Fordham graduate students recently had the opportunity to participate in a class coinciding with the Morgan Library and Museum’s exhibit Medieval Monsters: Terrors, Aliens, Wonders (June 8-September 23). The show examines the varied depictions of monsters in medieval manuscripts, and explores the possible roles monsters played in medieval life and thought. Continue reading
This past weekend (May 10-13) was the 53rd Annual International Conference of Medieval Studies in Kalamazoo, MI. With over five hundred panels running throughout the weekend, this is the largest medieval studies conference in the world, and there were at least 3600 scholars in attendance at Western Michigan University to kick off the event. Among them, were several Medieval Studies graduate students from the Fordham University Center for Medieval Studies.
The Center for Medieval Studies had the privilege of hosting Professor Thomas Madden from Saint Louis University for two events. Dr. Madden is a renowned expert on medieval Venice and particularly its role in the Crusades, and he came to Fordham to share some of the insights from his current research. On Wednesday, April 11th Dr. Madden led a master class focusing on the resources of the Venetian state archives where he has performed the bulk of his research. After a brief introduction to the history and organization of the archive, Dr. Madden lead students on an in-depth exploration of one of a number of documents available on the archive’s website, paying particular attention to the conventions and methods of the notaries responsible for producing the documents. Students were surprised to learn that unlike other Italian city-states at the time, Venice’s notaries were all clerics in minor orders. Dr. Madden continued to outline the various parts of the document, a twelfth-century receipt indicating the payment of a debt, stopping only to relate tales of the difficulties of working in the Archives before the internet, and of the unwritten codes of behavior that he had to pick up as graduate student. The formal presentation was followed by a lively Q&A in which students picked Dr. Madden’s brain about the kinds of documents within the archives and the information they contained, including records of the often overlooked slave trade, and the prominence of women in the records. (Read on for more details of Prof. Madden’s presentation) Continue reading
Medieval Studies kicked off its 2017 event series with a visit from a world renowned scholar of Old English literature and culture. John D. Niles. Dr. Niles, professor emeritus a the University of California-Berkeley and the University of Wisconsin-Madison, has been in residence this past Fall at the Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, and we were delighted that this made it possible for him to come up to Fordham on September 28-29.
Professor Niles spent an eventful two days visiting Fordham beginning with a Master Class for graduate students looking at one particular Old English manuscript, the Exeter Book. Joseph Rudolph, a PhD candidate in English, described the Master Class:
Professor Niles and a small group of students discussed the contents of Exeter Cathedral Library MS 3501, commonly known as the Exeter Book. Niles suggested some ways that the codex can be read as a whole and pointed out a number of common themes and internal pairings among the book’s poems. Against the predominant trend of scholarship to read the poems in secular terms, Niles suggested that the book be placed in the monastic context in which it was likely produced. Niles provided some fascinating insights both into his own work (he is currently writing a book on the Exeter Book) and into the thinking and research that remains to be done on this important codex.
The following day, the whole Medieval Studies community was treated to a lunchtime lecture in which Niles introduced his new project to edit and translate the entire corpus of medical texts written in Old English (the first time that such a thing has been attempted since the 1860s). Niles’ current project is undertaken in collaboration of fellows medievalists Debby Banham, Christine Voth, and Maria D’Aronco, who will together produce a two volume edition and translation.We asked Jeffrey Doolittle, a PhD candidate in History working with medical manuscripts in his own doctoral research, to give us his take on Niles’s presentation:
In his talk, Niles provided an introduction to this project, and also gave a helpful overview of the rather striking differences between the main texts of the Anglo-Saxon tradition, including Bald’s Leechbook, the Old English Herbarium and Niles’ own area of expertise, the Lacnunga. With its curious blending of classical, Christian and magical elements, the Lacnunga has been held up as evidence of the scientific dead-end of early medieval medicine as well as a window into pagan Anglo-Saxon beliefs and traditions. Following more recent trends among Anglo-Saxonists, however, Niles reckons both of these trajectories as incomplete and instead sees the Lacnunga as an example of what he terms “total medicine:” a model which emphasizes elements of practicality and utility in the synthesis of therapeutic methods from diverse sources and traditions. In other words, Niles holds that framers of texts such as the Lacnunga recorded many different ways to a cure in the hopes that something – anything – would work. This is an intriguing idea and marks a new frontier in the ongoing reconsideration of early medieval medicine. I do wonder about the “total” part of the term, though. As Niles himself pointed out, despite the clear “unparalleled variety” in the written traditions of medicine in Anglo-Saxon England, a much wider therapeutic world which we cannot see existed beyond the pages of parchment. Also, for purely selfish reasons, I would have liked if Niles refined his definition of “Anglo-Saxon medicine” a bit more. As Linda Voigts, Marilyn Deegan, and also Niles’ colleagues Debby Banham and Maria D’Aronco have shown, “Anglo-Saxon” can be a problematic term when it comes to describing vernacular medical texts such as Bald’s Leechbook, which have demonstrably classical sources; the Lacnunga may be another case altogether. Further, I felt that portions of Niles’ presentation veered into the same sort of morbid curiosity that he so strongly critiqued elsewhere (with a wide-eyed reading of the more disgusting or bizarre medieval recommendations). These minor critiques aside, however, Niles presented a welcome reassessment of the editorial decisions made by the compilers of the Lacnunga, a text that continues to defy easy categorization.
As a student of medical history, I was fascinated by Dr. Niles’ perspective on Anglo-Saxon approaches to healing. He provided a rich introduction to the corpus of medical texts, and I especially appreciated his effort to give context to their more “folkloric” aspects, which are too often belittled. He is a wonderful and generous scholar, and one whose work I will remember.
Thanks Jeffrey and Joseph and all others who came to Professor Niles’s events. But thanks most of all to John D. Niles for his generosity and for inspiring us with his knowledge about Anglo-Saxon texts and manuscripts!
Alisa Beer (PhD, History) was fortunate enough to hold an internship with Consuelo Dutschke at the Columbia University Rare Books and Manuscripts Library in the Spring semester of 2017, through a joint program with the Fordham University Center for Medieval Studies. [Read on for more about Alisa’s internship and the workshop she helped to organize] Continue reading
This past 27 April, Dr. Frank Coulson of Ohio State University gave a lecture on a manuscript he discovered in the Walsh Library. Coulson believes that Walsh Library MS Item 14, a 15th century manuscript fragment listed by Digital Scriptorium as a copy of Ovid’s Metamorphoses with marginal commentary, is actually a 14th century copy of the Metamorphoses with a marginal translation written by Giovanni de Virgilio. Giovanni de Virgilio was a 14th century Paduan scholar who was educated in Bologna and who was commissioned by the Studium of Bologna to lecture on Lucan, Statius, Ovid, and Virgil (for whom he had a particular love, as one can surmise from his chosen name.) Only his Ovid lectures survive, along with a few of his other translations and commentaries. We’ve some insight into Giovanni’s personal life, including his friendship and extended correspondence with Dante Alighieri. Indeed, Giovanni even wrote an epitaph for Dante’s tomb. [Read on for more on Professor Coulson’s talk] Continue reading
On April 7th, Michael Weldon (MA, Medieval Studies) and Kevin Vogelaar (MA, Medieval Studies) were inducted to the Jesuit Honors Society Alpha Sigma Nu. The organization, which emphasizes scholarship, loyalty, and service, selected Michael and Kevin for their exemplary commitment to the tenets of Jesuit learning.
[Read on for profiles of our two Alpha Sigma Nu inductees]
David Pedersen is a PhD candidate in English and Medieval Studies at Fordham University. His dissertation, “Anxiously Pursuing Peace: Defining and Defending Christian Faith in Texts of Old English Reflective Wisdom,” explores the unique questions, preoccupations, and concerns that Anglo-Saxons brought to Christian faith when they engaged with Christianity in their own vernacular. David argues that these questions had a profound effect on the conception of Christianity that took root and flourished in Anglo-Saxon England, and that we must understand this effect in order to contextualize properly our view of Anglo-Saxon art and literature. David is scheduled to defend his dissertation in April of 2017.
David joined Fordham’s English PhD program in the fall of 2011 after completing an MA in medieval English literature at the University of York. Recognizing that his research and teaching interests are largely interdisciplinary, David quickly enrolled in the Medieval Studies Doctoral Certificate program. David has been consistently involved in the Centre for Medieval Studies ever since.
During his first two years in the program, David participated in Old English, Old Norse, and Ecclesiastical Latin reading groups while also completing his coursework and working as a tutor in the University’s writing centre and as a research assistant for Prof. Jocelyn Wogan-Browne. During his third year, he took over the Old English reading group as a co-organizer, a position he held for the next three years. In addition, David spent the 2015-2016 academic year developing teaching modules for two of the Centre’s digital initiatives: The Oxford Outremer and the French of Italy projects. For his work on these projects, David was invited to present at the Centre’s Annual Colloquium in April of 2016.
In addition to his work with the Centre, David has spent the past six years building his scholarly and pedagogical profile. He has been the instructed numerous courses at Fordham that range from introductory writing to a senior level capstone, and he has participated in training programs in the teaching of writing and in the teaching of the history of English. He has presented at numerous regional, national, and international conferences, most recently at the 42nd Annual Conference on Manuscript Studies at St. Louis University in October of 2016. David’s first article, “Wyrd þe Warnung…or God: The Question of Absolute Sovereignty in Solomon and Saturn II” was published last month in Studies in Philology, and his article “The Wife of Bath’s Deaf Ear and the Flawed Exegesis of St. Jerome” is currently under review at PMLA.
David has been given a teaching position at the College of the Ozarks in Missouri. While he and his family are sad to be preparing to leave New York City, which has been David and his wife, Katrina’s, home for more than a decade, they are also excited by the prospect of having a yard and maybe a car. David plans to turn his dissertation into a book and then to begin work on a second book-length project that explores the various ways that medieval histories employ the ancient Israelites as a trope that is ultimately used to legitimize a wide range of racial and nationalistic ideals.
We would like to thank David for his extraordinary contributions to the mission and vitality of the Centre and wish him well as he steps forth to make his mark in the field.
This past 5th of November, Dr. Hafner brought both her Manuscript Culture class and a collection of brave volunteers to Pergamena, one of the few tanneries left in the United States and one of the precious fewer tanneries in the world that also produces parchment. Officially listed as Richard E. Meyer and Sons, its current name derives from the Latin term for Pergamum, which first produced parchment in large quantities for writing purposes after Alexandria imposed a ban on papyrus exports to the city in response to Pergamum’s own attempt to build a great library to rival Alexandria’s. Down an unassuming rural road in Montgomery leading out into the woods, a van filled with semi-comatose students and faculty who knew exactly what was in store for them pulled up to a gray barn. When the van emptied and all had disembarked, the large front door of the barn opened. The crowd of eager and nervous medievalists approached, caught their first whiff of the scent of dead and dissolving flesh through the cool morning air, and came to understand exactly what the next seven hours entailed. Some practically ran into the barn, ready to see what Jesse Meyer, the owner, had in store for them. Some entered hesitantly, not sure how long it may take for them to acclimatize to this very new and different environment, or, perhaps, not sure if they wanted to acclimatize to it. Still others entered with grim determination, accepting the onslaught on their noses as the price they would have to pay to see just how the parchment we look at and read from actually was made, driven by the need for enlightenment. Dr. Hafner, who has been to Pergamena on multiple occasions and who brought another Fordham group there just last April, looked amused at the reactions of her students.
Once inside the barn, covered with cobwebs that looked as if they had been established there since the tannery’s opening in 1865, the crowd gathered around Jesse Meyer, who delivered an introduction to not only how Pergamena itself was established, but also why they do what they do and to what end. While leather production makes up a good deal of their income, Meyer related that parchment production also retains its demand. Book conservators look to Pergamena for parchment produced in an archival-friendly and historically accurate way, while artists who like to work with parchment also come to Meyer for their own materials. It is toward this latter end that Meyer himself got into parchment production. Before the tannery was made into what we know of as Pergamena, Meyer, a sculptor by training and nature, saw hides and parchment as great materials to work with as mediums for three-dimensional art as they can be shaped in practically any way one wants, as long as the hides are prepared properly.
Adding parchment to the products already produced by the family workshop, Meyer learned of the medievalist academic community and their desire to learn all they can of parchment production and how the physicality of the book impacted readers’ understanding of its contents. Meyer reached out to them, being one of the few in America who could give them exactly what they were looking for. Seeking to come closer to the medieval process, Meyer attempted to learn as much as he could from medieval handbooks on parchment production, but ran into the issue of descriptions of the process being less than clear. In a business such as tanning or parchment making, one is only as valuable as one’s process is secret, thus written details are few and far between, either in medieval sources or modern. Trial and error were Meyer’s tutors, and he’s learned well. Meyer, now actively engaged with medievalists across the country and attending the odd conference, often takes his show on the road, showing students and professors alike the rare sight of parchment actually being made.
Beginning his description of the process with a note of warning that parchment making and tanning can be bad for the skin, hair, nails, and relationships, Meyer presented the students first with a vat in which hides are left to sit in a lime solution, the acidity of which must be constant and monitored. Meant to dissolve remaining fat, flesh, and loosen hair or fur, these vats of lime are generally referred to as “pits” for the fact that they used to be always kept in pits in the ground. In some places in the world, such a Morocco, this is still done in such pits, with the oldest operating pit tannery in the world in Marrakesh. In upstate New York, barrels serve to contain the mixture of lime and liquefying beast.
Meyer brought the crowd deeper into the barn, cluttered with vats, soaking hides, and machinery spanning the last century. It was time for the hands-on portion of the presentation. Meyer reached deep into a nearby vat and drew from it a goat hide and flung it across a round beam, sending a stream of liquid flying across the room. In an admirable display of spontaneous coordination, the group of students parted instantly to avoid every airborne droplet. These skins were meant to be worn around an animal’s body, thus laying them flat in this untreated state would make them difficult to clean. Laying them across a beam gives some semblance of their natural shape. He demonstrated first how to scrape the hair off the skin. With a single movement, Meyer scrapped-off around one-third of the goat hair, showing just how effectively the lime solution works. Then, other students tried their hands at it, donning Meyer’s apron and gloves. Then, after the hair was removed, Meyer demonstrated how to remove the remaining flesh and fat from the underside of the skin. Brandishing now a crescent-shaped metal knife coloured by use and age to an appropriate hue of reddish-brown, Meyer showed how to remove the flesh without actually damaging the hide itself. The skins of deer, sheep, goats, and cows (the most common types he works with), while certainly durable, still can be damaged during this process, with cuts made by the scrapping knife an ever-present concern. For this portion a few volunteers went forth to try their hand at wielding this time-tested blade. With a mound of flesh steadily building up around the beam’s stand and the occasional, oddly satisfying, “plop” echoing through the workshop, Meyer related that it is at this point that one can really see the quality of the hide one is working with. The end product, be it either leather or parchment, is only as high a quality as the source material, and if the animal was butchered improperly or carelessly or killed in an inefficient or amateurish way, then it will result in an inferior hide, requiring that much more work to make serviceable.
From scraping and soaking, the crowd moved on to drying and stretching. After the skins were cleaned and soaked to remove the residual lime, they were air dried. Attached to frames with clasps holding the hide flat from every possible angle, the skin would dry under tension so as to prevent it from reverting to its natural shape. Parchment, as Meyer related and demonstrated, is flat because it is dried in such a tense position, thus, when it gets wet again, that tension is released, and it curls. Attached to these frames, the skin, once dry enough, needs to be shaved down to make the surface sooth enough to write on, but coarse enough to retain ink. Using another crescent-shaped scrapping knife, he showed how he would scrape strips of skin off the hide till it met the desired smoothness. Here, too, students tried their hands at the process, meeting varying levels of success, but everyone contributing a bit to the future usability of that skin for the preservation of a message, either in writing or as art.
By the end of the day, every student was fully engrossed in the details of watching an animal skin turn into a vehicle for the preservation and transmission of human knowledge and experience. Reservations had been replaced with genuine fascination and a newfound appreciation for what it took to produce the books of hours and bibles medievalists admire and, all too often, take for granted.
The Centre would like to thank Jesse Meyer for opening his shop up to us again on an early Saturday morning and giving us the chance to experience a part of human history that we have come all too close to losing.
On October 28th, students of Dr. Hafner’s Manuscript Culture class attended a lecture at the Butler Library in Columbia University in order to hear a private seminar from Consuelo Dutschke, curator of the Medieval and Renaissance rare book collections. The Rare Book Collections seminar room stood behind a secret door which at first glance looked like a wall. The Rare Books Collection has under its control a locus of incunabulum; namely books and documents printed from early Western Europe up until January 1, 1501.
Once we were all ensconced in the lecture room, Consuelo brought to our attention approximately twenty documents and books laid out over a long wooden table. “Keep an open mind,” Consuelo said as we leaned forward to survey the documents, “or you’ll never find what’s out there.” With these words in mind, we began to participate in an interactive lecture that involved answering questions, translating passages, and experiencing the privilege of holding the documents and books themselves.
Since manuscript scholars can’t rely on colophons or script types to give us the place, date, and author necessarily, we must rely on nuances within decoration and textual format to give us some context. Consuelo highlighted and demonstrated the importance of decoration as a way of localizing each book, in some cases identifyingdown to its very city of origin. Before even opening some of the texts, Consuelo described how the original book bindings hinted at a book’s region of origin. For instance, if a book had clasps (do you recall what it was about the clasps that made them specifically Italian? I think it had to do with their being closed toward the back of the book, but I’m not sure), it was likely to have been made in Italy. With Consuelo’s tutelage, we were enlightened on the uses of decoration and the history of the manuscripts and books.
Consuelo shared with us the importance of manuscript culture history. In 1953, French Paleographers created the CIPL (Comité International de PaléographieLatine), an establishment that aspired to solve a fundamental question about manuscript culture: how do we go about studying these manuscripts? Though the CIPLlost momentum, their work was not in vain. Today, the most used book on manuscript identity is Tuscany’s version of the CIPL, which includes a method of dating the documents by means of comparison and contrast. In the United States, Columbia works alongside UC Berkley to produce the Digital Scriptorium. The strengths of a digital database include the use of vibrant color, a vast library, and the ability to correct inaccurate cataloguing and classification information.
As for Columbia’s Plimpton Manuscript collection, Consuelo described why so many manuscripts were broken off in scrappy segments instead of being retained as whole books. George Plimpton, the founder of the Plimpton collection, bought a myriad of cheap little items from 1925 to 1965. One hypothesis as to why these manuscripts were sold folio by folio instead of by book was because of their cheapness. Consuelo offered another imposing hypothesis: that libraries often accept and recognize volumes of one work, having difficulty classifying and describing a book containing multiple works or texts. Due to this, many manuscripts have portions in several localities.
The class was certainly an enlightening one. Not only did we learn about manuscripts and documents by reading and holding them, but we learned about manuscript culture history and how conservationists and curators locate the time and place of the manuscript. In addition, Consuelo’s generosity and warmth culminated in an exciting and welcoming experience that shall not be forgotten. On behalf of the Centre of Medieval Studies, I wish to thank Consuelo Dutschke and Columbia University for hosing such an enlightening class, for it provided indelible inspiration towards our quests to study manuscript culture.