Parchment Making Workshop at Pergamena, 5 November

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.

Katherine Briant Curates Book Viewing at the Mertz Library, NYBG

Briant exhibitOn September 30th, Katherine Briant of Fordham’s Center for Medieval Studies curated a viewing of medieval manuscripts and early printed books in the Mertz Library’s Rare Book and Folio Room as part of the first day of this year’s Biduum Latinum, which was hosted by the New York Botanical Garden.  Consisting of thirteen books of botany and medicine that span the late 12th to mid-16th centuries, Katherine’s exhibit presented examples of some of the most influential scientific texts of the Middle Ages in forms and copies ranging from the startlingly beautiful to the equally startlingly practical.

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NYBG MS QK 99 .P575 1190

Two Circa Instans copies were displayed, one from the late 12th century (QK 99 .P575 1190) and the other from the last quarter of the 13th century (QK 99 .P575 1275).  The former, much more practical in its appearance and having been well-used, contrasted with the latter copy, which was obviously meant to be admired beyond the contents of its leaves.

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NYBG MS QK 99 .P575 1275

The contrast gave the exhibit’s audience a more complete understanding of the space these texts inhabited in medieval intellectual culture and manuscript culture.  While of a more practical nature than many other kinds of texts, medical and botanical books were still decorated, showing the simultaneous importance of both the knowledge that the book was meant to transmit and the presentation of that knowledge on the manuscript page.

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NYBG MS R128 .C65

Also of note were two other works Katherine presented and described.  The first, a medical compilation from 13th-century France (R128 .C65), shows the ways in which recorded medical knowledge was expanded and commented upon by readers who added ample notes and marginalia over time to the text.  Another text, a 1565 Venice edition of Mattioli’s Commentarii, was paired with an original woodblock used to create the illustration of Eruca Sativa (Rocket) for that plant’s entry in the book.  The audience had the chance to compare the image produced in the text with the mirror image carved into the woodblock, imagining the action of pressing the inked block into the page and visualizing the physicality that early modern book production entailed.

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Mattioli woodblock

This book viewing was a wonderful way to end the first day of the Biduum Latinum, and it provided participants with the opportunity to see the material objects that transmitted the botanical knowledge featured in the bootcamp’s second day.  The Center would like to congratulate Katherine on her successful exhibition and would like to extend a grateful thanks to the New York Botanical Gardens for their warm welcome.

Dr. Robin Fleming Opens This Year’s Biduum Latinum at the New York Botanical Gardens

This past 30th of September, Dr. Robin Fleming gave a lecture in the New York Botanical Gardens’ Mertz Library as part of the first day of this year’s Biduum Latinum on the Roman importation of plants and animals to Britain during its brief time as a part of the Empire and the impact this practice had on Britain’s material history.  Fleming began her “Vanishing plants, animals, and places: Britain’s transformation from Roman to Medieval” with a lament that the people she most often wants to learn more of in historical accounts and existing records are not actually mentioned by or visible in those very records.  To find out more about those who are silent in the written record, she went to look to the physical, archaeological evidence of their actions and, specifically, what they did with Roman imports.  We know from the written record that certain spices, fruits, vegetables, and even livestock were imported, but it is from the archaeological evidence that Fleming observed what these things were used for and by whom.

Looking to the period of Roman withdrawal from Britain in the 4th-5th centuries CE, Fleming put forward that the over-all impact this withdrawal had was a material one.  Noting a trend in the study of the de-Romanization of Britain, which presents the Roman withdrawal as having only a political and social effect on the urban elite, Fleming presented ample archaeological evidence that the immediately felt impact of the lack of a Roman presence in Britain was tied specifically to the loss of consistent Roman imports, which had penetrated every level of British society.  From the rural villager to the proud owner of a country villa and the urban elite, Roman imports formed a substantial, or, at least, noticeable portion of one’s diet.  From chicken to coriander, Roman imports can be seen in the diets of peoples spanning every level of the social spectrum.  Fleming bases this on evidence collected from excavated cesspits found across Romanized Britain.  Fleming believes even some native plants such as strawberries, thought to be inedible by British Celts, were, via Roman influence and interest in this exotic new taste sensation, introduced to consuming these berries on a daily basis.
The Roman influence did not end with the expansion of the British diet.  The Romans brought also such practices as grafting to the Isles, and Roman land-owning elite had constructed massive granaries to hold, in as conspicuous as way as possible, their vast wealth of food, harvested from ever-expanding fields of what were previously grasslands or floodplains.  Showing that influence was not unidirectional, the Roman villa of Britain was itself constructed in a similar manner as a rural villager’s home, albeit at a much grander scale with some distinctly Roman decoration.  The archaeological record shows thatched roofs, straw-covered pounded dirt floors, and sparse tiling display what it was the Roman landed elite called home, in a far cry from what their fellow citizens of a similar social standing would have known on the continent.  We even see, in Kent, a small port attached to a brewery obviously meant to export British beer to the continent.

What, then, came of these Roman introductions after the withdrawal?  From the archaeological evidence, Fleming believes most of the plants and animals imported died off without continuous Roman cultivation and husbandry and constant replacements being brought in by ship.  Most of these alien flora and fauna were not kept in large enough quantities to spread naturally from the abandoned gardens or breed beyond the confines of Roman hunting grounds.  In fact, we see a sharp spike in the consumption of foraged food after the period of Roman rule comes to an end in Britain.  The plants and animals currently thought of as British staples were reintroduced in the Middle Ages with the reemergence of trade with the continent and the import of materials and people coinciding with the rise of monasticism (and monastic gardens) in the Isles.  However, this should not be taken as indicative of a decline in the health of the average Britain, as, in lieu of landlords demanding the majority of what one produced, families were able to grow food entirely for themselves, adding what was foraged to that and resulting in a, generally, healthier individual, as shown by the larger, more robust skeletons we see dating to after the Roman withdrawal.

Noting the anthropological theory that, while people make things, things also make people, Fleming presented the Roman rule and withdrawal from Britain as signifying two major shifts in British material history.  As the needs of cultivated plants and livestock require humans to alter their own schedules to provide the time to meet those needs, and humans often base their own social standing on their acquisition and holding of such things, shifts in material history inevitably denote shifts in political and social history.  Fleming’s intertwining of textual sources and archaeological evidence provides a window into how exactly material changes alter every facet of human society and interrelations.

The Center would like to graciously thank Dr. Fleming for beginning the Biduum on an excellent note, and the New York Botanical Gardens for hosting the event and providing the perfect environment for our study of Roman and Medieval botany.

Magda Teter Begins This Year’s Lecture Series

This past 14 September, Professor Magda Teter, of Fordham’s History Department, delivered the first lecture of the new academic year on the liminal nature of the city of Trent after Simon of Trent’s supposed martyrdom.  Trent, a city on the border between Germanic and Italian cultures, was itself a liminal space in which concepts and societies interacted with each other and came into conflict.  The 1475 martyrdom of Simon of Trent, believed to have been an instance of blood libel, was not counted by the Italians as a parallel instance as that of William of Norwich.  They believed it to be instead a unique event, with no precedent.  Italian artists, in perpetuating Simon’s burgeoning cult, presented him as a triumphant saint, without sign of pain or anguish on his face.  North of the Alps, however, Northern European presentations of Simon had him more in line with other purported cases of blood libel, with Simon being tortured and mutilated.  These images emphasized the act of his martyrdom, while imagery produced in Italy presented the end result and his sanctification.

This difference in presentation was, Teter argues, symptomatic of a wider division between those who wanted Simon to be considered a saint and those who held the account of his death as suspect or merely wanted to see his as a victimization without greater spiritual value.  Mere weeks after Simon’s disappearance, Bishop Hinderbach of Trent distributed printed pamphlets in Latin and German relating the death of Simon and containing the earliest representations of contemporary Jews in printed media.  Weeks after that, Hinderbach released a second version of the story on newly printed pamphlets, with yet a third version of the story being spread via pamphlet after the papal order to cease the forced conversion of Jews in Trent, begun in response to Simon’s death.  It was this use of easily mass produced printed pamphlets that allowed Hinderbach to spread and establish Simon’s cult in Trent and beyond as quickly as he did and, largely, in spite of papal resistance.  Pope Sixtus IV, having forbade Hinderbach from allowing Jews to be forcibly converted or killed, resisted the notion that Simon was a saint by virtue of his supposed martyrdom on the grounds that only the papacy could render such judgments.  While Hinderbach, as Teter shows, was acting within the established medieval custom of allowing popular sentiment to drive the recognition of a martyr as a saint, the papacy at this time was establishing a more formal division between the concepts of saint and beatus/a, with the saint being the formally canonized figure and the beatus/a an approved figure to whom individuals can appeal without accusation of idolatry.  This conflict, ebbing for a time after Hinderbach’s death and the subsequent downturn in popularity of Simon’s cult beyond Trent, came to a temporary conclusion during the Council of Trent.  Teter believes that during this time, the attendees of the Council would have been inundated with the imagery of Simon’s martyrdom, resulting in a revival of his cult and his later inclusion in the liturgical calendar.  Simon’s inclusion in the liturgical calendar made it difficult for the papacy to assuage popular concerns over blood libel, as to deny its existence or instances in which it was purported to have occurred would be to call into question the legitimacy of officially recognized and celebrated saints.

Within this series of events, Teter sees the struggle between old and new understandings of how saints and beati/ae are or should be recognized.  Hinderbach, though the driving force behind the formation of Simon’s cult, was abiding by practices employed throughout the Middle Ages, while the papacy was attempting to exert greater influence over who could be officially recognized as a saint or even who could be seen as beati/ae.  Teter presents this struggle over recognition of Simon of Trent as exemplifying the liminality of the city of Trent at the time.  It was culturally liminal, chronologically liminal, and technologically liminal, and serves as a microcosm of the social, religious, and legal shifts taking place at that time.

The Center would like to thank Professor Teter for her lecture and for getting this academic year off to an excellent start!

Heather Hill at the Digital Humanities Summer Institute

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University of Victoria, British Colombia, Canada

Over the week from June 5 to June 11, 2016, Heather Hill had the opportunity to visit the beautiful campus at the University of Victoria in British Columbia, Canada, for the annual Digital Humanities Summer Institute (DHSI). DHSI is a multi-faceted learning experience that brings digital humanists together from around the world. It includes daily classes, workshops, unconferences, networking events, colloquium sessions, and lectures throughout the week. This year, DHSI also coincided with the Electronic Literature Organization (ELO) conference being held on Victoria’s campus, allowing interaction between these two digital communities.

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From the class powerpoint presentation given by Constance Crompton and Lee Zickel

During her visit, Heather took a course on text encoding, learning the basics of the Text Encoding Initiative (TEI) and its complementary programs and organizations. She was able to apply what she learned immediately to the Independent Crusaders Mapping Project that is currently being developed by the Center for Medieval Studies. Students working on this project at the Center are encoding charters with TEI markup while also mapping the places of departure for each crusader. Heather will further be able to use TEI as she pursues a career as a digital humanities librarian next year at Pratt Institute.

Heather was also able to promote the work of Fordham’s digital humanities community and the Center for Medieval Studies at the DHSI colloquium. On the first day of the sessions, Heather presented on the project “Exploring Place in the French of Italy” (EPFOI) and described the Center’s methodology of mid-range reading. With this methodology, project members mapped place names without necessarily looking within a text, but they still acknowledged the individuality of each one. Audience members were receptive and asked several follow-up questions concerning how they could also utilize this method, seeming eager to replicate the process.

Heather would like to thank the GSA and the PDG committee for helping fund her visit to DHSI.

By Heather Hill

 

CMS Sends Off the Medieval Studies MA Class of 2016 with Farewell Conference!

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From left to right: Susanne Hafner (Program Director, Medieval Studies), David Smigen-Rothkopf, Alexa Amore, Alex Profaci, Anna Lukyanova, Alex Wright, Heather Hill, and Laura Morreale (Associate Director, Medieval Studies).

The Center for Medieval Studies threw a farewell party and conference for our graduating Master’s students on Saturday, May 7th. All seven students who will graduate in August,  Alexa Amore, Heather Hill, Scot Long, Anna Luykanova, Alex Profaci, David Smigen-Rothkopf, and Alexandra Wright gave papers showcasing the scholars they have become during their time at Fordham. The conference concluded with a champagne and cake reception. The CMS would like to congratulate the graduating class of 2016 for all that they have accomplished at Fordham and their impressive placement record! We look forward to seeing what this group will achieve in the coming years.

Alexander Profaci delivered his presentation, “Old French and the Tragedy of Norman Historiography,” based on a chapter from his thesis. Comparing the Gesta Normanorum Duco with the earliest version of the Chronique des ducs de Normandie, Alexander presented the 13th century Chronique, in its lack of heroic or religiously inspirational imagery, as the presentation of Norman history as a tragic retrospective of Norman independence. David’s presentation, “Twisted Lines: Genealogical Prophecy and Historiography in Sir Thomas Malory’s Morte Darthur,” put forward that Malory’s famous “Month of May” passage portrays both his hopes for the future return of the chivalric ideal and his resignation that there is no certainty in the future. While royal lineage was often used to present history as stable and predictable enough to provide a more certain view of the future, Malory’s genealogy of Arthur depicts a less certain view, as Arthur left no effective heir, nor did he, himself, legitimate, questioning the supposed stability of royal lineage and its ability to maintain a more stable future. Anna Lukyanova’s “Consecracio Regis: The Making of Kings, Political Liturgy, and Cross Cultural Exchange in the Medieval Latin East” explored possible influences or sources for the development of the ceremony of the coronation of the Latin kings of Jerusalem. Looking at the similarities between the oaths sworn by the king of Jerusalem and those sworn by the Byzantine emperor upon his own crowning and the fact that kings of Jerusalem were anointed, which was a common practice in Western Europe but not done in Constantinople, Anna sees the ceremony in Jerusalem as a hybrid of Byzantine and Western European rituals, displaying a level of cultural interaction between the Kingdom of Jerusalem and its Greek Orthodox neighbour. The final presentation of the first panel was that given by Scotland Long, “Medieval Authorship in 15th Century Castilian Romance,” in which he examined the variances between manuscripts and printed editions of the Cronica Saracina, a Spanish retelling of the 711 Islamic invasion of Iberia. One of the numerous differences between copies of the two versions he compared was a greater emphasis on the aspect of holy war in the printed editions, corresponding with the Reconquista.

The second panel began with Heather Hill presenting, “Exploring Place in the French of Italy: Mid-Range Reading as a Model for Digital Medieval Mapping,” in which she explained the process and methodology employed behind the creation of a digital map for the French of Italy website. She introduced the concept of mid-range reading, which, contrary to close or distant reading, requiring critical analysis and a macrocosmic discussion of text types, respectively, looks at individual works, words, and place descriptions, but also for over-arching trends in source material. This method of research, Heather related, was the ideal method for preparing a digital map based on medieval sources. The second presentation was Alexa Amore’s “Animated by Pious Zeal: The Cult of Carts and the Oxen of Laon Cathedral,” introducing not only what the concept of the cult of carts was to non-art historians, but also the far-ranging impact this practice had on forms of pilgrimage in Laon, Amiens, and Chartres. Inspired by a miraculous bovine having appeared just as it was needed to aid in hauling stone from a quarry to Laon cathedral after it was destroyed in a communal uprising, the cult of carts was a pilgrimage practice that had pilgrims seeking penance by pulling carts loaded with stone. The cathedral of Laon is decorated with a number of statues of oxen, remarkably accurate in their presentation, looking down upon the crowds from the cathedral spires, marking this miraculous event and linking it intrinsically with the continued existence of the cathedral of Laon. The final presentation was delivered by Alexandra Wright titled, “’I feel but hunger and thirst for you,’ Spiritual Food, Eroticism, and Queer Desire in Augustine’s Confessions.” Exploring Augustine’s presentation of his own desire, Alexandra showed how, as Augustine aged, his desires were never truly fulfilled. This tension is carried out through his childhood, in which he desired food even when he did not need it, through his adolescence and early adult life, when he desired sex but was never satisfied by it. These desires are, in his later years, transferred to a love of God, and the absolution he finds replaces the fulfilling of his desire.

Congratulations to the class of 2016 for their excellent contributions to their fields and to the Centre. Well done!

Conference Program:

Session I: 11:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.
Chair: Nicholas Paul

  • Alexander Profaci (MVST MA ’16, moving on to the PhD program in History at Johns Hopkins University):
    “Old French and the Tragedy of Norman Historiography”
  • David Smigen-Rothkopf (MVST MA ’16, moving on to the PhD program in English at Fordham University):
    “Twisted Lines: Genealogical Prophecy and Historiography in Sir Thomas Malory’s Morte Darthur”
  • Anna Luykanova (MVST MA ’16, moving on to the PhD program in History, UNC Chapel Hill):
    “Consecracio Regis: The Making of Kings, Political Liturgy, and Cross Cultural Exchange in the Medieval Latin East”
  • Scotland Long (MVST MA ’16, moving on to the PhD program in Spanish, University of Pennsylvania):
    “Medieval Authorship in 15th century Castilian Romance”

Saturday Brunch: 1:00 p.m. – 2:00 p.m.

Session II: 2:00 p.m. – 3:30 p.m.
Chair: Alex Novikoff

  • Heather Hill (MVST MA ’16, moving on to the MS program in Library and Information Science at the Pratt Institute):
    “Exploring Place in the French of Italy: Mid-Range Reading as a Model for Digital Medieval Mapping”
  • Alexa Amore (MVST MA ’16, moving on to the MA program in Art History, Case Western Reserve University):
    “Animated by Pious Zeal: The Cult of Carts and the Oxen of Laon Cathedral”
  • Alexandra Wright (MVST MA ’16, moving on to the MS program in Library Science at the University of North Texas):
    “‘I feel but hunger and thirst for you’: Spiritual Food, Eroticism, and Queer Desire in Augustine’s Confessions”

Cake and Champagne Reception: 3:30 p.m. – 5:00 p.m.

This conference is dedicated to the memory of three wonderful teachers:

Astrid O’Brien
Louis Pascoe SJ
Maureen Tilley

The Center for Medieval Studies thanks the Graduate Student Association for their contribution to this conference.

Fordham Students Participate in Parchment Making Workshop at Pergamena

IMG_3649On Saturday, April 16, a group of Medieval Studies graduate students, along with undergraduate students taking Dr. Nina Rowe’s Illuminated Manuscripts course and other Medieval Studies majors and minors, visited Pergamena, the only parchment-making workshop in the United States. The master of this shop, Jesse Myers, provided students with a truly interdisciplinary experience. He began the day by telling students the long history of his family’s business, which began as a tannery in sixteenth-century Germany and moved to the United States in the early nineteenth century, traveling up and down the Northeast before settling in Montgomery, New York. After a series of contracts were terminated about ten years ago by companies including Steinway & Sons and a bowling shoe factory, he decided to revamp the family business by filling a niche industry: parchment-making. Although his family still works leather as well, Myers’ decades-long interest in creating parchment paid off; they now provide materials for manuscript reproduction, bookbinding, and archival restoration, just to name a few industries. Myers has also helped scholars settle debates that have previously been unsolvable for centuries, such as finding evidence against the use of uterine calves in the creation of medieval books of hours.

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In addition to this personal history lesson, Myers also told students the history of parchment, starting in the fifth century BCE, and described how tanners around the world today work leather and parchment. He also introduced students to the more scientific side of parchment-making, including the chemical processes it takes to prepare the skin and how physics and biology apply to his work. Myers additionally gave students a lesson in economics, detailing for instance how the recession caused a rise in beef sales, thus decreasing the number of calves available for creating luxury parchment. But perhaps the most exciting parts of the day were the hands-on portions. Myers let any interested students (and professors) try their hand at de-fleshing the skin, squeezing the moisture out of the wet parchment, and scraping off the excess follicles. He used these more practical lessons as a way to show us how difficult it was to work as a parchment-maker in the Middle Ages and to emphasize how far new machinery has taken us.

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Having the opportunity to not only catch a whiff of the parchment-making process but also to experience the process firsthand and to get an in-depth look at the business gives participating students an advantage in understanding the reality of parchment. Jesse Myers provided students with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and these students can now go forth and add new dimensions to their scholarship while contributing novel insights into medieval life.

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By Heather Hill

In the glasing y-wroght: Medieval Glass as Material Medium and Message

The 2016 Harvard Medieval Material Culture Lectures and Workshops were held Monday, April 4- through Thursday, April 7 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Featured lecturers were Elizabeth Pastan of Emory University and Patrick Degyrse of University of Leuven.

On Thursday morning at the Fogg Museum, Elizabeth Pastan, Professor of Art History at Emory University along with Katherine Eremin, Research Scientist of Harvard Art Museums and Charlotte Gray, Art Historian of Harvard University presented The Craft of Medieval Glass: Decorative Glass in the Harvard Art Museums. Their focus was medieval stained glass.

In their presentation it was explained how technology based equipment used for XRF analysis could be brought on site to research the chemical makeup of individual pieces of a stained glass window in order to determine whether which pieces were original, and which were part of a restoration. It furthermore allowed the glass to be assigned a date and region of origin. Chemical processes were also explained for creating clear glass (white glass), transparent colored glass, and opaque colored glass. During the presentation smaller stained glass samples were illuminated over a light box for close inspection. Methods for cutting and assembling stained glass panels were also explained and a section of lead came, the metal structure which supports a glass panel, was on hand for inspection.

Next, methods for firing images and text onto a glass surface were explained. Using silver stain (silver nitrate) and vitreous paint, the front and reverse sides of a piece of glass could be treated in order for an artisan to reach a desired effect. This process could also have been repeated multiple times if necessary.

The relationship between stained glass designer and stained glass artisan was then described. In some cases the relationship could be contentious, however one example was shown of an artisan’s faithful interpretation of the artist’s original design. In terms of installation, if a window were to be located high above ground, a full-scale cartoon would be placed on the floor of the actual site where the glass pieces could be laid out to ensure accuracy and efficiency during an installation.

The presentation moved into the Naumburg Room, a two-story Jacobean hall, deigned with special light wells for displaying and viewing recently restored stained glass windows. The highlight of the two-hour presentation was the ehibition of a restored late-12th Century roundel from the Canterbury Cathedral, depicting the life of Thomas Beckett. The decision making process of the restoration as well how to support, display, and illuminate the work were discussed at length.

For stained glass enthusiasts, two valuable resources are:

www.corpusvitrearum.org

www.therosewindow.com

Naumburg Room, Fogg Museum, Boston

Scenes from the life of Thomas Beckett.

Later that afternoon Patrick Degryse, Professor of Archaeometry at University of Leuven presented The Technique and Trade of Glass in Antiquity and the Middle Ages at the Harvard Semitic Museum. The museum’s basement level is not only used for storage but for hands-on research and ongoing projects where currently approximately 400 glass objects are in the process of being catalogued. By performing isotopic analysis, Degryse attempts to trace the glass back to its source.

Unlike the earlier stained glass presentation, these glass objects were formed from molten glass taken directly from a furnace. The workshop’s participants were invited to observe and handle about a dozen of these glass objects. The glass was explained in terms of its fundamental properties of which silica (sand), makes up approximately 75% of the material. Other ingredients would have included plant ash and sodium carbonate. Sand samples taken from various regions of the Mediterranean were then examined by the workshop participants who then theorized which samples would be most suitable for glassmaking.

Next, working with modeling clay, the participants had an opportunity to simulate techniques for working with hot glass. The three techniques discussed were core-trailed glass, mold formed glass, and blown glass. According to Degryse glassmaking goes back to at least 3000 BC, but glassblowing did not develop until approximately 100 BC.

One very important point in the history of the development of glassmaking is the enormous consumption of fuel. Molten glass is kept at approximately 1600 F, a temperature which would need to be maintained over a period of days, even weeks, and would require the cutting of thousands of trees, essentially deforesting the area where the glass shop was built. Therefore glass shops would move their location nearer to fuel sources. Glass furnaces necessarily took an enormous toll on local forests resulting in medieval laws prohibiting the use of glass furnaces.

If you have not seen it, glassblowing is a fascinating process to watch. Visit the website for the Corning Museum of Glass in Corning, NY and click on their video links.

www.cmog.org

Roman mold formed glass

core trailed glass

By Michael Weldon

9 April Oxford Outremer Map Colloquium

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From the left: Asa Mittman (CSU Chico), P.D.A. Harvey (Durham), and Evelyn Edson (Piedmont Virginia)

This past 9 April, the Centre for Medieval Studies hosted the Oxford Outremer Map Colloquium at the Lincoln Centre campus. This colloquium, showcasing the work the Centre has done for the digitization project of Corpus Christi College MS 2*, a unique and somewhat baffling map of Outremer dating to the mid 13th century, served as an informal unveiling of the digitized map’s website and an introduction to the debates surrounding the map and its curious composition. Broken into two parts, the colloquium addressed the authorship of the map and the use and application of a digitized text as opposed to physical interaction with a manuscript itself. Pre-circulated papers were presented and responded to by Evelyn Edson (Piedmont Virginia), P.D.A. Harvey (Durham), Asa Mittman (C.S.U. Chico), David Pedersen (Fordham), Nicholas Paul (Fordham, presenting on behalf of Sarit Kattan Gribetz, Fordham), and Abigail Sargent (Princeton, MA Fordham 2015), and Tobias Hrynick (Fordham), both of whom worked on the website itself. Two computers were provided during the colloquium for attendees and participants to interact with the new website and the digitized map.

The first portion of the colloquium, discussing the authorship of the map, had Evelyn Edson presenting her views on why the map was likely produced by Matthew Paris, a controversial writer and prolific cartographer of 13th century England. While this map, Edson related, did differ dramatically from Matthew Paris’ other works, he had source material in the form of pilgrim and crusader accounts, early developing sea charts, and other world maps upon which he could have drawn to produce a unique, politically-aware representation of the Holy Land. P.D.A. Harvey, in response, contested that the map is too dissimilar to Matthew Paris’ earlier maps (“Acre maps,” as he referred to them, for their emphasis on the city of Acre over Jerusalem or any other city of the Levant), but he agreed that sea charts and other such sources as those Edson theorized may have inspired the map’s style and presentation. Saying that Corpus Christi MS 2* is missing Paris’ attention to detail, Harvey believes it to be a hasty copy of a larger, no longer extant, map, and, if Paris did indeed create it, it was by no means meant to be publically presented. Asa Mittman looked to the seemingly apocalyptic nature of the map, with the presentation of the tribes of Gog and Magog walled-off from, but very near to, the Holy Land and the city of Jerusalem, itself labeled and described in Latin, as opposed to Old French, in which the rest of the map is labeled. If Old French is used to convey the state of the Levant in the mid 13th century, Mittman presented, than the use of Latin for Jerusalem indicated the hope that the city will be returned to Christian control upon the completion of the Apocalypse, which Paris believed to have been in motion since the appearance of the Mongols in the Holy Land, themselves represented by the tribes of Gog and Magog on the map. The rhetoric of the map compares well to the portion of Matthew Paris’ chronicle in which he says he was going to stop writing, as the end of the world was imminent, before beginning the next section when the apocalypse didn’t quite materialize.

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From the left: Asa Mittman (CSU Chico), Tobias Hrynick (PhD, Fordham), Abigail Sargent (PhD Princeton, MA Fordham 2015)

The second portion of the colloquium spoke to the use and value of the digitized map, and, indeed, of digitizing manuscripts generally. Asa Mittman presented both his reservations and his hopes for a project such as the digitization of Corpus Christi MS 2*. While nothing can replace actual physical contact with a manuscript (itself becoming more difficult as different methods of preservation hinder interaction with the texts), the digitization process allows for the content of a text to be paired with modern translations, bibliographies, glosses, and essays within a single website and made available to any and all across the globe. Digitization, Mittman believes, can never transmit the fullest meaning of a text to a researcher or student, as it deprives one of the physical interaction with which the text was made in mind, but it can allow for a significant measure of study of a text without having to pursue funding to go halfway across the world to enter into a secure library, itself requiring a lengthy request which may be denied, to access the material for a limited period of time. The lack of physicality in digitization is both a positive and a negative, as the text in digital form is a fragment of its true self, but is also no longer bound by space and time. Tobias Hrynick and Abigail Sargent responded to Mittman, saying that the stated intention of the Oxford Outremer Map Project was not to replace physical contact, but to allow a level of interaction with the text that one cannot have with it now, due to the need for the text to be jealously preserved for future study. The map is a text, and a digital copy of the text allows for a scholar to write upon it what notes and glosses he or she may need to aid in his or her own study, just as would have been done at the time of the map’s creation. Perfectly capturing the spirit of the project was Tobias’ closing statement, “The Lewis Chessmen were meant to play chess, and Corpus Christi MS 2* was meant to be doodled on.”

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From the left: David Pedersen (PhD, Fordham), Nicholas Paul (Fordham)

Closing the colloquium were two presentations, one delivered by David Pedersen and the other by Nicholas Paul on the behalf of Sarit Kattan Gribetz, who could not attend. Both presentations displayed the possible use of the digitized map in a classroom environment, with David Pedersen showcasing online modules that could be used with class lectures to introduce undergraduate students to the use of maps as rhetorical devices and the symbolism of medieval cartography. Nicholas Paul presented on the use of the map in Gribetz’s class, “Medieval Jerusalem,” which provided students with a visual representation of the physical and metaphysical views of Jerusalem in Western Europe. Students who actually used the map in their classes attended the colloquium and provided valuable feedback about the online modules and expressed their satisfaction with the direction the modules were taking in their approach to using the map as lesson material.

The Centre would like to thank Evelyn Edson, P.D.A. Harvey, Asa Mittman, David Pedersen, and Sarit Kattan Gribetz for their excellent papers and presentations and for taking part in this valuable discussion. We would also like to extend our most hearty congratulations to Nicholas Paul, Tobias Hyrnick, Abigail Sargent, and all who worked on the Oxford Outremer Map Project for their own remarkable work in putting the website together and providing a creative and eminently approachable way of accessing the map for students and professional scholars alike to take the developing discussion further.

Heather Hill (Medieval Studies) Presents at North Carolina State University’s Graduate Student History Conference

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Campus view at North Carolina State University

Heather Hill (MA Program, Medieval Studies)

Heather Hill (MA Program, Medieval Studies)

On Saturday, April 2, Medieval Studies MA Heather Hill presented a paper at North Carolina State University’s Graduate Student History Conference. This paper, entitled “Textual Inheritance: A Theory for Agency of Women in English Books of Hours,” is based on seminar work with Dr. Alex Novikoff in the History department, and serves as the foundation for her thesis. Heather considers trends in the historiography related to books of hours and merges them into a form of Brian Stock’s textual community. The result is textual inheritance, where the commissioner of a book of hours serves as the interpreter for a greater textual community that is formed by the people who have inherited the book of hours. Through textual inheritance, the commissioner influences the devotional and educational practices of the inheritors, thus giving authority to the commissioner in their selection. Heather argues that this is especially significant where women act as commissioner and men become inheritors, since women rarely get the opportunity to influence the devotional practices of men. In her paper, Heather considers this concept in relation to two books of hours, the Egerton Hours and the Felbrygg Hours, and highlights the possible impact that the female commissioners of these books may have had on their beneficiaries.

Heather presented her paper on the “Religion and Artistic Expression in Early Modern Europe” panel alongside Amber McDermott from University of California Riverside, who presented on sculptural depictions of female suicide in eighteenth-century France. Heather also attended a panel on the contested roles of women in the nineteenth century. The presenters on this panel considered environmental factors along with the gender roles in nineteenth-century Florida and in the Rocky Mountains, discovering how women defied their prescribed positions in each of these areas.

Another panel Heather attended was on poverty and progress in American cities. The two papers in the panel hit close to home for Heather, quite literally. The first looked at Huntington, the second largest city in Heather’s home state of West Virginia. This paper described the development of Huntington in the late nineteenth century as a railroad hub close to resource-rich rural areas of southern West Virginia. The second paper was on Heather’s second home, describing the food desert in the South Bronx. Just a few decades ago, this area was rich in fresh produce and large markets; now, fast food restaurants dominate the landscape. The paper explored how urbanization changed the food in the South Bronx and the role poverty played in this transformation. Heather found this discussion particularly striking in relation to her own experience of trying to find good food at affordable prices in the area. The author of this paper, Sam Hege, is a student at Rutgers University and is seeking to expand his work via digital mapping. Heather is excited to have exchanged contact information with Sam, and she intends to show him the work done at Medieval Studies and what he can do with digital maps.

Having had a great weekend of North Carolina barbecue and networking across several states, Heather considers her first graduate-level conference presentation outside of Fordham a rousing success!

NCSU _Place_ Picture

 

By Heather Hill