Last week I had the privilege and huge fun of planning and teaching a class with Stephanie Solywoda, Director of the Stanford Program in Oxford. We were talking about medieval Oxford – town, gown and especially books…
Stanford people get up close and personal with medieval manuscripts – here we are discussing the complicated layout of this Aristotle manuscript, and the functions of illuminated initials other than just being amazing – navigation, mnemonics, sometimes didactic or humorous (or even inexplicable) comment on the main text.
Colours and lines are still bright and sharp after 7 or 8 centuries – it’s hard to imagine someone spending the weeks or months it would have taken to copy this text out by hand. Not to mention manually justifying every line while keeping letter spacing consistent, using abbreviations and having to allow for imperfections in the parchment interrupting the writing space.
Bindings on the other hand, may not last so well – note the spine break in the manuscript above.
Old books, new technology – online gateway to Parker on the Web, and a modern facsimile of the ancient Book of Kells that lets us safely handle a binding using medieval techniques.
Kells facsimile – not strictly related to Balliol’s special collections (alas, no early Irish manuscripts here) but a facsimile is a wonderful teaching resource. The pages feel like the modern shiny light card they are, but they faithfully reproduce weight and thickness of parchment, dirty smudges at the edges, the way some fugitive pigments show through to the other side of a page (e.g. lower right of this opening) and even the holes in the original. These Stanford students will be visiting the real Book of Kells, the centrpiece of a dedicated exhibition, at Trinity College Dublin later in their time in the UK, so this was particularly apposite.
Some recently conserved administrative documents from Balliol’s history, contemporary to the books displayed, were on show to demonstrate the differences in layout, hands and contents between academic texts and legal records.
Balliol’s Foundation Statutes of 1282, still with the original seal of Dervorguilla de Balliol, in their new mount and box from OCC. Like nearly all legal documents of the time, this is in formulaic, heavily abbreviated medieval Latin, but we were able to find the word ‘Balliol’ in several places in the text (and a full transcription and translation was available 😉 ) We talked about the evolution of early college statutes, the similarities and differences between colleges and monastic houses, the heavily religious language of the statutes and the practical stipulations included.
Balliol’s historic seal matrices and modern impressions – all featuring female figures, like the foundation statutes. St Catherine is the College’s patron saint, and we talked about the college chapel system and the fact that Balliol had a side chapel dedicated to St Catherine in St Mary Magdalen church – just outside Balliol’s walls – before it received permission (and had the funds) to build its own chapel.
Another beautifully mounted document, two copies of the Bishop of Lincoln’s permission to Balliol College to build its own chapel.
An opening from the first Register of College Meeting Minutes (1593-1594) showing formal but more workaday recordkeeping in the College, still in Latin but often with English phrases or sections, annotations, amendments and crossed out sections.
MS 301 has a typical layout for legal and Biblical manuscripts, with a central section, here decorated, of the main text to be studied in larger hand, and surrounding layer or layers of formal commentary plus shorter notes and personal reader annotations toward the outer edges. (No, the book is not hanging over the edge of the table – it’s the camera angle!)
Details of the decoration in that central section, showing rubrics (headings in red), regular red and blue penwork initials and still-familiar paragraph/section marks, plus more pigments, white highlights, and gold leaf on the most important initial.
A plainer study text, made for university use and leaving plenty of room for commentary and annotations to be added.
We enjoyed these whimsical doodles, turning initials into faces so full of character they might be portraits – or caricatures. They may also have had mnemonic and navigational value, particularly in a manuscript without folio numbers, as was usual. The manuscripts are foliated now, but most foliation is either early modern and/or 20th century.
The oldest document (ca. 1200) in the College Archives has been mounted to allow it to be displayed without damaging it; I also had two C14 legal documents out for the students to handle, and so we could talk about seals, seal attachment, and pre-signature authentication methods.
A mounted charter with pendent seals, still with their green and red silk cords intact. The conservators’ inner box cover includes photographs of the reverse of the whole document, the seal and the label, as well as a caption. Instant display without having to disturb a fragile manuscript.
For extra resources and further reading, I had a small selection of the College’s modern printed books on archives and manuscript studies topics out as well. The Manuscript Book compendium has recently been translated from Italian and is a brilliant resource for eastern as well as western manuscripts.
Links to relevant projects:
- Stanford Libraries: Parker Library on the Web
- British Library: Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts – virtual exhibitions
- Huntington Library: Manuscripts collections
- Balliol College: Manuscript images on Flickr
- Bodleian Libraries: Digital.Bodleian
- Cambridge: MINIARE
- Trinity College, Dublin: the Book of Kells
- Chester Beatty Library, Dublin – images
Recently the Assistant Librarian and I gave a workshop for Balliol English and History students who are starting to think about planning for their dissertations, and how to include original source materials. My section covered 1) preparing to visit archives and 2) handling special collections materials. The topic of locating/identifying archive and manuscript material is (and indeed has been) a topic for a whole separate presentation; this presentation follows directly on from that topic.
- archives are (usually) old and/or fragile
- physical formats and condition can vary widely
- handling should not cause (further) damage
Most of the material you will be looking at will be showing signs of age and perhaps wear – even if it’s not centuries old, it may have been badly stored, exposed to damp or heat, insects and other pests; it may be made of poor quality materials that deteriorate rapidly, and so on. The researcher’s main concern is how not to cause any further damage to the material while consulting it.
Once you start using archives, most things you look at will be between A5 and A3 size,on paper or parchment, and in flat/single-sheet or codex formats; but you may also encounter paper or parchment rolls, old photographs including glass plate negatives, archival bundles, folded items, fascicule volumes, textiles, biological specimens, artefacts, flat and 3-dimensional artworks, modern physical audio-visual and machine-readable formats – and tiny or huge variants of all these formats. They all require careful handling, but in different ways,
Of course you are hoping to make original discoveries, but you want the surprises to be academic rather than practical. Time in the archives is always limited and never seems to be enough, so it needs to be used as efficiently as possible. Once relevant materials are identified, assemble as many of your academic tools as possible before tackling the archive material:
- know secondary literature
- know editions/translations/summaries/abstracts
- request/consult catalogues/descriptions in advance
- take copies with you for note taking
- acquire necessary practical skills
- request/consult digital images
- ask for advice
Editions, especially diplomatic ones, can require almost as much knowledge of e.g. transcription conventions, abbreviations, language skills etc, as the original. What practical skills will you need to understand your sources?
- languages of record, critical apparatus and secondary literature
- palaeography and diplomatic – handwriting and formal structures
- abbreviations, layout and formats, specialist vocabulary or technical terms for e.g. accounts, legal documents, weights and measures, forms of money
- how to make codicological descriptions
Digital images may answer many of your preliminary questions, and in some ways they may be more convenient (reduced need to travel, ease of magnification etc) but they cannot replace the original. If you do need to see the original as well, digital images will be useful preparation, so always use them if available.
This is a complex field and every case is individual. Finding and using archive and manuscript material isn’t as straightforward as using modern (or even early) printed works. Ask for advice, from your friendly college archivist and special collections librarian, from your tutor, from the staff at the repositories you’ll be visiting, or preferably from all of us. Often there isn’t a single correct answer.
Planning a research trip
- make preliminary contact with archivist well in advance
- make & keep appointment
- spec coll regulations are different, even if you are using the same reading room as circulating/non spec coll materials users
- will vary between institutions and materials used
- remember material is *unique*
Most archives should be able to provide you with procedural guidance, searchroom regulations, handling guidelines and a reprographics policy in advance of your visit – but you have to ask. Check their website first!
also ask in advance about:
- physical condition of material you want to see
- permissions, procedures, fees for taking photographs/ordering copies
In the archives: basic dos and don’ts
- use pencil only
- wash hands before each handling session
- use appropriate supports as advised by staff
- consult one box or file at a time
- call staff attention to damage
- ask for help with moving or using materials
- bring coats, umbrellas, bags, laptop cases etc into the search room
- use pens or rubbers/erasers
- bring food, drink, gum/sweets, including water
- mark documents in any way
- touch text, decoration or damaged areas of the page
- take photos without asking first
In the archives – productions & returns
- fill in the forms
- open boxes/files at ground level & on a table
- watch for weight & shifting contents inside boxes
- carry boxes horizontal
- keep material 100% on the table, not hanging over the side
- keep your notes etc separate from archives!
- ask for help/instruction when needed
At your desk
- have as little open as possible at a time
- keep file contents in order
- CARE: not all will be numbered…
- look out for & report damaged or undocumented material
- look out for loose/smaller items in a file
- turn pages carefully
When photographing special collections material
- ask in advance & don’t assume permission
- check about approved use of images
- be extra careful of support & handling during photography
- make sure you can identify materials in your photos afterwards!
- regulations vary, check in advance
- gloves aren’t magic!
- take extra care when wearing gloves
- place material flat if possible
- hold rigid items by the edges
- do not touch text, illumination or damaged surfaces
That’s a brief introduction to preparing for a research trip to an archive; next, hands-on contact with original records…
– Anna Sander 2017
A guest post to close the research year at St Cross:
Robert Cowton was an early fourteenth century theologian based in Oxford, and Balliol archives house three manuscripts containing some of his treatises. I spent my week on a “micro-internship”, organised through the careers service, digitising these manuscripts for a group of researchers based in Germany. Making the images available online will hopefully save them, and the planet, a flight over. The three manuscripts, Balliol MSS 199, 200 and 201, are all executed in the same hand with matching decorations in red and blue ink.
I started off by photographing each of the pages attempting to give a clear and legible picture of the text. Wrinkles, curling pages and minute annotations did not make this an easy task. Handling a manuscript carefully and making the pages sit flat often seem to be diametrically opposed aims. If some of the pages are a little hard to read, this is because I have erred on the side of caution. Despite these challenges it was a real pleasure to work with the manuscripts; getting to feel the parchment and see at first hand the way the skin has been stretched and tanned to make it fit to write on. The tiny marginalia left by successive readers; from the eighteenth century page numbering (often with corrections) to the little pointed fingers indicating important parts of the text show the continued life of a text in a way that a modern printed edition cannot.
Once I had finished photographing the manuscripts I then jumped to the other end of the temporal spectrum and attempted to upload the images to Flickr. In order to get both Windows Explorer and Flickr to read the right title field data, each file had to be named twice, in two different programs. Once I had got through the renaming and uploading process it was very satisfying to see the whole manuscript online, waiting to be read.
I am very grateful to Anna Sander, the college archivist, for giving me this opportunity and patiently dealing with my questions and problems, as well as to the staff at Balliol library for giving me a desk on Friday afternoon and covering my lunch in college during the week.
– Mary Maschio (Queen’s College)
Anna adds: Some of Mary’s images have already had dozens of views, and I am very grateful for her help furthering the progress of manuscripts digitisation and sharing. I also thank the Oxford University Careers Service for organising the microinternship scheme, and appreciate their consistently excellent pools of applicants for these placements!
The benefits of last year’s condition survey of manuscript books continue apace: during last year’s manuscripts condition survey, we listed 155 manuscripts either unboxed or inadequately boxed. Boxing is a quick and effective – and relatively inexpensive, depending on the type of box – way to protect all kinds of archival material from light, dust and handling damage, as well as providing a certain amount of buffering from the environment.
First batch of 25 to be measured – these manuscripts are in good condition and require only light cleaning. Once they are boxed they will not need further conservation attention for a good long time, we hope. This will mean we can cross two dozen off our list of 155 quickly. The next tranches of mss will be measured in batches as well, in order according to how much repair they need, starting with those needing least binding repair, and avoiding those needing major text block repairs until the end. This isn’t just about getting through the list quickly: any change to the binding – and even some major interventions to the text block – may alter the outer shape of the book and therefore the box. Those will need treatment before they can be accurately measured for a box. Some may need a folder or wrapper in the interim.
The first lot of custom-made boxes has arrived from the Bodleian’s boxing and packaging department:
a surprisingly small package…
contains a certain number of boxes…
which are bigger on the inside than the outside! clever packing 🙂
one type of box – drop-spine, mostly used for larger, thicker or hardback volumes; several have string-and-washer closures on the fore edge for extra security and a little pressure to help keep the boards in shape
all done – another two dozen manuscripts safer on the shelf and during production!
A small display in Balliol’s Historic Collections Centre at St Cross Church, Holywell, for the Friends of Reading Abbey, 8 July 2015
scan of seal dorse presented with reading copy of deed and transcript adapted slightly from Salter
display case with original deed and supporting facsimiles and transcript
original deed was flattened long ago – conservators probably wouldn’t do this now, but it does make it easier to display
with much-magnified scan print of seal face – beautiful and in pretty good shape
recto of document, face of seal
detailed scan of seal face
verso of document, with endorsements, and seal
black and white contrast-tweaked crop of the document for easier reading of the text
Oxford, Balliol College Archives D6.21 Gifts by the abbot of Reading towards the building of the chapel of St Katherine.
1 January 1327/8. [Salter Oxford Deeds of Balliol College 584, adapted slightly]
1 Nouerint uniuersi per presentes quod dominus Nicholaus de Quappelade dei gracia Abbas Radyng’ liberauit sco
2 laribus domus de Balliolo in Oxonia viginti libras sterlingorum pro anima Ade le Poleter burgensis Radyng’
3 ad fabricam capelle sancte Katerine eiusdem domus. Item dedit predictus Abbas prefatis scolaribus decem marcas
4 argenti ad fabricam capelle predicte quas ab eodem Abbate per duo scripta obligatoria prius ex mutuo receperunt.
5 Dedit eciam predictus Abbas prefatis scolaribus unam fenestram vitream precii decem librarum & amplius
6 pro capella supradicta. Summa tocius xxxvj libras xiij s. iiij d. Item dedit eis meremium, lathes, & alia minuta
7 cum cariageo eorundem, que hic in specie non numerantur. In cuius rei testimonium tam predictus Abbas quam predicti
8 scolares presenti intenture alternatim sigilla sua apposuerunt. Hijs testibus magistro Thoma Othom tunc
9 Cancellario Uniuersitatis Oxon’, magistro Nicholao de Luceby tunc custode predicte domus, magistro Nicholao de
10 Tyngewyk’ & custode sigilli communis predictorum scholarium & multis alijs. Et remanebit una pars huius
11 indenture penes predictos scolares & alia pars penes custodem altaris capelle beate Marie virginis infra
12 Abbathiam Radyng’. Dat’ apud Radyng’ die veneris in festo Circumcisionis domini Anno domini millesimo
13 Tricentesimo vicesimo septimo.
Red seal 2.5 in x 1.75 in, bishop [?abbot] in mitre and chasuble, with book and pastoral staff. Legend: S’ NICHI’ DEI GRA… [?EPISCOPI] …ILCE.SIS.
A number of other documents from early in the college’s history were also on display, and visitors were interested in the history of the building and the other print and manuscript special collections kept as St Cross as well as the college’s administrative records. Our student intern explained his summer research project, working on another part of the college archives: the library’s 17th century book borrowing registers. Stay tuned here for some of his findings later in the summer…
Do you have photos of manuscripts held in Oxford’s Bodleian Libraries? now you can make them available to other researchers via their Special Collections #DIYdigitization group: have a look! https://www.flickr.com/groups/bodspecialcollections
There are instructions for naming/shelfmarking/tagging your uploads so others can find them, and so photos of the same ms from different contributors can find each other.
Balliol researchers are encouraged to do the same https://www.flickr.com/photos/balliolarchivist/collections/72157631849081491/
Opening access to archives and manuscripts, one click at a time…
Another use of last spring and summer’s survey of the medieval manuscripts: a researcher wanting to consult a long list of manuscripts, not necessarily in a particular order, had them produced by size, starting with the smallest. Result: only one swap to a different-sized set of foam book support wedges needed in a whole day’s research.
Balliol College Archives & Manuscripts and the Oxford Conservation Consortium recently completed a condition survey of all of Balliol’s medieval and early modern manuscript books, as well as a number of later items catalogued in the same series. (See RAB Mynors, Catalogue of the Manuscripts of Balliol College Oxford, OUP 1963.)
The survey of 497 items, ranging from single sheets and home made booklets of a few bifolia to palm leaves strung between wooden boards and huge bound volumes on parchment, took 39 sessions averaging 3 hours each (ca 120 hours total, more than 4 items per hour) over 29 weeks, from mid-January to the end of July 2014. The staff hours required were twice that, as each session required two people: a conservator handling the manuscripts and a Balliol staff member entering data into an Access database on the OCC laptop. This was a much more efficient use of the college’s OCC subscription time than having the conservator enter the data as well as assess the manuscripts. It also provided a once-in-a-career opportunity for Balliol Library staff, particularly the Archivist, who is responsible for the manuscripts, to become familiar with every manuscript in the collection, in some detail. Most of the data was entered by the Archivist, but all members of Library staff participated during the course of the survey, as did five members of OCC staff. The process was speeded up considerably by having the 10-15 items scheduled for each day’s session ready in advance and waiting on a trolley in the reading room when the conservator arrived.
Each item received an average of 15 minutes of assessment, but in practice it varied from 10-25 mins depending on the complexity and condition of the item. The survey template included sections for descriptions of each item and assessment of its current physical condition as well as recommended repair/conservation treatment: survey information (date seen and name of assessing conservator); physical dimensions; current boxing or other container; text block materials, binding type, cover and board materials; attachments and supports, sewing, endbands, fastenings, text block edges, binding decoration, labels or titles; condition of text block and its media; condition of binding (cover, boards, joints, sewing, endbands, labels); whether the volume had been rebound or rebacked; its overall condition or usability; any treatment required or recommended, including new or replacement preservation boxing/packaging; and any other notes.
- good lighting and seating, a large stable table
- large document trolley
- measuring tape
- conservator’s tools e.g. large tweezers, selection of dentistry tools!
- magnifying glass
- cold (LED) desk lamp
- foam wedge book supports of various sizes
- bone folders
- lead weight/snakes
- laptop for entering data
The template for the survey database was adapted for the Balliol survey into Access format from OCC’s existing Word document, which had been used for several previous similar surveys at other colleges. We also kept a paper copy of the form handy during survey sessions for easy reference to descriptors. It was pre-loaded with all the MSS numbers, short titles for identification and centuries of production. At the end of each session the updated database was copied to a memory stick and to the archivist’s networked drive.
Having the survey information in a database format, not only electronically searchable but also sortable, makes possible many of the future uses of the data listed below.
We found that while the template provided an excellent structure for focused investigations and vocabulary for nearly everything we needed to describe, it would have been useful to have a notes field as well as tick-boxes for description of the writing materials. Most texts fell into the usual categories of iron-gall ink, black-brown ink, pigments etc, but we also found various types of ‘pencil’ in some of the medieval books, and modern inks, pencil and typescript in some of the modern mss. In some cases we noted these in the Notes field at the end, but more information would have been captured with another field in the writing materials section. The same applied to the Bindings description section, especially for some of the unusual amateur bindings and coverings. We began noting the number of binding supports partway through and found it a useful addition.
Data entry was done directly into the Table view of the Access database; this helped to keep investigations very focussed, as the Table view layout made it difficult for the data enterer to skip around between sections, but an Access user interface would give access to more fields at once and should be considered for future use. Some users might prefer to convert the database to Excel, and we have found it useful to extract and convert parts of it to Word for reports and printing.
Aside from the professional and custodial benefits to staff and the college, we all enjoyed this survey immensely! It was an exciting time of (re)discoveries in the collection and much learning for all involved.
Benefits and uses
1) The most obvious function of the survey is to inform conservation treatment priorities for the future, but it is far from the only one. For each manuscript, its current condition and recommended treatment will be balanced with its contents/research interest and likelihood of exhibition or teaching use. We have good data going back more than 10 years on the ‘research popularity’ of the manuscripts.
2) In addition to conservation treatments needed, the survey has identified basic important preservation improvements e.g. numerous mss are not yet boxed, or need wrappers inside their otherwise good acid-free envelopes
3) The survey acts as a shelf check of the manuscripts.
4) Although the manuscripts were catalogued by Mynors, some of the descriptions date from as early as the 1930s and many reflect Mynors’ own research interests, heavily biased toward the texts of western medieval books. The survey has helped to identify underdescribed manuscripts needing improved catalogue entries to serve the wider interests of students of codicology and the history of the book. Areas particularly needing improvement are descriptions of historic bindings, details of illumination and book decoration, early modern manuscripts and non-western manuscripts.
5) Electronic records make it easy to flag the manuscripts’ physical condition to potential users on our website, so it is clear in advance which need (extra) special care in handling and which (few) will not be produced to researchers in their present condition. This will inform staff handling and manuscript-specific instructions on handling to readers. Better handling will improve long term preservation by decreasing the likelihood of further damage.
6) Similarly, exhibition/loan requests can receive quick and detailed responses about the suitability of specific mss for display and particular considerations needed. Where necessary, treatments can be prioritised or alternative candidates found. Staff will be able to balance the physical exposure of manuscripts across the collection rather than repeatedly displaying the same few well-known and regularly requested ‘treasures’. Increasing the breadth of manuscripts displayed will lead to institutional appreciation of the collection as a whole rather than a set of highlights with an anonymous hinterland of unknown quality.
7) Staff can easily find FAQ statistics e.g. largest, smallest, oldest, unusual characteristics, shared features, authors, texts, dates; these will be useful for reports, teaching, outreach, displays and online features.
8) Improved staff/institutional knowledge of the whole collection has already led to use of some of the less-frequently consulted (and formerly less valued) manuscripts for teaching and school outreach purposes.
More benefits and further uses of the survey are still emerging:
- Conservators are adapting database template for use in similar surveys with other colleges.
- a research-experienced volunteer is gaining curatorial experience and starting improvements to descriptions of codicological and decorative features to support teaching, research and exhibition requirements (see (4) above).
- an academic researcher has been provided with the most complete list available to date of all Balliol manuscripts within a date range containing illumination (in this case, decoration using pigments and metal e.g. gold leaf). The list derived for these criteria from the survey database is considerably longer than any comparable list yet in print.
A few survey numbers
- MSS surveyed: 497
- people involved: 9
- staff hours: ca. 240 (ca. 120 each Balliol and OCC)
- no. & % of mss in good condition: 211
- no. & % of mss in fair condition: 196 + 22 in ‘fair-to-good’ condition, indicating that some minor repairs would make the manuscript significantly safer to produce.
- no. & % of mss in poor condition: 38 + 24 in ‘fair-to-poor’ condition, usually meaning that one of the boards is detached but the MS is in otherwise fair condition
- no. & % of mss in unusable condition: 6
- largest MS: two answers: largest volume MS 228, dimensions 480x350x125 mm, vol 0.021 m3; and largest boards MS 174, dimensions 480x370x090 mm, vol 0.0159 m3 .
- smallest MS: MS 378, a book of prayers in Ethiopic, written on parchment with wooden boards and a nice example of Coptic binding. It measures 081x062x035 mm.
- oldest MS: MS 306, part of which is a 10th century copy of a text by Boethius
Have a look at our conservation survey series of posts for more details of our discoveries! Still more to come…
It’s that time of year – here’s one for the series ‘What can college librarians possibly find to do all summer while the students are away?’ Well, the Library staff are currently carrying out a Grand Shelf Check of all the early printed books – it’s especially important that we know, and record, where everything is because some of the EPBS were moved to St Cross in 2011-13 and some are still in Broad Street. And as always happens with thorough checks like this, all sorts of interesting things are turning up! Some of them include significant proportions of manuscript material – more about this as they emerge. From yesterday:
the cover is in fact a cut-down and reused administrative document. This is not unusual – palimpsests (erased texts that have been written over) get the press these days, but old parchments were often reused in humbler ways, as pastedowns, fly/guard/endleaves, linings, fastenings, page markers and indeed as in this case, covers. Here we can see the title page and the inside of the front cover – the document is upside down.
Oh – the contents of the printed book? Prattica cioe inventione di Conteggiare, published in Brescia by Ludovico Britannico.
Now we know we’re in Italy, back to the cover!
Part of the document is conveniently shaped to form a fore-edge flap for the book. It’s now very stiff, and has been folded inside the back cover for so long it doesn’t function as a flap anymore.
Here is what we can see of the document – upper left of what remains of the text, now the upside down lower part of the inside back cover of the book.
Lower left of the document: the notarial sign and colophon – see Medieval Writing’s useful explanation.
Back to the front of the book for the right hand side of the document…
the upper right
and the lower right.
I don’t have time to familiarise myself with Italian legal documentary formulae, and I don’t know what kind of transaction this document records, or quite how much of it is missing (clearly we have the bottom but not quite the beginning), but I hope somebody who’s practising Italian palaeography and diplomatic may find it interesting! Do drop us a line if so…
Several things to say about Balliol MS 149, a 14th century collection of sermons – on f 122r, the most eye-catching feature is the big manicula, aka Nota Bene hands, used as pointers the way we might use arrows, highlighting, underlining etc. How many fingers??
The handwriting is also notable – more or less a documentary hand such as we would expect to find in charters and other administrative documents, here unusually used in a formal book context. And lots of different types of text correction: rubbing out and writing over, superscript interpolations indicated by the still-current caret ^, dotting under the word to be deleted, crossing out… why has crossing out survived and expunction (underdotting) not? More about types of errors and corrections and technical notes on same – see especially IV.vii and V.ii.
Lunchtime talk: Unlocking Archives
– current research in Balliol College’s special collections –
The Index of Images in Oxford College Libraries:
an overview of the Project
Dr Lynda Dennison
Friday 22 November (Oxford MT week 6), 1-2 pm
St Cross Church, Manor Road
* all welcome *
A survey of the scope and method of the project, which aims to compile an index of images in Oxford College Libraries from the time of Chaucer to Henry VIII, illustrated with special reference to the medieval manuscripts collection at Balliol College.
For the past six years Lynda Dennison has been a researcher for the Index of images in English manuscripts from the time of Chaucer to Henry VIII, c.1380-c. 1509, general editor Kathleen Scorr, and has lectured in the History of Art at the Oxford University Department of Continuing Education and the Oxford Centre for Medieval and Renaissance Studies.
Feel free to bring your lunch. The talk will last no more than half an hour, to allow time for questions and discussion afterwards, and a closer look at some of the Balliol manuscripts discussed.
Announcing the second talk in our new series about research in Balliol’s special collections:
John Bray, Limner-Binder, and Three Sequences of Manuscripts Made in Oxford (1450-84)
Holly James-Maddocks, University of York
This paper identifies the hand of one Oxford-based illuminator (John Bray, d.1493) in three sequences of manuscripts housed today in Balliol, Merton, and Exeter Colleges. His collaboration with four London illuminators for their production prompts an assessment of the evidence for peripatetic book artisans and for the reliance of the Oxford trade on the supply of London labour.
Holly James-Maddocks is a PhD student at the Centre for Medieval Studies, University of York, completing the thesis ‘Collaborative Book Production: Scribes and Illuminators in Fifteenth-Century London’. She will continue her studies of the London book trade as the Katharine F. Pantzer Jr. Fellow in Descriptive Bibliography at Harvard University’s Houghton Library in 2013-14.
* * *
When: Friday 26 April, 1-2 pm
Where: Balliol Historic Collections Centre, St Cross Church, Manor Road (next to Holywell Manor).
Who: all welcome
Feel free to bring your lunch. The talk will last no more than half an hour, to allow time for questions and discussion afterwards, and a closer look at some of the Balliol MSS discussed.
Unlocking the Archives is a new series of talks opening up the college’s archives and manuscripts to a wider audience and future researchers, given by scholars from Oxford and around the world about their work on material from Balliol’s special collections.
More Unlocking Archives dates for your calendars:
- 24 May: Dr Stephen Golding (Univ, Radiology) on researching the first history of the ‘Chalet des Anglais’
- 20 June: Dr Robin Darwall-Smith (archivist, Magdalen & Univ) on cataloguing the papers of Benjamin Jowett at Balliol
= = = = = = = =
2 April update: Many thanks to Holly for a fascinating paper! It will be presented to another audience at a later date, and, we hope, the new research (and perhaps photographs) will be published as well, so no summary here. Stay tuned!
spoiler alert – for the question, see yesterday’s post before reading on!
The answer is 382.
I just cannot transcribe Mr Hill’s diagram in a shape that reflects the MS, but it says:
382 halved is 191
and one more
Rest (i.e. left) 190 after the first gate
2nd gate: 190 halved is 95, and one more to the porter leaves –
3rd gate: 94 halved is 47, and one more –
4th gate: 46 halved is 23, and one more –
5th gate 22 halved is 11, and one more –
6th gate 10 halved is 5, and one more –
7th gate 4 halved is 2, and one more –
‘and at last one he bare away.’
More little conundrums from a 16th century London grocer another day!
From Balliol’s MS 354, the commonplace book of Richard Hill, a London Grocer in the first half of the 16th century, a medieval riddle, or rather an arithmetic word-problem of the kind we used to get a lot of in school. Plus ça change…
Ther was a man went in to an orchard & toke
sertayn apples //and he must pass vij gattes
and ye porter of ye first gate will not latt hym passe
except he geve hym half his aples & on mo
& so he gave hym / and than he commeth to ye ijde
gate & ye porter toke from hym half his apples yat he hade left &
i mo / and so seruid hym ye iijde portter / & ye iiijth
portter & vth & vjth & vijth porter / So at ye laste
he bare but on apple a way // how many
apples had he at the first /
There was a man who went into an orchard and took a certain number of apples. On his way out he had to pass through seven gates: the porter at the first gate would not let him pass unless he give him half his apples plus one more, and he did so. And then he came to the second gate, and that porter took from him half the apples that he had left, plus one more, and the third, fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh porters did the same. So in the end he carried only one apple away. How many apples did he start with?
Answer (from the manuscript) tomorrow!
Q: Hi there
It’s really amazing that this MS is available so easily online! Thank you so much for digitising it like this. My only problem is that references to it are often made by folio number rather than the page numbers you have given to it, making it very time consuming finding the right image. Not sure if you can do anything about that now, but perhaps if you digitise other MSs you could consider how people might want to search and how the MS is usually referenced.
Thank you for your comment re pagination of this MS. I am well aware of the pagination vs foliation issue. You will see from the numerous other MSS I have posted online that nearly all are foliated rather than paginated, and that my numbering of filenames reflects this (f.191r, f191v, etc). This MS is a deliberate exception; I have preserved the page numbering from the original online posting of this manuscript’s images on image.ox.ac.uk, which has been there since the late 1990s and much consulted. I suspect the pagination method was chosen (probably by RAB Mynors, who wrote the catalogue of Balliol’s medieval and early modern manuscripts in the 1960s) because of the first non-existent and then conflicting foliation in the first 20 or so pages; the numbering is at least a clear single sequence. Citations should include both systems, for the majority of folios where both exist. They often don’t include either, never mind both, and they are often cited incorrectly.
For later folios, it is not difficult to cross-refer between the two systems – to find the page number, double the folio number and add three for the recto or four for the verso, and vice versa to find the folio number from a given page number.
NB Some scholars have used their own numbering systems in secondary literature, and the above formula may not work for those. It’s a pity there is such a long history of confusion, and ironic that it happens in such a heavily consulted manuscript – most of our manuscripts have had straightforward foliation for centuries!
Now, of course, you can also download the whole set of images and rename the files any way you like.
So far 2012 has been a busy one with many researchers visiting the Historic Collections Centre. I’ve observed varied technique – or lack thereof – for handling and supporting manuscript books, rare volumes and archives of various formats, and thought I would round up some of the most useful handling guidelines I could find. I’ll be adding them to the website as preparatory reading for all researchers. This will save me barking a lot of ‘Don’t!’s at visitors… Of course I suggest politely really, but the effect is often the same however considerately you break an hour’s silent concentration!
One thing I’ve observed is that researchers often rush when handling manuscripts. This is because they are in a hurry, and because they are excited about their investigations. It can be very damaging to the manuscripts. There are several things researchers should keep in mind:
- This book is [x] centuries old. We want it to last [x] more centuries.
- Damage is cumulative, so we need to minimise it during our brief curation or use of this manuscript.
- Turn pages s*l*o*w*l*y and gently, from the middle of the edge as long as the text doesn’t go right to the edge
- Avoid touching text, not only with your fingers but with lead weights or papers
- Don’t lean on the book or push down on pages to make them open more. Think of what is happening to the binding.
- It is not (usually) the parchment itself that is particularly fragile. It’s the inks and especially the binding.
- Careful handling is free. Conservation repair work is extremely expensive.
It’s important to take the time to consider each item’s structure and individual needs for correct support – and not only when it first arrives at the desk. The shape of a book and the stresses within its structure change a great deal as the pages are turned, and supports may need to be moved several times during consultation.
The guidelines below concentrate on manuscript volumes, but include and often apply to other formats as well. None of them is complete (in my opinion) so it is important to look at several – or preferably all of them, they’re only short – to get the whole picture.
CAUTION if you’re using these in a library or other quiet area – some of the videos are silent (thanks, BL!) but others are not.
- British Library
- Bodleian Library – link defunct and guidance not replaced, pages archived here
- National Park Service Conserve-o-Gram
- Harry Ransom Centre, University of Texas at Austin
- Auckland Libraries
- Specifically about correct use of foam book supports
- Folger Shakespeare Library – very good EXCEPT the use of the lead weight snake on the front cover of the small book!
- Practical videos about handling many different formats of books and archival material from the British Library
- Glasgow University Library and several of their other videos on handling different formats
- Harvard Special Collections
Q: The manuscript scans on flickr are very exciting! Are there plans for a full systematic digitization? And do you take requests?
A: Thank you! Most of the medieval manuscript books have been microfilmed over the years and I’m looking into digitisation of the microfilms in the first instance, as less invasive for the MSS. Whether we go ahead with that depends on cost and quality of the end product – I’m not convinced scratchy b/w films are worth it, but on the other hand most of our MSS are unornamented, so little information is lost in black and white.
Obviously digital images would be better (colour for one thing) and images like those on Early Images at Oxford for all the MSS would be the ideal, but there isn’t budget or time for that, so the digitisation I do so far is in reaction to specific scholarly requests (hence often partial) rather than systematic. It also depends on the physical state of the manuscript – we’re part of the Colleges Conservation Consortium but of course it’s a long process.
As far as digitising the archives is concerned, again it’s reactive rather than systematic and is subject to preservation considerations. After about 1550 many of the documents are bigger than A3, sometimes A2 or even bigger; they’ve always been stored folded down to A4 or smaller, and there’s just no way I can scan those. But the little medieval deeds, though several hundred years older, are generally easily scannable. It’s a question of time and priorities – eventually they would make an excellent basis for an online palaeography learning resource, as well as for the information they contain.
Q: I understand that a ring that once belonged to Elizabeth Barrett Browning and was the symbol of the great epic ‘The Ring and the Book’ by Robert Browning was given to your Library by Fannie Barrett Browning, and that you own it. May I see the ring, or an image of it?
A: The ring in Balliol’s Browning collection, though it did indeed belong to Robert Browning, is not the ring which is referred to as ‘the ring’ in ‘The Ring and the Book’.
Description of the ring from ‘The Ring and the Book’:
Do you see this Ring?
‘Tis Rome-work, made to match
(By Castellani’s imitative craft)
Etrurian circlets found, some happy morn,
After a dropping April; found alive
Spark-like ‘mid unearthed slope-side figtree- roots
That roof old tombs at Chiusi: soft, you see,
Yet crisp as jewel-cutting. There’s one trick,
(Craftsmen instruct me) one approved device
And but one, fits such slivers of pure gold
As this was, such mere oozings from the mine,
Virgin as oval tawny pendent tear
At beehive-edge when ripened combs o’erflow,
To bear the file’s tooth and the hammer’s tap:
Since hammer needs must widen out the round,
And file emboss it fine with lily-flowers,
Ere the stuff grow a ring-thing right to wear.
That trick is, the artificer melts up wax
With honey, so to speak; he mingles gold
With gold’s alloy, and, duly tempering both,
Effects a manageable mass, then works.
But his work ended, once the thing a ring,
Oh, there’s repristination! Just a spirt
O’ the proper fiery acid o’er its face,
And forth the alloy unfastened flies in fume;
While, self- sufficient now, the shape remains,
The rondure brave, the lilied loveliness
Gold as it was, is, shall be evermore:
Prime nature with an added artistry
No carat lost, and you have gained a ring.
What of it? ‘Tis a figure, a symbol, say;
A thing’s sign: now for the thing signified.
The ring described is a Castellani ring, elaborately decorated with lily flowers. The ring at Balliol is very plain, with the word ‘VIS MEA’ on it, but no Etruscan Castellani work and no lilies. Fannie Barrett Browning mistakenly thought that it was ‘the ring’, but Browning’s own description shows that the ring in the poem is completely different. Scholars have unfortunately followed Fannie’s mistaken identification.
It is not clear whether ‘the ring’ in the poem actually existed, or was just in Browning’s imagination. There is a full account of this in ‘The Poetical Works of Robert Browning, Volume Seven, The Ring and the Book’ ed. Stefan Hawlin and Tim Burnett, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1998 p.8 and Appendix D, pp 326-36. They conclude that the VIS MEA ring given to Robert Browning by Isa Blagden is not the ring in the poem. They think that a ring which resembles the ring in the poem is to be found in the British Museum, Finger Ring 356.
Images of Formal Archives A.2, medieval deeds of Balliol properties in the parishes of St Giles & St Mary Magdalen, Oxford, are now online HERE.