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
This past 11 April, the Center for Medieval Studies hosted its annual “Compatible Careers” event. Each year, the Center asks alumni to share their experiences of finding jobs after their graduations that go beyond the traditional academic/tenure-tracked path. The perennial question for graduate students nearing their graduations is: “what next?” To study what you love is a joy, but the fact of the matter is that, eventually, one needs to realize what one wants to do for a living. This question haunts many a student at night, especially those who would elect a non-academic path. The purpose of this annual workshop is to show students that taking alternate paths is not only possible, but it may even result in finding a better fit for them. This year’s speakers represent a wide array of careers that show promise and reward the creative medievalist willing to look beyond the usual choices presented to them. [Read on for more about the 2017 Compatible Careers Workshop] Continue reading
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.
Andrew O’Sullivan spent this past 23-27 of May at the Folger Institute in Washington, D.C. He attended there the Institute’s Orientation to Research Methods and Agendas with the intention of gaining a better understanding of the textual environment in which early modern readers began to re-learn and engage with Old English and Anglo-Saxon studies and the kinds of books those readers would have read to do so. While there, Andrew met Dr. Owen Williams, the Assistant Director of Scholarly Programs, who served as the groups’ primary guide through the busy week’s program. Extremely knowledgeable of current scholarship concerning the Institute’s library and materials, Dr. Williams engaged the attendee’s interests and provided them with the names of scholars with connections to the library whose work overlapped with those interests.
With this guidance, Andrew and the attendees each chose one or two books or manuscripts from the Institute’s Rare Books collection as the focus of their studies. Andrew picked Richard Verstegan’s 1605 history of Anglo-Saxon England and first printed Old English wordlist, Restitution of Decayed Intelligence; and William Somner’s Dictionarium Saxonico-Latino-Anglicum, a trilingual Old English-Latin-English dictionary printed in 1659. Andrew’s time with the books provoked new questions about their genesis and how their readers used them prompted in large part by the daily workshops and discussions during which the Folger Institute’s staff and other visiting scholars presented aspects of book production and trade. As an example, Dr. Thomas Fulton, a Milton researcher on leave from Rutgers University’s English Department, observed in one presentation that the paratextual elements of the King James Bible, such as the frontispiece and its caption, may have shaped the structure of Paradise Lost. Inspired by this, Andrew spent that day paying extra attention to the paratext of Verstegan’s Restitution, noting a number of dedicatory poems written by, among others, Richard Stanihurst, an Irish historian, and Cornelis Kiliaan, a Dutch lexicographer. This wide array of scholars with an interest in English language history crossed national and confessional lines in ways that Andrew believes “defy easy explanation.” At the end of the week, Andrew and the other attendees presented the highlights of their individual investigations to the group so that they might inspire new methods of analysis or insights.
Andrew came away from the program with a richer understanding of the complex social context from which the books he chose emerged. Additionally, the experience of researching the Anglo-Saxon past at the Folger Library provided an opportunity to reflect on how each age places itself in relation to its past. Books like Verstegan’s were written to commemorate the English past, but they were also meant to demonstrate that England’s origins lay outside itself, much as the Folger Library seeks to remind us of our own nation’s extraterritorial origin. But the monumental aspect of the library and even the city around it work to consolidate history and create a unified image, meant to stand against time and dissolution. As a result, attempts to memorialize the past can have the effect of sealing it off rather than opening it up for engagement. Making the past visible and vital to the present requires constant work from its students; Andrew, and the other participants had the privilege of learning from the Folger Institute’s staff, who were able to show how the books in the library’s collection pointed to complex historical realities. To avoid presenting a rigid and brittle image of the past, institutions need people like those at the Folger Institute who can respond to the questions and interests of the public and present the objects they preserve in a way that invites further investigation.
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.
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
On 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.
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.
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.
By Heather Hill
In conjunction with the Center for Medieval Studies’ recent Oxford Outremer Map Colloquium, Paul Harvey (Professor Emeritus, University of Durham) taught a master class on medieval maps to a very lucky group of Fordham graduate students and faculty. The class took place on April 8th and was followed by a reception. A scholar of medieval social and economic history, Professor Harvey shared a presentation on his long career handling, researching, and publishing on medieval maps. Highlights of Professor Harvey’s talk included a discussion of the Hereford Map, which he had the rare opportunity of inspecting flat out on a table leading up to the publication of his major study of the map, Mappa Mundi: The Hereford World Map (Hereford Cathedral, 2002). Participants also discussed the phenomenon of “mappa-mindedness” with respect to the Middle Ages, issues of size, scale, and the representation of polities in medieval maps including Matthew Paris’ map of Outremer (Oxford Corpus Christi College MS2*).
The Center for Medieval Studies would like to thank Paul Harvey for this enlightening presentation and the unique opportunity to discuss Medieval Maps with a renowned expert in the field!
Medieval Maps of the Holy Land (The British Library, 2012).
Mappa Mundi: The Hereford World Map (Hereford Cathedral, 2002).
Medieval Maps (The British Library, 1991).
The History of Topographical Maps: Symbols, Pictures, and Surveys (Thames & Hudson Ltd., 1980).
By Alexa Amore
This past 5 February, Dr. Maryanne Kowaleski took a break from her appointment at Harvard University’s Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study to deliver a presentation and lead a workshop on how individual scholars may develop and prepare a database to assist in their research. While the workshop was specifically meant to aid in the Independent Crusader Database project the Center is currently undertaking, the main points of how to construct a database easily apply to nearly any study or field of research requiring the organization of vast volumes of data. Breaking the entire process down step-by-step, Dr. Kowaleski began with which database software program to use and what each offers the prospective user. Be it Microsoft Access or Filemaker Pro, of paramount importance is that the user spends the time necessary to read through whatever manuals come with the software, including such additional guides as the ubiquitous “For Dummies” series. While this point might seem an obvious one, diving into a database program without knowing what that program is capable of, as, frankly, many people do with many types of programs, will leave you at a severe disadvantage. Like a painter who does not know how to mix his colours effectively, a researcher, working either independently or with a group, who does not know what his or her database program is capable of will only be adding information into a table without being able to do anything with it: the data will be an amorphous mass on a screen.
As Dr. Kowaleski related, it is all too easy, when compiling a database of any kind, to fill it in with as much information as the researcher finds interesting. One must limit a database to a specific type of record (detailing a marriage, an indictment, a person, etc.) to serve as a basis of investigation, and stick to that specific type so that each entry in the database does not stray into areas superfluous to the topic of research. Just because a particular point found in a source is fascinating, that does not mean it must be noted in the database unless it modifies the frame of the research topic, as will inevitably happen over the course of one’s study. Focus and specificity are a database compiler’s greatest allies; time, as in most cases, is not.
Herself using databases she produced and continues to augment and adapt with new discoveries for well over a decade, Dr. Kowaleski showed that a properly assembled database can illuminate mistakes in assumptions made at the beginning of the research endeavour, and can serve as a continuing work in progress as one moves on to further studies in the same general topic, as the database can be adapted as new information comes to light and foci shift direction. Far from set-in-stone, a database is something which can be modified and augmented as time goes on, making it an ideal method of note-taking when working on a long-term project and when relating a process of analysis to a wider audience. This, of course, applies to far more than historical research. We are in constant contact with databases, both appearing before our eyes and employed behind the proverbial scenes. Every time one buys something online, that purchase is catalogued and incorporated into databases displaying your buying patterns both individually and as part of the entirety of a seller’s clientele. Demography relies entirely upon the employ of databases in order to present regional information collected in some coherent, useful way. The ability to chart and organize large quantities of information over a prolonged period of time is vital to any profession or academic discipline what requires the analysis of individual cases in relation to one-another under certain circumstances or within a specific context.
The Center thanks Dr. Kowaleski for her sharing her considerable knowledge and experience with us during her time on leave.
By Kevin Vogelaar
On the evening of Friday November 13th, Fordham University kicked off its first annual Biduum Latinum Fordhamense, otherwise known as “Latin Bootcamp,” co-sponsored by the Classics department, the Center for Medieval Studies, GSAS Futures and the Fordham Graduate Students Association. Professor Matthew McGowan delivered the opening lecture, which emphasized how a knowledge of the Latin language provides special access to the nuances and layers of meaning in a range of texts from the classical, medieval, and renaissance eras.
The crowd didn’t seem to need much convincing on that account–the event drew a large, enthusiastic, and truly interdisciplinary audience. With students and faculty from the philosophy, history, theology, and classics departments, as well as the Center for Medieval Studies in attendance, the premiere of Fordham’s first Latin Bootcamp brought together members of the entire community, both within and outside of Fordham University. Several tri-state area secondary school teachers came for a lesson in pedagogy, as well as many instructors and alumni of the Paideia Institute. One area teacher even brought two of his own young students–his high school-aged children, who were accomplished in both Greek and Latin.
The following Saturday participants translated selections from Seneca, Hugh of St. Victor, and Petrus Paulus Vergerius, giving special attention to each author’s treatment of the Liberal Arts and use of the Latin language to describe the nature of their role in personal edification. The teachers–including Professor McGowen, Charley McNamara (a PhD candidate at Columbia University), and Jim Hunt (PhD Classics, Fordham ’10)–made sure every single student got the chance to sight read a bit of Latin, and all emerged from the translation sessions surprised by their collective ability to master Latin literature of three distinct cultural periods.
Professor McGowan gave an impromptu tour of the Fordham Museum of Greek, Etruscan, and Roman art at Walsh library before our group headed to Spellman Hall for Latin Mass lead by Father Christopher M. Cullen, one of the Jesuit priests residing in Fordham’s Jesuit community. After a beautiful service featuring readings from several of our participants, the group finished the day with a medieval banquet, complete with a few merry rounds of “Gaudeamus Igitur.”
The convivial atmosphere and collaboration between Fordham students, faculty, and guests was inspiring and fostered a productive scholarly discussion about Latin and the Liberal Arts through time and across disciplines.
By Alexa Amore