Theodor Mommsen, one of the greatest classicists of the nineteenth century, visited Oxford in March 1889. Legend has it that Mommsen was so keen to work at the Bodleian Library that he stood at the entrance at 7 am, waiting for it to open. He was eager to examine a manuscript of Cassidorus’s Variae (probably MS. Bodl. 96 ) when Edward Nicholson (Bodley’s Librarian 1849-1912) showed him an early composite manuscript that contained Jerome’s translation of Eusebius’s Chronicle, MS. Auct. T. 2. 26. The manuscript had been bought at the Meerman sale in 1824.
(Mommsen made time for modern reading too: he dined with W. Warde Fowler at Lincoln College, who records in an excellent memoir of Mommsen that he had been reading Jane Eyre on his way from Berlin, and spoke of it with enthusiasm. Mommsen was keen to find a copy of Wuthering Heights at an Oxford bookstore.)
Jerome’s translation and expansion of Eusebius’ Chronicle
The composite manuscript proved to be quite extraordinary. Hiding behind a 15th-century addition, it contained an early copy of Jerome’s Latin translation of Eusebius’ Chronicle (Eusebius’ compilation was made in the early 4th century with Jerome’s translation and additions done by c. 380). On fols. 33-145 Mommsen discovered a mid-5th century copy of the text. Without any delay, Mommsen published an article about the discovery of the Oxford manuscript in Hermes 24 (1889) 393-401. Henry Nettleship (Corpus Christi Professor of Latin 1878-1893) had transcribed portions for him.
Marcellinus Comes, Chronicle
The manuscript yielded also another discovery: on fols. 146-178 there is the earliest known text of the Chronicle of Marcellinus Comes (d. c. 534), copied in the second half of the 6th century. Mommsen went on to edit Marcellinus’ Chronicle in 1894.
The manuscript was correctly dated by the eminent palaeographer and latinist Ludwig Traube, and was reproduced in facsimile by another editor, the distinguished classicist and astronomer John Knight Fotheringham in 1905.
Importance of colour of the text
When Jerome translated Eusebius’s Chronicle into Latin, and brought it up to date, he wrote a preface in which he instructed scribes how to copy the complicated series of parallel columns which enabled readers to date biblical events by reference to events in the history of Egypt, Greece and Rome.
He wrote ‘the history is multiplex, possessing barbarian names, matters unknown to the Latin-speaking peoples, inexplicable numbers, and columns equally interwoven with events and numbers, so that it is almost more difficult to discern the order in which things must be read, than to arrive at an understanding of the meaning.’
‘The variety of colours should also be preserved; lest someone suppose that so great an effort has been attempted for a meaningless pleasure of the eyes, and, when he flees from the tedium of writing, inserts a labyrinth of error. For this has been devised so that the strips of the kingdoms, which had almost been mixed together because of their excessive proximity on the page, might be separated by the distinct indication of bright red, and so that the same hue of colour which earlier parchment pages had used for a kingdom, would also be kept on later ones.’
The work was important not only because of its chronology, enabling readers to date the fall of Troy, the rape of Lucretia, and the birth of Christ, but also because it provided dates for the lives of Greek and Latin authors. The Oxford manuscript is one of the four late antique copies to survive, and though the opening leaves are missing, the other copies are fragments or a palimpsest.* The Oxford manuscript is written in uncial script and has some contemporary slanting marginal annotations.
In 1902, to celebrate the Bodleian tercentenary, Ludwig Traube presented the library with his publication of a facsimile of the fragments of a similar manuscript of the Chronicle which had survived as binding fragments in Leiden, Paris and the Vatican. In his Latin preface he stressed the importance of photography for the study of manuscripts. Traube saw the importance of the age of photography, as he named it, for the study of manuscripts, and hoped for the publication of more full photographic facsimiles of manuscripts. He would have delighted in the number and the quality of digital facsimiles. There is another fairly early copy of Jerome’s translation of Eusebius’s Chronicle in Merton College MS. 315 . This 9th century German manuscript is the oldest book at Merton College and likewise accessible on Digital.Bodleian .
Public and university libraries have faced the pandemic with a multitude of inventive new ways of connecting books and readers, such as ‘Grab and Go’ book deliveries limiting the time of physical visits. What about special collections libraries, whose materials cannot be taken out of the institution? Temporary closures or limited access to reading rooms have meant a pivot towards more provision of digital resources, and archivists and librarians have been active in unearthing treasures to share on social media.
The lockdown period has also been an opportunity to explore what can be done in new ways and even to push beyond the usual patterns of scholarly discourse. Online meeting platforms and visualizers (the modern version of that classroom standby, the overhead projector) lend themselves to the visual exploration and discussion of related items, collections, or genres of material held in institutions that are geographically distant.
Using this technology and adapting seminar formats to online presentation, at the Bodleian Libraries Centre for the Study of the Book we have found new opportunities to participate in cross-institutional events in 2021, sharing collection material with other libraries via online platforms and learning from their expert staff and unique items. In the style of a potluck meal, each institution brings a copy or a witness to the online gathering which fills out the whole intellectual smörgåsbord.
29 Jan 2021Coverdale’s Goostly Psalmes [follow link for recording]
‘Translating, Singing, Printing the Reformation. The Queen’s College Sammelband with Myles Coverdale’s Goostly Psalmes’, with a showing of The Queen’s College copy and the Bodleian and Beinecke Library fragments
(Oxford Seminar in the History of the Book) Henrike Lähnemann, Faculty of Medieval and Modern Languages, University of Oxford Matthew Shaw, Librarian of The Queen’s College, Oxford Sarah Wheale, Head of Rare Books at the Bodleian Libraries Kathryn James, Curator for Early Modern Books and Manuscripts at Yale’s Beinecke Library See blogpost with downloadable foldable ‘fragments’ and links to facsimiles
1 Feb 2021 Medieval book coffers [follow link for recording] Bodleian and John Rylands curators
‘Newly acquired medieval book coffers at the Bodleian and the John Rylands Libraries’
(Oxford Palaeography and Manuscripts Studies Seminar)
See the 3D image of the Bodleian coffer on Cabinet, here.
4 May Dante 1481: the Comedia, illustrated by Botticelli [follow link to register]
Bodleian Libraries; University College, London; Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale di Firenze; Morgan Library; British Library; John Rylands Library; Trinity College, Cambridge
(Bibliographical Society of America event and in conjunction with special series Dante 1321-2021: A Man For All Seasons)
22 June Yiddish and Russian Children’s Books [registration opens soon]
YIVO and Bodleian Libraries
Meetings of the two seminar series in Hilary Term 2021 took place in unusual circumstances. The seminars welcomed participants and speakers from around the world at online meetings. Bodleian manuscripts were shared ‘live’ online at all of the Palaeography seminars, and in each series one seminar session joined material from the Bodleian collections with items from other libraries.
It was possible to record some sessions; the presentations can be viewed from the links below, where indicated.
Seminar in Palaeography and Manuscript Studies
Convenors: Daniel Wakelin (English), Martin Kauffmann (Bodleian)
Week 3 (1 February) Bodleian and John Rylands curators: Libraries Together session
‘Newly acquired medieval book coffers at the Bodleian and the John Rylands Libraries’ Presentation recorded
See the 3D image of the Bodleian coffer on Cabinet, here.
Week 5 (15 February) Adam Whittaker (Birmingham City University)
‘Medieval music theory in Bodleian manuscripts’ Presentation recorded
Week 7 (1 March) Marc Smith (École des Chartes)
‘Late medieval writing models: contextualizing MS. Ashmole 789‘
Seminar in the History of the Book
Conveners: Cristina Dondi (Lincoln College, Oxford) and Alexandra Franklin (Bodleian Centre for the Study of the Book)
Week 1 (22 January) Matthew Payne, Keeper of the Muniments, Westminster Abbey
‘Follow the Money: Wynkyn de Worde, Jacques Ferrebouc and the Bardi’ Presentation recorded
Week 2 (29 January) [Special session at 5 pm GMT] Goostly Psalmes in Oxford and New Haven: Libraries Together session Presentation recorded
See blogpost with downloadable foldable ‘fragments’ and links to facsimiles
‘Translating, Singing, Printing the Reformation. The Queen’s College Sammelband with Myles Coverdale’s Goostly Psalmes’
with a showing of The Queen’s College copy and the Bodleian and Beinecke fragments Henrike Lähnemann, Faculty of Medieval and Modern Languages, University of Oxford Matthew Shaw, Librarian of The Queen’s College, Oxford Sarah Wheale, Head of Rare Books at the Bodleian Libraries Kathryn James, Curator for Early Modern Books and Manuscripts at Yale’s Beinecke Library
Week 3 (5 February) Francesco Guidi-Bruscoli (University of Florence)
‘The Borromei’s trade unveiled: digging for information in fifteenth-century account-books’ Presentation recorded
Week 5 (19 February) Alessandro Bianchi (Bodleian)
‘Hidden in plain sight. Printed books from the Japanese Mission Press in the Bodleian Collections’
Week 6 (26 February) Kanupriya Dhingra (SOAS, University of London)
‘Streets and Serendipity: “Locating” Daryaganj Sunday Patri Kitab Bazaar’ Presentation recorded
Week 7 (5 March) Benjamin Wardhaugh (Oxford)
‘Hunting for readers in sixteenth-century editions of the works of Euclid’
In his talk, Dr Wardhaugh referred to the online resource hosted by The Bibliographical Society, ‘Euclid in Print‘
Week 8 (12 March) William Stoneman (Cambridge, MA)
‘Buying Incunabula at Gimbel Brothers Department Store: A Curious Chapter in the History of American Book Collecting’ Presentation recorded
Seminar in Palaeography and Manuscript Studies
Convenors: Daniel Wakelin, Martin Kauffmann
Meetings will take place online via Zoom on Mondays at 2.15pm (GMT) in weeks 1, 3, 5, and 7. Original manuscripts will be shown. Registration is required. E-mail: email@example.com . Your message must be received by noon on the Friday before the seminar (or register for the whole series by noon, Friday 15 January).
Week 1 (18 January) Julian Luxford (University of St. Andrews) The Tewkesbury benefactors’ book
Week 3 (1 February) Bodleian and John Rylands curators Newly acquired medieval book coffers at the Bodleian and the John Rylands Libraries
Week 5 (15 February) Adam Whittaker (Birmingham City University) Medieval music theory in Bodleian manuscripts
Week 7 (1 March) Marc Smith (École des chartes) Late medieval writing models: contextualizing MS. Ashmole 789
Seminar in the History of the Book, Hilary Term 2021
Fridays at 2:15pm (GMT)
On-line: Register by email to: firstname.lastname@example.org , giving the dates of any seminars you wish to attend.
Conveners: Cristina Dondi (Lincoln College, Oxford) and Alexandra Franklin (Bodleian Centre for the Study of the Book)
Due to limited space (even online), registrations for the live events will be honoured in the order received.
Presentations will be recorded if the speaker has granted permission, and in that case will be available a few weeks after the date of the seminar.
Friday, January 22 Matthew Payne (Keeper of the Muniments, Westminster Abbey) ‘Follow the Money: Wynkyn de Worde, Jacques Ferrebouc and the Bardi’
Friday, January 29: Special session at 5:00pm GMT Goostly Psalmes in Oxford and New Haven Henrike Lähnemann (Faculty of Medieval and Modern Languages, University of Oxford) ‘Translating, Singing, Printing the Reformation. The Queen’s College Sammelband with Myles Coverdale’s Goostly Psalmes’
With a showing of The Queen’s College copy and the Bodleian and Beinecke fragments Kathryn James (Beinecke Library, Yale University); Matthew Shaw (The Queen’s College, Oxford); Sarah Wheale (Bodleian Libraries, Oxford)
Friday, February 5 Francesco Guidi-Bruscoli (University of Florence) ‘The Borromei’s trade unveiled: digging for information in fifteenth-century account-books’
February 12 – No seminar
Friday, February 19 Alessandro Bianchi (Bodleian Libraries, Oxford) ‘Hidden in plain sight. Printed books from the Japanese Mission Press in the Bodleian Collections’
Friday, February 26 Kanupriya Dhingra (SOAS, University of London) ‘Streets and Serendipity: “Locating” Daryaganj Sunday Patri Kitab Bazar’
Friday, March 5 Benjamin Wardhaugh (University of Oxford) ‘Hunting for readers in sixteenth-century editions of the works of Euclid’
Friday, March 12 William Stoneman (Cambridge, MA) ‘Buying Incunabula at Gimbel Brothers Department Store: A Curious Chapter in the History of American Book Collecting’
Libraries and literary institutions around the world in 2019 marked 200 years since Herman Melville’s birth with readings and conferences appreciating his work. At Bodleian Special Collections we took the opportunity to call again on letterpress printers around the world, who provided Shakespeare’s Sonnets in 2016, to celebrate Melville in similar fashion.
The text was a section of Moby-Dick often overlooked by readers, part of the preliminaries in which Melville introduces the multifarious themes of the work. Eighty extracts are arranged approximately chronologically. Melville writes of his fictional sub-sub-librarian: ‘this mere painstaking burrower and grubworm … appears to have gone through the long Vaticans and street-stalls of the earth, picking up whatever random allusions to whales he could anyways find in any book.’ And yet, stealthily, these extracts of everything from the Bible to ‘Nantucket songs’ build a dramatic foreshadowing of the destiny of Ishmael and his shipmates.
They bear testimony to the value of collections encompassing a wide variety of texts — devotional works, learned legal treatises, great literature and sea shanties. To join its copy of the first (London) edition published under the title The Whale, the Bodleian now holds a new, collective, version of this section of Melville’s famous novel.
The bulk of the prints received are reproduced here. It is impossible to convey in digital images the quality of the craft and the satisfying variety of the physical items received. One detail must stand for the excellence of these pieces; it is from Richard Kegler’s Extract 13.
In addition to printing using various methods (see No. 49) and materials (see No. 13), the printers have incorporated into their works (sometimes literally, see No. 63) the publishing history of Moby-Dick, the ecological crisis of the oceans, awareness of historical racism and the dangerous pace of human exploitation of natural resources on land and in the oceans. Melville’s choice of sources did not go beyond the publication year of the novel in 1851, but many of the themes remain current. To update the ‘Extracts,’ the Bodleian gladly accepted an offer from the volunteers of The National Museum of Computing, to print additional ‘Extracts’ about whales, using their collection of 20th-century printers.
The first extract, from the St James Park Press, begins the series with the title, ‘Moby Dick Extracts’.
Students from the University of Arkansas answered the ‘Extracts’ call as a class project at the Underground Ink Press, the letterpress and book arts workshop at the University of Arkansas-Fort Smith.
57. ‘The papers were brought in, and we saw in the Berlin Gazette that whales had been introduced on the stage there.’ – Eckermann’s Conversations with Goethe. // Patrick Goossens, Letter-kunde , Antwerp.
Post-1851 ‘Extracts’ An exciting offer came from the volunteers at the National Museum of Computing, offering prints from a variety of newer machines: a 1940s German Lorenz teleprinter, a 1980s ICL computer line printer, and a Braille printer. This offer inspired the library to bring the extracts up to date in 2019, with additional quotations from Rachel Carson’s book, The Sea Around Us (1951), and from M.P. Simmonds, “Evaluating the Welfare Implications of Climate Change for Cetaceans,” in A. Butterworth (ed.), 2017, Marine Mammal Welfare (17th edition).
Film of Vtek MBoss-1 Braille Printer/Embosser, from The National Museum of Computing.
A Braille whale – or Whaille.
Film of the 1980s ICL Line Printer, from The National Museum of Computing
A display at the Bodleian’s Weston Library for Special Collections in November 2019 marked the arrival of this new collection to the Bodleian.
Teaching with library material has been continuing at the Bodleian’s Weston Library for Special Collections even as provisions to protect the health of staff and readers have placed restrictions on the numbers and movement of people within the Libraries. Several of the Libraries, including the Weston Library, have re-opened to readers since August 2020.
The autumn term usually brings a large number of University of Oxford classes to the Weston Library seminar rooms to share the collections most closely connected with their studies. This year, some of those visits have continued with students arriving in smaller groups while others have gone online. The key to sharing manuscripts and rare printed material with students and wider audiences has been the provision of films and of live online interaction, through the use of document cameras and smartphones.
A document camera, or visualiser, has been part of the Bodleian master classes set-up for many years, as a means of giving participants in the room–attending in person, remember those times?–a clearer view of details to which speakers wanted to draw attention: decoration, letter forms, binding structures, even (in a good light) the hair and flesh sides of parchment.
Now the same technology enables sharing online, and we, like others in the special collections world, took up the call to action by Aaron Pratt (Carl and Lily Pforzheimer Curator of Early Books and Manuscripts at the Harry Ransom Center, The University of Texas at Austin) in his online seminar in June 2020, Sharing Special Collections with an overhead camera.
The images shared onscreen have been good enough for a Classics seminar to read Latin and Greek text and compare letter forms, and for an Art History class to examine the pages of medieval manuscripts. In the picture attached, curator Martin Kauffmann can be seen addressing a class over Microsoft Teams. In this session, the particular configuration of MSTeams (the mirroring of the self-view) made it convenient to add a second laptop, so that Dr Kauffmann could see the manuscript onscreen in the same orientation as the students saw it and also see and hear the students onscreen, to ask and answer questions.
How does this compare to in-person teaching? Interaction is less spontaneous than when students visit the seminar rooms. We are all familiar by now with the problem of talking over each other in online meetings, where the ‘raised hand’ emoji replaces our instinctive reliance on the silent cues of posture and eye contact. On the other hand, compared to the experience of crowding around books placed on a seminar table, the online platform brings an image of the manuscript equally to each student’s computer screen.
When I was offered an internship in the Rare Books department of the Bodleian Library, I imagined my working days would not look entirely different to those of my English postgraduate degree – calling up material to the reading rooms of the Weston Library and searching through the pages of early printed books. Once lockdown was announced, I was grateful to learn that the internship would go ahead, except now later in the year, and entirely through remote working. Of everything shaken up by the crisis, my internship was probably low on the list of injuries. Nevertheless, I was uncertain about how I would proceed without access to the material. Thanks to my supervisor, however, I have never been at a loss for things to do. More than anything I think this time spent working for the Bodleian Library from home has made me consider afresh the value of “digital humanities” projects, and what is bound up in collections beyond the physical objects.
One of the main projects I have been working on is uploading to the CERL Provenance Digital Archive. CERL, or The Consortium of European Research Libraries, exists to “share resources and expertise between research libraries with a view to improving access to, as well as exploitation and preservation of, the European printed heritage.” The provenance project I was working on contributes to this mission, as individuals are able to upload to its visual database with ease. The effect when you enter the website is a jigsaw of carefully photographed bookplates, inscriptions, and bindings. Some are tagged with names and institutions, while many bear the elusive “Unidentified Owner”. Some are beautiful, such as an art deco style ex-libris belonging to “M.S.K.”, but many are visually unremarkable, plain ownership inscriptions and minor manuscript annotations. I was uploading marks of provenance found in the Mortara collection, bought by the Bodleian from Alessandro de Mortara in 1852. It dates from the 16th-19th centuries, and is particularly rich in 16th century Italian authors. What stood out to me working on this project was the number of hands these books passed through before they reached Mortara, and ultimately the Bodleian.
CERL prescribes a very particular process; upload one entry per mark of provenance. In practice this meant often uploading multiple entries from the same book, which had been marked by more than one individual. The idea is that a person would be able to search the archive for a particular mark – say a bookplate – and find images which match the one found in their book. In this way, the aspiration of the digital archive is to allow researchers to reassemble scattered libraries, as owners’ books were sold, auctioned and gifted to libraries and individuals across Europe. The project is still in its early stages and will be the sum of its parts, reliant on individuals choosing to take the time to upload their discoveries to the database. Nevertheless, working through these images from home I felt this was a digital space where near instant connection and collaboration was possible. It was exciting to think someone might recognise my unidentified armorial stamp or hastily scribbled name on a title-page.
Another project involved going behind the collections themselves to consider the personalities which formed them, as I was tasked with writing Wikipedia articles for some of the Bodleian’s named donors. It was fascinating to learn about the personal histories which drove these remarkable collections. An example is Brian Lawn (1905-2001), who was professionally a physician, educated at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge. His profession seems to have driven his collecting, which is rich in medieval and early modern medicine.
Having purchased his first antiquarian book as a medical student, Cornelius Agrippa’s Vanity of Sciences (1684), Lawn’s lifelong collecting was motivated by an academic interest in the history of medicine. Perhaps against our presumptions about collectors, Lawn stated that his “books were bought for use and not for artistic or aesthetic reasons, many of them are what the booksellers used to call “working copies”.” He published two monographs on medieval problem literature, as well as an edition of the Salernitan Questions, considering their use in the history of teaching medicine and natural philosophy. What struck me is that there are similar stories of collections developing out of personal or professional interests for most of the donors’ biographies I explored. While I have often used rare books for my own research, I have rarely stopped to consider the individuals named on the shelfmarks. Spending time working remotely for the Bodleian has allowed me to think about the biographical histories which shaped the library as we encounter it today.
While it is a shame that I have not been able to go into the Bodleian Library and look at its materials in person, I have greatly enjoyed my internship. Working on rare books away from the objects themselves has made me think about collections in new ways, both in line with and separate from my academic interests as a student. It is safe to say that resources like the CERL Provenance Digital Archive are becoming more relevant than ever, and perhaps the time librarians will have spent on such projects during this time will help make their collections accessible to readers in new ways.
From the later Middle Ages to the early nineteenth century, western handwriting was subjected to an unprecedented diversity of scripts and styles, characteristic of nations, languages, institutions, functional uses and the professional or social status of men and women.
The calligraphic models for teaching such scripts were developed by professional scribes such as copyists, chancery clerks, secretaries and writing masters. A minority among them had their manuscripts translated into print and widely circulated, thus contributing to a European market of letter forms, shaped and reshaped by the changing balance of power and taste.
After the prevalence of Italian models in the Renaissance, French writing books were an essential component of that market, until the English round hand (later known as ‘copperplate’) gradually became the common medium of business in the West.
At the crossroads of bibliography and palaeography, the lectures address a number of technical, commercial and cultural issues raised by the cataloguing and scrutiny of French writing books, hitherto the least charted territory in early modern calligraphy.
The Victorians used a technique called ‘nature printing’ to reproduce the details of leaves, plants, and other flat things like lace. This relies on pressing the specimen into soft metal (lead) to make an impression like a footprint of the item, and then making an electrotype of that impression in a harder metal, such as copper. The prints are produced with the intaglio method, in which the ink sits in the impressed areas and is forced into contact with the paper by the high pressure of the rolling press. This contrasts with relief printing, in which ink sits on top of raised lines. Here we have printed directly from the soft lead plate into which the leaf was impressed; the fine details on this lead plate will only last for a couple of impressions, though, before becoming smoothed down by the pressure as it goes through the press.