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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” 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: I also verified the reordering of the last two quires suggested by Dot Porter: 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: 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: 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.


An Ideal Collation of LJS 101

By Jesse McDowell

Certainly the book I was assigned in Will Noel and Dot Porter’s course in Rare Book School, “The Medieval Manuscript in the Twenty-First Century,” ascribed to the course’s title quite seemingly. I spent my time working with a nicely old Carolingian manuscript from 9th-century France, LJS 101. Like many medieval manuscripts, this one has been bound more than once, and so came the use of text-matching and open data to literally restructure the original physicality of the book in digital form.

LJS 101 is a parchment manuscript bound in 10 quires containing Boethius’s Latin translation of Aristotle’s De interpretatione (On Interpretation). It originates from north-central France, most likely the abbey at Saint-Benoît-sur-Loire (also known as the Abbaye de Fleury).

LJS 101 1v-2r

However, the book contains more than a translation. Though LJS 101 originates in the 9th-century, it contains replacement leaves added to the beginning and end in the 11th-century (current fols. 1-4 and 45-64), with seemingly the same hand correcting the first scribe in his translational slips. Also in the 11th century, color was added to existing initials and to diagrams charting Aristotle’s formal connection between language and logic. Though my narrative does not perform anything close to a textual study, we’ll call these two scribes Scribe A (9th-cent hand) and Scribe B (11th-cent hand) in the same vein as textual critics.

Scribe A composed the body of the translation itself from folios 5-44. Scribe B’s contribution is sparser, his hand (as mentioned above) showing complete replacement leaves at folios 1-4 and 45-64, as well as added corrections and glossed material throughout the manuscript. Scribe B introduces new genres in folios 45-64 (as the catalogue describes):

“the Perihermeniae attributed to Apulieus, a poem by Decimus Magnus Ausonius on the seven days of Creation, a sample letter of a monk to an abbot with [more] interlinear and marginal glosses, and other miscellaneous verses, definitions, and excerpts.”

What is most striking about Scribe B’s contribution to this manuscript is the firm variety which it comes with. We know that Carolingian miniscule became a widely used script to compose codices for professional and educational purposes from the 9th to the 13th-century. Scribes used this script widely on into the 12th-century for a variety of reasons, right when books were being produced by a number of different workers in the secular world. The script itself became codified and sharpened as a professional way of composing. If we can approximate the burgeoning use of Carolingian miniscule to c. 800, then we can hypothesize that Scribe A was quite new at this script. Indeed, the spaces between words are much clearer in Scribe B’s contributions in fol. 1-4 and 45-64, as this is one chief characteristic of a well-practiced hand.

In attempting to establish the structure of the book, there seemed to be a discrepancy between my collation formula and that determined by the cataloguer. The manuscript contains a 19th-century foliation and has prickings throughout, though this proved fruitless when trying to establish just how many gatherings the bound object contained. Initially the collation differences presented a problem in establishing structure. In short, the catalogued information accounted for 9 quires to the 10 I came up with over and over again in my own count.

We were both accounting for the same number of leaves in the manuscript. We also both noticed a discrepancy in the current 2nd and 3rd quires. Herein was the problem: with some help from Will Noel, I discovered that the current quires 2-3 were misplaced. The first problem was that Gregory’s Rule – hair side of parchment always faces hair side – was broken, at 8v-9r. Under my collation, there was no way to tell where the ‘missing’ leaf was.

Codicologists meet problems with incorrect binding all the time, and while this binding and foliation didn’t account for the discrepancy in the leaves, re-examination of the book eventually did. The manuscript’s current binding comes in an English diced Russia leather for Sir Thomas Phillips in the 19th-century. The watermark on the pastedown shows a shelfmark for ‘J. Whatman 1832.’ This could very well be a manifestation of the use of old books by antiquarians in the 19th-century who, not well understanding the nature of medieval codices, re-bind and re-label them into new codices for personal keepsakes and exhibition. Elizabeth Kolbert writes to this reality of antiquarians and aristocrats housing artifacts and even fossils in the 19th-century as collectors, rather than researchers. Alas, this seems to epitomize the life of most old books in the hands owners who do not expose them to research. In the same vein, we should not keep books from being digitized. According to Tim Stinson‘s research, less than 2% of the entirety of medieval manuscripts in the world have been digitized. Though this statistic is now a few years old, we might be able to look to the future of accessible manuscripts with a sense of positivity, as recently the Vatican Library put over 4,000 of their manuscripts online for free. But what does this mean for the researcher? Certainly the step now is to not just digitize quickly, but release the manuscripts as Open Data (not with restrictive licenses), as Penn has done with their collections in OPenn.

In the case of LJS 101, I couldn’t examine this central problem of a missing folio without digital images and access to 19th-century editions. I had to find where the text matched up after 8v— for it was not the current 9r. It was time to search for a relatively modern edition of the Latin text itself to reconcile the discrepancy. I found an 1877 edition in HathiTrust (ed. Karl Meiser).

Text-Searching an 1887 Edition

The end of the current 8v contained text that correlated with that of the current 12r.

Bottom 4 lines 8v

So, the text at bottom of 8v reads (from above):

quod significat subiectum est quocirca unū[m] quoque  

where the matching text at the top of 9r doesn’t match up to what follows in the 1877 edition:

reterea non quod nos intelligum eequum 

The text itself notified us of where Gregory’s Rule had been broken—where that of leaf 8r in the currently bound manuscript actually coincides with 12v. What essentially occurred was a mis-binding and foliation done in the 19th-century where the currently bound 12v should ideally be 7v. The text at the bottom of 12v currently reads

apud Scythas amara nec acida, sed apud ipsos quoque

and the following text on 13r doesn’t correlate:

p[er] mixtio ista significat; Quod si unum significant to [to]ta p[er] mixtio pars inde separate nihil extra designat;

From the 1877 Latin edition the correct text after ipsos quoque is sunt dulcia et apud omnes, thus

                        [last line 12v]: apud Scythas amara nec acida, sed apud ipsos quoque [begin 8r]: sunt dulcia et apud omnes gentes eodem modo: ita quoque omnia nomina si naturaliter essent, isdem omnes homines uterentur. 

0241_0029_web  12v-8r  8r web

This is but one example of how the text within the manuscript hadn’t matched up correctly. Instead of continuing to chart out the discrepancies, I’ll explain how I rendered a collation based off these findings. The text was the governing factor in matching up folios in the right order, and on this more minute level, we can see how it logically makes sense to re-puzzle a book whose folios are out of order. On a more general level, all that happened here was that quires 2 and 3 had been separated where they should have been bound together. If rebound, the second and third quire should simply be ‘quire 2.’ Based off the 19th-century foliation, the current folio 5 should ‘ideally’ be 1, 9 should be 2, 10 should be 3, and so on (for of course 8 folios in the quire).

As I presume, Penn isn’t in the business of physically rebinding a 9th-century book, especially when the current binding is in great condition. If we wanted to see this book as it was originally bound, or at least how it was bound before 1832, how could we reposition the folios against the foliation in the upper right-hand corner? We could certainly sit down with a pen and notebook and draw up a new collation, but what if we want to read the text from leaf to leaf as if it was in a correct order?

The interface I used to visualize such a structure was the digital visualization collation, a system initially developed by a collaborative team led by Dot Porter, to visualize collation diagrams based off of a model, rather than by counting and charting by hand. We were informed during our course discussions on collation that this system had been created for visualizing collation models, but we soon learned it can do so much more. At its core, this program provides something that fundamentally invigorates collation methods for medievalists; it can also wear many hats. It can allow for the repurposing of different outlets of methods at the very outset.

The repurposing I refer to came about when I was able to recreate a binding that reflected the original quire structure. Instead of laying out the entire structure online, I used the program to visually capture what couldn’t be imagined without both the digital images and the visualization program. For instance, since the program automatically begins at “Quire 1” with every collation formula, the screenshots provided render “Quire 1” where I am actually visualizing quire 2, a quire 2 that currently doesn’t exist in the book itself.

First we will see quires 1-3 as the book is currently bound.  Scribe A added these leaves making up fol. 1-4 for an introduction and the decorating of a beautiful initial, and what follows is what you would see if you walked into Kislak Center and opened up this book upon request.

Currently bound quires 1-3, Q1:

Screen Shot 2015-11-11 at 6.38.37 PM


Currently bound Q2:

Screen Shot 2015-11-11 at 6.38.56 PM


And currently bound Q3:

Screen Shot 2015-11-11 at 6.39.10 PM


These are screenshots of the visualized quires; they are live online here.

Now onto the digital reconstruction. If you were to walk into the Kislak Center and gaze upon this book, you couldn’t read the book straight through with matching Latin unless you were accompanied by this corrected version:

Here is the live online visualized quire for the reconstruction, and below is the screenshot:


Screen Shot 2015-11-11 at 7.08.01 PMScreen Shot 2015-11-11 at 7.08.14 PM


What this small foray reveals is the strikingly fundamental role that digital scholarship, and digitizing itself, can play in medieval studies. What’s more, this demonstration solicits but one aspect of what the digital world can offer. In the case of transcription practice, data-mining, and textual editing, programs like T-PEN and of course TEI-texts have seriously revitalized what we can see when we evaluate texts and ask the same fundamental questions in order to conduct research. Their value does not necessarily lie in that the programs make life easier, for surely they do, but more that they create a distinctly different paradigm one can adopt when doing scholarship of any kind with any old book.