Codex 1058
The approximate date of 1100 makes the glossed psalter the oldest codex in the Rare Book & Manuscript Library and places it very early in the development of the glossed Bible, decades before the text of the gloss was standardized. The irregular spacing of the gloss throughout may suggest that the scribe was compiling it himself, rather than copying it from another manuscript, as would later become common practice. Another noteworthy characteristic is the scribe’s method of dealing with psalm lines longer than the width of the main text column: rather than continuing onto a second line, he inserts the remainder of the line at the end of a shorter previous line, marking the beginning of the insertion with a small pennant-shaped symbol. The origin of this technique, the sources of the gloss, and the degree to which this early gloss corresponds to the later glossa ordinaria are all questions open to original research. The digital project includes a full facsimile of the manuscript, and an index to the psalms.

Reactions: Medieval/Modern: An online version of the exhibition from 2016
This exhibition, curated by Dot Porter, is about the ways people react to medieval manuscripts, featuring objects from the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts.

The theme of “reactions” 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 exemplified here take many forms. These include the manipulation of physical objects, through marking texts, adding illustrations, disbinding books, or rebinding fragments; and technological approaches to working with manuscripts, in terms of both manuscript conservation and new digital tools such as digital scanning, ink and parchment analysis, and virtual reconstruction. In addition, Reactions tackles how manuscripts have been considered in popular culture over time, in books, games, art, and films.

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