A rare books internship at the Bodleian Libraries contributing to the Provenance Digital Archive

from Victoria Higgins, Rare Books Summer Intern

Bodleian Libraries Lawn f.567, armorial binding stamp
Bodleian Libraries Lawn f.567, armorial binding stamp

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.

http://arkyves.org/r/view/cerlpda_8ea9c/him_CERLPDA

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.

 

Victoria Higgins

Rare Books Summer Intern

The Lyell Lectures 2020: Professor Marc Smith, ‘Writing models from manuscript to print: France, England and Europe, c. 1400–1800’

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 Lyell Lectures 2020 series

Lecture 1: Writing Models and the Formation of National Scripts

  29 September 2020, 5.00pm

Lecture 2: Bibliography and the Life Cycles of Writing Books

  1 October 2020, 5.00pm

Lecture 3: Renaissance Calligraphy from Pen to Press and Back

  6 October 2020, 5.00pm

Lecture 4: The Golden Age of French Writing Masters?

  8 October 2020, 5.00pm

Lecture 5: ‘L’Ecriture Anglaise dans sa Perfection’

 To be delivered in March 2021. Full details and registration information will follow closer to the time.

To join the series, https://visit.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/event/lyell-lectures-2020

The lectures will be available as video podcasts at podcasts.ox.ac.uk

Printing a leaf at the Bodleian Libraries Bibliographical Press

Printing a leaf at the Bodleian Libraries Bibliographical Press

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.

Learn more about nature printing.

Some examples of nature printing in Bodleian Libraries collections:

Henry Smith, supt. of the government press, Madras, Specimens of nature printing from unprepared plants (1857)

Thomas Moore, The ferns of Great Britain and Ireland (1855) [i.e. 1856]

Exemplary difference: examples in historic music theory

Adam Whittaker, Lecturer in Music, Royal Birmingham Conservatoire

‘Writing about music is like dancing about architecture’, or so the famous phrase goes. And yet, we have been writing about music for centuries. We are fortunate to have such a range of medieval and Renaissance writings on music that survive, from luxurious presentation volumes to scrappy single sheets pasted into miscellaneous collection. Although we often see quite stable transmission of texts across multiple sources (sometimes across centuries), we see much greater variation in the examples and diagrams. These, it seems, were fair game for change, revision, and emendation for specific readerships and local contexts, or simply at the whim of the scribe. My research explores why these differences matter.

In the autumn of 2019 I was in Oxford as the Albi Rosenthal Visiting Fellow in Music at the Bodleian Libraries. During my fellowship, I consulted a number of music theory manuscripts, including MS. Bodley 515 and MS. Digby 90. These manuscripts contain the famous Quatuor principalia musice [Four Fundamentals of Music], most likely authored and/or compiled by the English friar John of Tewkesbury in the late fourteenth century.

First, let’s look at one similarity. Early in the text, the theorist uses a monochord (a theoretical instrument of a single string) to explain the interval of a tone; a musical step in layman’s terms, as though moving from G to A on a piano. Both sources have a functionally similar diagram, even if there are some subtle visual differences.

Bodleian MS. Bodl. 515, fol. 10r (detail)
Bodleian MS. Digby 90, fol. 11v (detail)

We can see that both manuscripts show a monochord (horizontal line representing a string); both indicate the interval of a tone between G (low G) and A with an arc labelled ‘tonus’; and both have the indication ‘monochordu[m]’ at the left-hand edge of the diagram. Bodl. 515 shows a more artistic approach to this diagram, with its coloured labels and decorative circles, whilst MS. Digby 90 favours equal tonal spacing with notches. Despite these differences, which might be attributed to scribal taste more than anything else, the reading experience across the two sources is near identical.

However, such similarity isn’t always present. If we look at the depiction of the Guidonian hand – a kind of conceptual map for musical space that is commonplace in music theory texts – we see both similarities and differences. The Guidonian Hand mapped the six-note intervallic pattern (ut-re-mi-fa-sol-la) onto physical locations on the body which a singer could use as a memory aid while they sang. To think about how the Hand works in practice, The Sound of Music’s ‘Do-Re-Mi’ is especially helpful. Let’s consider the diagrams presented in the two sources.

Bodleian MS. Digby 90, fol. 21r (detail)
Bodleian MS. Bodl. 515, fol. 23r (detail)

There are some important differences here. You’ll notice that MS. Bodl. 515 is missing labels on joints, whilst these are clearly visible in MS. Digby 90. These are crucial! Without the syllabic markings on the joints of the thumb and fingers, this diagram serves little demonstrative function, beautiful as it is. Such a scenario poses some interesting questions and might have left fifteenth-century readers scratching their heads. Is this just a scribal error? Was this aspect of the diagram to be entered in a different layer? Did the scribe not understand the diagram they copied? Was there an error in the exemplar copy that a scribe couldn’t resolve? What use is the diagram when it is missing such key information?

This last question is of particular importance for the final comparison I want to make here. The relationship between musical durational values is a fundamental building block of music notation. Early musical notations were more context-dependent, with the same note shape being worth two or three counts depending upon the context. Theorists found many intriguing ways to discuss this phenomenon, but the most interesting for the present discussion is the idea of a note value tree.

Some contemporaneous musical treatises refer to the ‘arbor’ of Johannes de Burgundia, a figure about whom we know nothing except for a passing reference to his ‘arbor’ in a musical treatise by Petrus de Picardia (fl. 1250). Both our sources include a diagram of this type, though we see some divergence in approach. In MS. Digby 90, we see the relationships made clear in a quasi-tabular format (largest values at the bottom), with lines connecting the related mensural levels. Working from the bottom up we see that the largest note value divides into three parts, which itself is divided into three smaller parts etc.:

Bodleian MS. Digby 90, fol. 45r (detail)

By comparison, we see something which takes the tree much more to heart in MS. Bodl. 515:

Bodleian MS. Bodl. 515, fol. 49v

The visual appeal of this is important. MS. Bodl. 515 offers hatched details on the trunk of the diagram, with additional coloured detailing which has faded over time. In this way, the longest note becomes the ‘root’ of the tree, and its subdivisions into smaller notes become represented as branches, themselves with sub-branches. Although both sources adequately demonstrate the theoretical point, the subtly different diagrams change the nature of the text–image relationship. The tree-like construction of MS. Bodl. 515 creates a sharp mental picture for a reader to recall. MS. Digby 90, though equally clear, establishes a different mensural picture. These diagrams demand different reading practices and present theoretical material in divergent ways.

My point here is not to assign greater value to either source, but to demonstrate that what might be dismissed as ‘minor scribal variants’ really matter when we consider how a reader might engage with a text in a specific manuscript source. If a diagram containing such foundational information that was common knowledge to expert readers, then why did a scribe go such significant effort to present this in a visually appealing manner? The reader’s experience of the same text in these two sources would have been quite different. Through this lens we begin to see the way that the materiality of music theory texts is at least as important as the contents of the texts themselves, and that the diagrams and examples give us an unparalleled insight into this. These theoretical ideas are alive in the manuscripts that preserve them.

Adam Whittaker:
https://www.bcu.ac.uk/conservatoire/research/research-staff/adam-whittaker

 

 

 

 

 

Reaching out (digitally) with medieval manuscripts

A screenshot from the webinar, Blogging with Manuscripts, July 2020What do you get when you put together an excited group of medieval manuscript specialists and ask them to discuss blogging and teaching with digitized manuscripts? The answer: trumpets, drapes, marginal animal appearances, fake back-drops, cries of agony, laughter and lots of good advice.

A worldwide audience (from California to New Zealand!) gathered in three online sessions that were organized as additional evening events for the International Medieval Congress (IMC) at Leeds, 6–9 July 2020. The organisers were very pleased to see that each session had well over 100 participants. Our speakers shared their experiences on using digitized medieval manuscripts for teaching, and for reaching out to various audiences via social media, mainly through blogging and tweeting.

Read more ….

https://torch.ox.ac.uk/article/reaching-out-with-medieval-manuscripts

15th Century Booktrade and Learning in the time of Lockdown

How have our reading practices changed during Lockdown?

As somebody working with 20th century samizdat material for my doctoral thesis, I was surprised to find some of the most revealing answers to this question at an event centred round the  15cBOOKTRADE Project which took place in the Italian Embassy, London. In this blogpost I will reflect on the links between the printing and reading practices associated with 15th century booktrade and those of the later years of the GDR.

Over the last three months, we have seen the spirit of resilience and comradery fostered in communities across the world, supporting people through the adversity of the coronavirus pandemic. It would seem that the life advice Boccaccio imparted to us in the wake of the Black Death in his Decameron (1354), is still as apt as it ever was: “in our communities we can find solace”.

Written between 1348 and 1353, Giovanni Boccaccio’s Decameron contains stories told by a gathering of ten young people who had escaped to a villa outside Florence in order to flee the Black Death. Boccaccio’s frame story comprises a miscellany of tales: romantic, tragic and comedic, and ultimately offers a literary retreat from the pain and hardship of life in a time of plague. However, what emerges specifically from Boccaccio’s work is not just the importance of community, but also the curative power of literature.

For the characters in the Decameron, storytelling offered a moment of welcome reprieve from the difficulty of their life circumstances:

It behoveth us live merrily, nor hath any other occasion caused us flee from yonder miseries […] we shall pass away this sultry part of the day, not in gaming,–wherein the mind of one of the players must of necessity be troubled, without any great pleasure of the other or of those who look on, but in telling stories, which, one telling, may afford diversion to all the company who hearken.

Just as the characters in the Decameron came to each other and began storytelling in order to keep up morale, many members of the public today have turned to the creative arts once more to seek solace in this time of crisis. In the academic community, open-access online events have widened the scholastic community and created inclusive, virtual learning groups open to the public. Speaking at a recent webinar, Professor Cristina Dondi (Oakeshott Senior Research Fellow in the Humanities, Lincoln College, Oxford) noted that this movement towards wider educative inclusivity harkens back to key moments in the 15th century with the democratisation of learning through the era’s burgeoning international book. However, Dondi also reminded webinar attendees of how much further we must go in order to facilitate wider access to scholarly materials in archives.

As the Principal Investigator for the 15cBOOKTRADE Project at Oxford, Dondi was in the unique position of being able to offer insight into importance of the digitisation of historical texts. The aim of the project was to use the material evidence from thousands of surviving books from the 15th century to address five fundamental questions relating to the introduction of printing in the West. These questions included investigation of reading practices, the evaluation of the books’ contemporary market, the dissemination and visualisation of these texts, and finally, the use of illustrations.

For Dondi, and indeed many other academics, the coronavirus pandemic has highlighted the absolute necessity of digitisation of historical texts in order to create open-access learning communities befitting the social and academic developments of the 21st century.

‘The Dawn of Printing to Digital Access’
Circumnavigating current lockdown restrictions, the Italian embassy in London recently facilitated a webinar on ‘The Dawn of Printing to Digital Access: the benefits of making books available to everybody’. The event, hosted by Ambassador Trombetta and moderated by Jon Snow of Channel 4 News, brought together international experts engaged in promoting wider accessibility to books of historical and cultural significance (to read more about this project, follow the hashtag #ItalyRestArt).

#ItalyRestArt webinar programme
The webinar was focused on highlighting the progress of the digitisation of Italian incunables, while also looking to the future of digital access to historical books more generally. Organised into four main parts, the webinar opened with words of welcome from Jon Snow and His Excellency Ambassador Trombetta. This was followed by the introduction of previously recorded video statements from major players in the recent cultural preservation movement in Italy, featuring recorded messages from Anna Laura Orrico, Italian Minister of State for Culture and Tourism, and Andrea De Pasquale of the National Central Library of Rome. The third part of the webinar consisted of brief individual lectures from the panel in regard to their engagement with and promotion of digital access in their own fields. Among these panellists were Don Fabrizio Cicchetti, Antonio Padoa Schioppa and Prof. Cristina Dondi, who each offered insight into various aspects of digital preservation and access.

Representing the private foundation supporting this vital digitization of these texts, Marc Polonsky, of The Polonsky Foundation, shed light on the Foundation’s commitment to cultural preservation and wide dissemination. Polonsky credited the collaborative nature of the digitization project for fostering unique partnerships between project stakeholders from both the public and private sectors. According to Polonsky, this collaboration facilitated the establishment of high standards of best practice (both academically and technologically) which could be adopted as a developmental framework for future projects.

While each of these leaders related fascinating thoughts, it was Dondi’s lecture, however, that resonated with me the most. This was due to her inspiring engagement with the study of Material Culture, bringing the riches of cultural treasures not just to those in academia but also to the wider public.

Dondi began her talk by referencing the importance of developing resources that facilitate online access to research materials for precisely the moments in time when researchers cannot travel to archives and research libraries. Indeed, the current climate of the global pandemic is evidence for the necessity of accessible, transnational online learning resources.

In the last two years, the digitisation project of the Incunables of the Benedictine monastery of Santa Scolastica at Subiaco, the first printing place in Italy, a collaboration between the National Central Library in Rome and the Consortium of European Research Libraries (CERL) of which Dondi is the Secretary, however, made these Italian cultural treasures available online anywhere in the world at the push of a button. In doing as much, Dondi noted in her talk that for scholars of the incunables, the restrictions placed on archival research due to Lockdown have in this way been surmounted. For many undoubtedly grateful scholars, the online access to these materials will allow them to continue their research projects unhampered by the social and political upheaval around them. If this outcome were not applaudable enough, then the popularity of Dondi’s recent exhibition ‘Printing R-evolution and Society, 1450-1500. Fifty Years that changed Europe’ at the Museo Correr, Venice (September 2018-April 2019) has demonstrated just how vital digitisation work is for the wider public as for academia. This exhibition documented the impact of the printing revolution on the economic and social development of early modern Europe using hundreds of freely available digitizations from many European and American libraries.

Printing R-evolution
A journey of discovery which used digital tools and innovative methods of communication, the exhibition presented data gathered by the 15cBOOKTRADE Project (University of Oxford) about the History of the Book. The exhibition highlighted how, already by the year 1500, millions of books circulated in Europe, not only for the elite, as often claimed, but for everyone, including a large production of schoolbooks. In those, first, decades, printing coincided with experimentation and enterprise. Printed books were the product of a new collaboration between various sectors of society: knowledge, technology, and commerce, with ideas spreading widely and quickly as never before.

Dondi’s close engagement with the study of material culture was of particular interest to me, as my doctoral project investigates the ‘unofficial’ literary scene of the GDR in the 1980s, specifically through in-depth case studies of magazines printed in a samizdat capacity.

By researching each of the magazines’ diverse literary content, the different ways in which these magazines were produced, and the readership practices that surrounded them, my thesis will offer insights into the creative self-expression of the East Berlin literary scene and examine whether this phenomenon can be understood as part of the wider samizdat movement seen in many Eastern bloc countries. My thesis explores what these magazines tell us about the function, possibilities and limitations associated with publication beyond print in a totalitarian regime.

Although my topic of research differs greatly from Dondi’s work in terms of historical era and social circumstances, in essence both areas of research are fundamentally preoccupied with the same investigative question: what can the physical form of the book reveal about the people behind its printing?

In the scholarly community, as in many other sectors in society, academics have had to adjust their ordinary methods of research in order to continue with their projects.

Working From Home and using online learning tools have helped educators create an academic space (albeit, a virtual one) in this time of crisis. Attending webinars such as Dondi’s ‘The Dawn of Printing to Digital Access’, where international experts shared their knowledge and supported each other and the wider scholastic community allowed myself, and doubtless many other academics, to use our time in isolation fruitfully and thoughtfully. It would seem, therefore, that despite all changes and disruptions, many of us, like in the time of Boccaccio, have taken refuge in our communities, the stories and studies that we hold dear, as we continue to go on learning in the time of Lockdown.

Author: Aoife Ní Chroidheáin BA (Hons) MSt (Oxon) is a Leverhulme Scholar and DPhil Candidate in Medieval and Modern Languages at the University of Oxford. Aoife’s doctoral research entitled ‘Dangerous Creations: Power and Autonomy in East Berlin’s Samizdat’ examines the unofficial literary scene in East Berlin from 1980-1990.

Decades of manuscript photography on Digital.Bodleian

from Andrew Dunning, R.W. Hunt Curator of Medieval Manuscripts

Digital.Bodleian is the online home for Oxford’s special collections in the Bodleian and college libraries. Although it is still relatively new – with a second version coming later this year – it encompasses decades’ worth of photography projects. Many of Oxford’s medieval manuscripts are represented in some form, but only a portion of these have a full set of high-resolution images such as the Bodleian studio can now produce.

A recently photographed manuscript: MS. Bodl. 264, fol. 119v
A recently photographed manuscript: MS. Bodl. 264, fol. 119v

This sometimes means that you can find multiple versions of the same manuscript. For instance, the Bodleian’s famous Romance of Alexander, MS. Bodl. 264, appears online in three different forms:

Historical images of manuscripts can be useful to researchers trying to determine what an item looked like in the past or aiming to understand the history of its interpretation. What are the origins of these different sets of photographs?

Collections on 35-mm film

Between the late 1970s and early 2000s, the Bodleian published manuscript photographs on film. Dr W. O. Hassall (1912–1994), a curator of medieval manuscripts, assembled volunteers, popularly known as ‘Hassall’s vassals’, who occupied the Schola Musicae off the Old Schools Quadrangle and compiled image descriptions. Teachers and researchers could buy colour slides and filmstrips to use manuscripts outside the library including such gems as ‘Humanistic script and illumination’, ‘Pilgrimage’, and ‘Diagrammatic and allegorical wheels’. The complete series is listed in a printed index, Colour Transparencies, 35 mm, Available from the Bodleian Library (1983).

The Bodleian Colour Transparencies catalogue (1983)
The Bodleian Colour Transparencies catalogue (1983)

These collections focus on illuminated or decorated books, and were produced either for a particular manuscript or around a theme. This inevitably promoted certain types of manuscripts, and a particular intellectual approach to them focused on illustration. Researchers were already investigating ways to apply computational methods to this collection by 1978. Libraries abroad built up collections and rented them out, such as the Bodleian Library Slide Collection at Purdue. There are a handful of manuscripts in this series that have full film coverage, but most films aimed to give only representative examples.

The library eventually produced over 20,000 slides. ArtStor of New York funded the scanning of the slide collection, which was shipped to the USA for the purpose. Images appeared both on ArtStor and the Bodleian’s LUNA Image Library, the predecessor to Digital.Bodleian, which researchers remember for both its unexpected treasures and frustrating interface. Other large libraries have developed similar projects to repurpose their old photographic holdings, such as the British Library Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts.

These images eventually became part of Digital.Bodleian after 2015. For example, the Laudian Acts (MS. Laud. Gr. 35), a sixth-century copy of the Acts of the Apostles in both Latin and Greek, appears in four film photographs alongside new digital photography). As well as a historical record, these images are valuable for the detailed descriptions which accompany many images and allow you to search out, for example, images of dragons.

Early Manuscripts at Oxford University

Early Manuscripts at Oxford University (originally the Celtic Manuscripts Project) was among the first experiments in digitizing medieval manuscripts. It was a collaboration between the Bodleian Library, Balliol College, Corpus Christi College, Jesus College, Magdalen College, Merton College, and St John’s College. Beginning in 1995, the project photographed almost ninety manuscripts written between the ninth and nineteenth centuries. It focused on major treasures from Oxford libraries to create wider availability for originals which are often too fragile to handle. The photographs were originally available on a separate website.

Digital photography of the late 1990s from Early Manuscripts at Oxford: MS. Hatton 48, fol. 25r
Digital photography of the late 1990s from Early Manuscripts at Oxford: MS. Hatton 48, fol. 25r

This collection includes many of the oldest manuscripts in Oxford libraries, such as the earliest copy of the Rule of St Benedict, written around 700 (MS. Hatton 48); St Dunstan’s Classbook, designed for teaching in the tenth century (MS. Auct. F. 4. 32); and the oldest copy of The Song of Roland, from the early twelfth century (MS. Digby 23b). It also includes some later manuscripts, such as a five-volume set of Fons memorabilium uniuersi, a humanist encyclopedia from the fifteenth century (Balliol College MSS. 238A, 238B, 238C, 238D, 238E). The project was a pioneer in providing open-access digital photography for complete manuscripts. Although the Bodleian’s studio can now produce even more detailed photographs, the images are serviceable for most scholarly purposes and remain a valuable historical record.

New digital photographs

Early Manuscripts at Oxford received government funding, but this disappeared after subsequent cuts. As at other libraries in the UK, collection digitization is now only possible through researchers who make it an element of a broader grant, publishers who produce a facsimile, or the generosity of donors. Partnering with the Herzog August Bibliothek in Wolfenbüttel, the Bodleian’s latest medieval digitization project is Manuscripts from German-Speaking Lands, digitizing nearly 600 medieval manuscripts in a project funded by The Polonsky Foundation between 2019 and 2021.

New manuscripts usually appear on Digital.Bodleian only when there is a complete set of photographs. Occasionally, part of a book will appear online to support another research project. For example, MS. Douce 180, the ‘Douce Apocalypse’, has selections from 35-mm film; a small set of images made for comparison purposes in The Apocalypse in Oxford project; and now a full set of photographs. The Medieval Manuscripts in Oxford Libraries catalogue lists each set of photographs available for a given manuscript.

Digital.Bodleian represents evolving records of collections rather than giving a single representation of a given item. The results of manuscript digitization are increasingly dazzling as photography technology improves, but they do not reduce the value of archival photographs.

The Bodleian Quarterly Record, Vol. II (1917-19); and the Legacy of a Printing Press

Corrected proof of the title page of Three Japanese Plays for Children (detail)
Corrected proof of the title page of Three Japanese Plays for Children (detail)

In 1919, the Bodleian Quarterly Record printed the following notice on the death of Charles Henry Olive Daniel, Provost of Worcester College, Oxford:
‘We regret most deeply the loss of Dr. Daniel, as a good friend of the Library. For many years (though not lately) he occupied his leisure with printing as a fine art, and the beautiful productions of the Daniel Press are well known to all lovers of books. Mrs. Daniel recently offered to present to the Library the hand-press and type used by him, and the offer was very gratefully accepted. Through the kindness of the Controller, the press has now been set up by experts from the Clarendon Press, at the farther end of the Picture Gallery, with the chase, containing the last pages set up, still in place. A small collection of some of the more interesting books printed on it has been arranged on an adjacent table. Though we have plenty of books to show, this is the first time we have been able to exhibit to visitors the means whereby they are produced.’

Portrait of Charles Henry Olive Daniel (1836–1919), Provost of Worcester College (1903–1919), by Charles Wellington Furse (1868–1904). Photo credit: Worcester College, University of Oxford. https://artuk.org/discover/artworks/charles-henry-olive-daniel-18361919-provost-of-worcester-college-19031919-224101#
Portrait of Charles Henry Olive Daniel (1836–1919), Provost of Worcester College (1903–1919), by Charles Wellington Furse (1868–1904). Photo credit: Worcester College, University of Oxford. https://artuk.org/discover/artworks/charles-henry-olive-daniel-18361919-provost-of-worcester-college-19031919-224101#

The author of a recent book on Daniel and his printing, Martyn Ould, offers this assessment of his printing origins and experience:

‘Charles Daniel learned to print in the family home in Frome, Somerset, where his father Henry was perpetual curate of Holy Trinity. All the family were involved in printing a vast number of ephemeral items: bookplates, printed items for the church, tickets for tea parties, tiny books, programmes for plays, . . . – items that his bibliographer Falconer Madan referred to as ‘minima’. [He added, “Unfortunately there seems to be no dignified and yet suitable term for these waifs and strays, here termed minor pieces. They are what remains when the majestic car of the professional cataloguer has passed by and left them strewn on the wayside. The occupant of the car calls them succinctly and comprehensively trash.”]

‘They printed on a ‘Ruthven’, a parlour press ideal for a Victorian family, but a press that could manage only small items (many of which are pasted into three volumes in the Bodleian: MSS Don. d.94 and d.95 and MS Don. e.227). Nevertheless when Charles left Frome to go up to Oxford the press went with him and it was on that press that he printed one of his rarest items, The Garland of Rachel, in just thirty-six copies. Difficulties with the printing of The Garland led him to replace the Ruthven with the Albion; this had a much larger platen which would have made it very much easier to manage the larger books and pamphlets that were to come from the Daniel Press in Oxford.

‘Daniel was not a great technical printer, but his books have great charm. He printed on hand-made papers, setting his texts – mostly poetry – from founts of some of the famous seventeenth-century ‘Fell types’ which he persuaded Press Controller Horace Hart at the University Press to sell him. He first used Fell type in A New Sermon of the Newest Fashion (1876), the second book he printed at Oxford. He also used a black letter, of which the first example entirely in black letter is The Growth of Love (1890) by his friend Robert Bridges.’

This large Albion was the printing press which was given to the Bodleian. As reported by Philip Gaskell in the Journal of the Printing Historical Society no. 1, 1965, it is an ‘Albion (demy), serial number 539, (1835)’. The maker’s names, Jonathan and Jeremiah Barrett, executors of R.W. Cope, are cast into the staple. Cope was the originator of the Albion press in the 1820s. This cast-iron, lever-operated press was praised by commentators of the time as being simple in construction and durable.

Bodley’s Librarian in 1919, Falconer Madan, had visions beyond a static display of the press. ‘[I]t is in contemplation to print on it a Bibliography of the Daniel Press, with a Memoir of its “only begetter”, and some poems by friends. This will be the first book ever printed within the walls of the Bodleian.’ The catalogue record of this work is in the University of Oxford’s online catalogue, SOLO.

Martyn Ould writes:
‘As well as his books – over fifty in total – we’re fortunate in that two collections of proofs survive from his waste bin. Like early versions of a poet’s final polished verse, they tell us something of his printing practice. They are generally on sheets of newsprint – a suitably cheaper alternative to the expensive hand-made paper of the final book.

A corrected proof from the Daniel Press of the title page of Three Japanese Plays for Children

‘In the proof of a title page shown here he has marked several ‘typos’. The Y for an R in ‘Oxford’ is easily explained: the boxes for those two letters are next to each other in the typecase and no doubt the Y was returned to the wrong box when some other text was distributed. The missing i in ‘Children’ is less easily forgiven.

‘In three further proofs Daniel corrected some errors and toyed with the text; all was well in the published book. The proofs tell us that Daniel did not have a firm habit of reading a completed line in the composing stick before moving on to the next: what must be a first of several proofs of a forme for Three Japanese Plays for Children shows a great many errors, some of which made it through to the final book. Nonetheless, his books are today highly collectable.’

In 1949, library staff and members of the English Faculty established the Bibliography Room in the New Bodleian Library. Practical printing became a regular offering for postgraduate students, just at the time when mechanical processes of type-setting were replacing the hand-composition of type. The enthusiasts from library and faculty supported teaching and demonstration of practical printing, joined by J.R.R. Tolkien and others.

The Daniel Press Albion at the Bodleian Bibliographical Press, Old Bodleian Library
The Daniel Press Albion at the Bodleian Bibliographical Press, Old Bodleian Library

The Bodleian workshop now holds several other hand-operated printing presses, Albions and other makes, acquired from private presses and individuals. Some of the latest acquisitions were an Albion press owned by Leonard Baskin, whose archive came to the Bodleian in 2009, a proofing press owned and used by Vivian Ridler, Printer to the University, and a rolling press for printing intaglio.

Publications mentioned:
Printing at the Daniel Press (Hinton Charterhouse: The Old School Press, 2011) and The Daniel Press in Frome (Hinton Charterhouse: The Old School Press, 2011). Contact The Old School Press.

Re-blog: Papermaking at home

From the History of the Book blog, Here is an inspiring blogpost by DPhil student Luise Morawetz about making paper, starting with making the paper mould itself, and the wonderful sounds of the vat … History of the Book blogpost by Luise Morawetz

Medieval manuscripts: how we are working from home

The Bodleian medieval manuscript specialists have been working from home. Watch this film, and read below, to learn how the online catalogue of medieval manuscripts is being improved, even at a distance from the manuscripts themselves. Take a digital tour of the online resources available to everyone, starting with medieval manuscripts in digital.bodleian, and make a special trip with the Polonsky Foundation to see the Bodleian’s manuscripts from German-speaking lands in partnership with the Herzog August Bibliothek.

Bodleian-Library-MS.-Canon.-Liturg.-55-fol.-16v-detail

by Matthew Holford, Tolkien Curator of Medieval Manuscripts

So, how does a curator of manuscripts work remotely?

Good question! To be honest, we’re still working it out. A normal day used to involve a lot of contact not just with manuscripts but with reference works, many of which aren’t online. Not having access to any of those is going to be challenging. But one thing we can do is work on enhancing the records in our online manuscript catalogue.

Doesn’t the online catalogue already cover all your medieval manuscripts?

It does! But almost all the records are only brief compact descriptions. These give a summary of the textual content and languages used, a broad categorization of the decoration, information on the writing support (usually paper or parchment), and the date and origin of the manuscript. But they often don’t cover all the textual content and generally don’t have any other physical description (e.g. information about bindings) or any information about the history of the manuscripts.

Why wasn’t that information included?

  • Usability; Simply having all our catalogues rekeyed would have been of limited value, for several reasons. Many of them are in Latin, so not very user-friendly; and a lot of the information in the older catalogues needs interpretation and updating to be useful to today’s readers.
  • Accuracy about provenance; The older catalogues were often mistaken about the date or origin of manuscripts. The Bodleian’s summary catalogue of illuminated manuscripts (“Paecht and Alexander”) is much more reliable, and we’ve updated older records with reference to that catalogue where possible.
  • Accuracy about content; It’s usually possible to identify texts in the manuscripts more reliably and accurately. For example the 1922 description of MS. Bodl. 40 contains this snippet, ascribing one text to William of Ramsey:    Snippet from the Bodleian Summary Catalogue

By checking some online databases and chasing up our online bibliography for the manuscript we can see that this text is in fact by Henry of Avranches.

What does that all mean for the catalogue?

Rather than simply reproduce the information in the main printed catalogues, it was decided to create an updated summary of those catalogues that was more accurate in some ways, but less comprehensive in others. The original intention was that the online catalogue would be a way into the printed catalogues, rather than replacing them completely.

But once you provide an online catalogue, users expect it to contain everything.

Exactly; and enhancing the catalogue records is now a major focus of our work at the library. Fortunately it’s something we can continue to do remotely.

How can you catalogue without seeing the manuscripts?

Enhancing the catalogue records doesn’t only result from fresh cataloguing – although that does happen, of course. We also have an ongoing programme of retroconversion – putting all the contents of the printed catalogues online, and updating them as far as possible from key secondary resources, but usually without seeing the manuscripts themselves. This is a much quicker process than fresh cataloguing – it might take a week or more to newly catalogue a manuscript, but on average only an hour to retroconvert a printed record.

So what changes will I see in the catalogue?

Here’s a film to show in more detail how the records are being upgraded.

We’re currently working on records from volume 2 of the Bodleian’s Summary Catalogue (published 1922-1937), covering manuscripts acquired by the Library before 1697. All records will include more information about the owners of manuscripts and their acquisition; all will include a bit more physical description (number of folios, page size, and binding if early); and many will include much fuller information about the textual contents and languages found in manuscripts. MS. Bodl. 90 is an example. The original record looked like this:

Old record for MS. Bodl. 90

You can see the revised record here.  You can compare the differences for yourself: what stands out for me about this record is the enormous improvement in the accuracy and detail with which the manuscript’s textual content is covered. In other records there might be less new information about contents but more about early owners. In general, as work progresses, the online catalogue will give a much better idea of the texts that can be found in our manuscripts, and of where those manuscripts were in the Middle Ages.