Early donors to the Bodleian Library: Katherine Sandys and colonialism

by Ben Wilkinson-Turnbull

One rich example of the Bodleian’s acquisition of books produced outside of Europe is provided by the donation of £20 (nearly £3000 today) in 1607 from Katherine Sandys née Bulkeley. Katherine was a shrewd businesswoman and the fourth wife of Edwin Sandys: a prominent MP, religious writer, and coloniser.

-The Bodleian’s copy of Fang Gung’s, Dan shi shin fa (Thoughts on Dan Shi) (1522). The vellum cover is annotated in latin with an inscription recording Sandys’ donation Sinica 32/6. Image taken by Ben Wilkinson-Turnbull in 2023.
The Bodleian’s copy of Fang Gung’s, Dan shi shin fa (Thoughts on Dan Shi) (1522). The parchment cover is annotated in Latin with an inscription recording Sandys’ donation. Sinica 32/6. Image taken by Ben Wilkinson-Turnbull in 2023.

In his letters, Bodley complained about donors being allowed to choose the items purchased with their donations. But in the case of this donation, the choice of books made by Bodley and librarian Thomas James may have reflected the Sandys family’s involvement in early colonial activities such as those of the Virginia Company.

Such works included important travelogues containing finely engraved maps. These depicted parts of the world where at this point in history England was a weaker colonising force, such as the Middle East (Arthus Gotthard and Johann Bry’s The Seventh Part of the East Indies (1606)), and Asia (Cornelius Wytfliet’s Universal History of the Indies (1605)). Much like Matal’s atlas, these texts helped to expand Western readers’ understanding of these newly navigated areas. But like Lodge’s manuscript catechism, their subject matter also shone light on the ongoing efforts of European colonists to convert indigenous people to Christianity; making these books fitting acquisitions for a library founded by Bodley as a seat of Protestant learning.

Sandys’ donation also included works acquired from these areas in non-European languages unreadable to Western scholars. This included eight medical texts in Chinese, such as Gong Ting Chien’s Van Bin Hoiye Chun (Cure for all Illnesses) (1573) and Fang Gung’s, Dan shi shin fa (Thoughts on Dan Shi) (1522). Like the Bodleian’s other early Chinese works acquired from 1604 onwards, Sandys’ books are cheaply printed.

Book with Chinese printed characters, Gong Ting Chien’s Van Bin Hoiye Chun (Cure for all Illnesses) (1573)
The Bodleian’s copy of Gong Ting Chien’s Van Bin Hoiye Chun (Cure for all Illnesses) (1573). Sinica 19/2. Image taken by Ben Wilkinson-Turnbull in 2023.

Some are unique survivals of sixteenth-century editions produced in the Fujin province on the southeastern coast of China during the Ming Dynasty. Too cheap to adorn the library of any serious Chinese scholar, they were probably sold by entrepreneurial local booksellers to Dutch merchants, and then exported to Europe by Dutch merchants engaged in the lucrative transcontinental spice trade in the employ of the newly formed Dutch East India Company. Bought in Amsterdam at auction by Bodley’s literary agent, when they arrived at the Bodleian they were simply recorded in the Benefactors’ Register under the catch-all heading ‘volumes in Chinese’. It was not until 1687, when the Chinese scholar and Catholic convert, Shen Fu-Tsung 沈福宗 (Michael Alphonsus), was paid by the Bodleian’s librarian Thomas Hyde to transliterate their titles that their contents became known in England. This enabled the creation of the first catalogue of Chinese Books for the Bodleian, and ultimately paved the way for future scholars to explore the library’s rich East Asian collections.

The books purchased with Sandys’ donation exemplify the complex relationship of the Bodleian’s early collections to colonialism and its legacy. Bodley’s acquisition of Chinese books is part of an explicitly colonial narrative. Likely acquired directly from the emergent oppressive power of the Dutch East India Company, these books were brought to Europe by a chartered company who would come to dominant East Asian trade routes across the Indian Ocean through the forced migration and killing of indigenous people. These books and their acquisition by a Western seat of learning promoted and glorified colonial projects of conquest, trade, and conversion to readers. Bodley did, albeit unintentionally, enable Fu-Tsung and Hyde’s later intellectual endeavours, paving the way for the first known direct Anglo-Chinese scholarly collaboration. The acquisition of these books also ensured the preservation of unique texts of international import and facilitated further study that continues at the library today. But as we continue to unlock their rich histories, we need to consciously centralise, and make accessible, the often-hidden colonial narratives that led to the arrival of items like these volumes at the Bodleian. However problematic and uncomfortable these may be, they are vital to furthering our understanding of the role colonialism played in developing the library’s collection.

My thanks go to Mamtimyn Sunuodula, Curator of Chinese Collections at the Bodleian, for translating the titles of Sinica 19/2 and 32/6. 

Ben Wilkinson-Turnbull is a research associate on the AHRC-funded project ‘Shaping Scholarship: Early Donations to the Bodleian Library’. He is also a final year DPhil student, Clarendon, and Graduate Development Scholar in English at the University of Oxford. His doctoral research focuses on the materiality of women’s texts between 1580 and 1760, and related work has appeared in The Review of English Studies. You can contact Ben via email at b.wilkinson-turnbull@ucl.ac.uk. He can also be found on X (Twitter) @Ben_WT.

Sources

Cornelius Wytfliet, Histoire universelle des Indes, orientales et occidentales (Douai, 1605)

Arthus, Gotthard  and Johann Theodor de Bry, Indiae Orientalis Pars Septima : Navigationes duas, Primam, trium Annorum, a Georgio Spilbergio, trium navium praefecto, Ann. 1601. ex Selandia in Indiam Orientalem susceptam (Frankfurt, 1606)

Gong Ting Chien,Van Bin Hoiye Chun (Cure for all Illnesses) (Fujin, 1573)

Fang Gung, Dan shi shin fa (Thoughts on Dan Shi) (Fujin, 1522)

David Helliwell, ‘Our Earliest Chinese Accession’, https://serica.blog/2012/11/29/our-earliest-chinese-accession/

William Poole, ‘The Letters of Shen Fuzong to Thomas Hyde, 1687-88’, British Library Journal (2015), article 9. (https://bl.iro.bl.uk/concern/articles/1227de6b-c20f-48fb-8411-b1f811ffa957).

Kerry Ward, Networks of Empire: Forced Migration in the Dutch East India Company. (Cambridge, 2009).

 

Collage Comparison: A Case Study of Comparison and Juxtaposition in Archives

Collage Comparison poster, detail. Collage Comparison Symposium and Julia Utreras

by Devika

Methods of reading and understanding archives are constantly evolving. The question of ‘whose voices?’ are heard in archival materials has encouraged attention to gaps and silences. With the project ‘We Are Our History,’ the Bodleian Libraries have found guidance from researchers inside and outside academia on new approaches to archives. The symposium ‘Collage Comparison,’ (September 29-30, 2023, St Anne’s College Oxford and Bodleian Libraries) was devised by the Oxford Comparative Criticism and Translation (OCCT) Research Centre, using collage as a method of bringing archival materials into dialogue with each other. The two-day symposium brought together artists, practitioners, and scholars from a range of disciplines within Oxford and beyond—from English, Modern Languages, and History of Art to Ethnomusicology, Visual Anthropology, and Curatorial Studies.

Organisers Dr Joseph Hankinson, Dr Tinashe Mushakavanhu and Dr Georgia Nasseh explored how collage, conceptually and practically, can provide a new and decolonised rhetoric for understanding translation and archival work.

 Understanding Archives Differently with Collage

On the first day, the group was guided in creative collage-making by artist Sofia Yalla. The session led by Yalla explored how professional archives relate to personal archives, with participants being given either a ‘construction’ or a ‘deconstruction’ kit, having to connect and collaborate in these two processes of selecting and building an archive.

The choice of collage as the focal point for exploration was deeply rooted in its historical ties to the African continent and its diaspora. With its delicate balance of appropriation and expropriation, fragmentation, and juxtaposition, collage played a pivotal role in the artistic expressions of writers like Kojo Laing and M. NourbeSe Philip. From the start, the symposium used the potential of collage as a model, with participants’ self-introductions woven into a conversation ‘performed’ by all the participants, rather than standing as separate, individual statements.

On the second day, the symposium worked with an archive held in the Bodleian, the archive of the Anti-Apartheid Movement. In this workshop hosted by Dr Mushakavanahu,  it was fascinating to observe the different creations by individuals interacting with the same document. Participants sitting side-by-side and creating collage (from photographs of the archival materials) became a true example of diversity: difference, similarity, and juxtaposition of perspectives in the archives. The need to understand how one set of texts could mean something entirely different for different communities–multiple understandings of the same texts–is an advantage, not a limitation.

 Digital Collage and Future Accessibility

Discussion during the symposium explored how academic work informed the aesthetics of collage and considered future accessibility to the created material. The Zine created by attendees as part of their final morning in the Symposium will be available on the Collage Comparison website. The Zine exemplifies many of the ideas discussed above; most importantly, the potential collage holds as a technique towards interacting with archives – digitally or in person.

See Collage Comparison for description of the symposium aims and images of the workshop in progress.

For the Bodleian Libraries,  Collage Comparison provided a model of collaborative working and showed the alchemy in archives placed in a new relationship with researchers. See the ‘We Are Our History’ project website. https://www.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/about/libraries/our-work/we-are-our-history

Dr Tinashe Mushakavanhu will lecture on ‘Cut/Copy/Paste: Collage as a form of reading and writing the archive’, on Tuesday 24 January at 1 pm, in the Weston Library, Broad Street, Oxford. Registration required: https://visit.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/waoh-conversations

Rediscovery of a 17th-century miscellany of Asian scripts

guest post by Dr Katja Triplett (Marburg/Leipzig)

Original Manchu and Tibetan manuscripts, the models for two engraved plates in Thomas Hyde’s celebrated History of Religion of the Old Persians (1700), have been rediscovered in the Bodleian Library.

Sample of handwriting MS. Or. Polygl. c. 1, fol. 5r.
Sample of handwriting in Manchu (MS. Or. Polygl. c. 1, fol. 5r.). This is the original manuscript on which table XV in Hyde’s monograph is based.

The Bodleian Library is home to some of the earliest books printed with a European letter press on Japanese soil. Bodley’s Librarian and Laudian Professor of Arabic Thomas Hyde (1636–1703) added a provenance note to one of these books, a Japanese translation of the “Imitation of Christ”, printed at a secret location near Nagasaki in 1596 (Arch. B e.42). The note states that the book was “the gift of a Reverend man lately brought back from India, Mr. John Evans, 1695”. Researching the provenance of the Bodleian copy, one of only three extant, I took a closer look at Anglican minister John Evans (c. 1652–1724), later bishop of Bangor, and his collaboration with Thomas Hyde. How did Evans get hold of this translation created by the Jesuit mission press in Japan and why did he donate it to the Library?

A first trace led to two additional gifts bestowed to the Library by Evans in 1695. One was a scroll with a birthday calculator in Bengali (now deemed lost); the other (MS. Or. Polyg. c. 1) [see a summary record for the Or. Polyglot manuscripts], which was brought to my attention by Dr Alessandro Bianchi, is a most significant miscellany with specimens of Asian scripts and official correspondence. The newly rediscovered miscellany provides an unexpected opportunity to explore transnational networks involving Asia and Europe.

The miscellany contains samples of scripts from China, Bhutan, from the Manchu people and from continental Southeast Asia, in addition to a Bengali syllabary. The letters appear to be copies. The samples also contain dates (some not conforming to official dynastic chronology), place names and personal names and titles. My analysis of the watermarks suggests that the miscellany was assembled not much before or in 1693, the year Evans returned to England from Bengal.

The nature of Evans’s miscellany and its possible uses in South Asia clearly points to its trade connection. It contains, for example, a sample of a Japanese letter and the cover of a Chinese letter issued by the “Chief Surveillance Bureau”.

Most exciting was the discovery that a Manchu text sample and a Tibetan safe-travel document (lam-yig) issued in 1688 to an Armenian merchant are the originals of two engraved plates in Thomas Hyde’s 1700 pioneering study on the history of Persian religion. The work includes comparisons of various Asian languages as well, illustrated with plates of Asian scripts engraved by Michael Burghers (c. 1647/8–1727). Until the discovery of the miscellany, Hyde’s plate with the Tibetan passport counted as one of the earliest witnesses of Tibetan writing in the West.

The sources on John Evans suggest that his office in India as well as his clandestine trade business took him to different places in Bengal and the Coromandel Coast where the Portuguese had been present from the 1530s onward. Evans may have got hold of a Jesuit mission press book from Japan at one of the Portuguese settlements in India. Since his friend Thomas Hyde seemed to have been keen on studying Asian languages, a field of study in its infancy, Evans gifted the three items from his Bengal days to the Library.

*Because of the polyglot nature of the miscellany, various specialists were consulted, notably Alessandro Bianchi, Ryūji Hiraoka, Ana Carolina Hosne, Jana Igunma, Nicholas Kontovas, Peter Kornicki, Charles Manson, Sven Osterkamp, Johannes Reckel, and Dagmar Schwerk. A more thorough investigation which is currently being undertaken will be published in the near future.

Dr Katja Triplett is Affiliate Professor of the Study of Religions, Marburg University, and senior research fellow at Leipzig University with a project on religion and translation in the Early Modern period, funded by the German Research Council (DFG). 

Colonial Connections of the Early Bodleian Library

Book open at a map of the world
Jean Matal’s atlas from 1600: America, sive Novus orbis, tabulis æneis delineatus. I. Matalius. Shelfmark: H 7.2(3) Art.

by Dr Anna-Lujz Gilbert

When Thomas Bodley re-founded Oxford University’s library in 1598, he knew he would need the help of a “great store of honourable friends” for the project to be a success. He asked people he knew to donate to the Library and, as an encouragement, he had the names of donors written into an ornate Register of Benefactors.  Shaping Scholarship is an AHRC-funded project at UCL, in collaboration with the Bodleian, which uses that Benefactors’ Register to examine cultures of library donation in early seventeenth-century England, and their impact on the Bodleian’s book collections. The early Bodleian Library had many colonial connections, and the public database of the early donations to the Library (c. 1600–1620) which we are producing for this project will help further research in this area.

Page of the Benefactor's Book of the Bodleian Library
Bodleian Library Records b. 903, Registrum Donatorum, the Benefactors’ Register

The Bodleian Library was established at a time when England was striving to become an imperial power. Many of the Library’s donors were statesmen, civil servants, soldiers, and courtiers—the kinds of people who were likely to be involved in overseas affairs of different kinds. Some donors were directly involved in colonial activities, such as Sir Walter Raleigh (1554?-1618), who led expeditions to the Americas, and who gifted the library £50 in 1603 (worth over £8,000 today). Others were involved in these activities from afar. Donor Sir Walter Cope (1553?–1614), for example, invested in and energetically raised funds for new merchant companies set up to promote international trade through colonising practices. Companies like the Virginia Company, which established England’s first North American colonies, made substantial losses. To raise money for these colonial ventures, they presented investment as a public-spirited act for the good of the nation. This context can inform how we understand donation to the early Bodleian Library as a similarly public-spirited act.

Overseas conquest, as well as trade and embassy, facilitated the movement of books into the Library. In the 1610s, for example, the Bodleian acquired a manuscript catechism  which had been produced by Jesuits in Brazil to help convert indigenous people. It was written in Tupi, a now extinct indigenous language. [See an online edition of this manuscript at the link here.] It was gifted to the Bodleian by English author Thomas Lodge, who had taken it from a Jesuit library during an English raid on a Portuguese settlement in Brazil. [see footnote 1]  (Lodge’s gift was, however, considered to be too small to be included in the Benefactors’ Register).

Exploration and colonisation helped to expand Western knowledge, and this was reflected in the content of some of the books purchased by the Bodleian. The 1603 gift of Henry Brooke, Baron Cobham, for instance, paid for the acquisition of Jean Matal’s [Johannes Matalius] atlas of the world with its new maps of America.

The Bodleian collected books in non-European languages in the hope that these too would be used to advance Western knowledge, even if, for some of these languages, there was no-one in England who could read them at the time.

By looking at who was donating to the early Bodleian Library and what books were acquired, we can ask how this seventeenth-century project to encompass knowledge was aligned with English and wider European activities to compass the globe itself. Lines of enquiry include examining the colonial activities of donors, the acquisition of books produced outside of Europe, and the kinds of knowledge represented in the books acquired.

footnote 1: See: Vivien Kogut Lessa de Sá and Caroline Egan, ‘Translation and prolepsis: the Jesuit origins of a Tupi Christian doctrine,’ in Cultural Worlds of the Jesuits in Colonial Latin America, edited by Linda A. Newson (London: University of London Press, 2020), 189–206.

Anna-Lujz Gilbert is a postdoctoral research fellow on the ‘Shaping Scholarship’ project at UCL. For this project, she is leading the construction of a database of donations made to the Bodleian Library in its first twenty years, c. 1600–1620, which will be published as a free online resource. Her wider research interests are in the movement to establish semi-public libraries in early modern England.

For more information about the Shaping Scholarship project, see the project website at: http://www.livesandletters.ac.uk/projects/shaping-scholarship 

This blogpost is one of a series exploring the Bodleian’s colonial and imperial connections, as part of the ‘We Are Our History’ project in 2022-24.

Safavid Persian Qur’an: the Bodleian and Tipu Sultan’s library

Inscription in MS. Bodl. Or. 793, from the librarian of the East India Company Library to the Bodleian Library
Inscription in MS. Bodl. Or. 793, from the librarian of the East India House Library to the Bodleian Library, 1806

by Devika

‘Tipu’s Tiger,’ the striking Indian automaton of a tiger mauling a red-coated European man, is now held in the V&A Museum. It was taken from the palace of the ruler of Mysore during the East India Company’s capture of Seringapatam on 4 May 1799. Equally remarkable and valuable was Tipu Sultan’s library, seized in the same battle, during which Tipu was killed. Even in the history of this raid the Bodleian Library was invoked to set the standard based on which Tipu’s own library was assessed.

Captain David Price, prize agent for the Bombay Army, was one of the individuals tasked with making a selection of the texts to be presented by the army to the court of directors of the East India Company. :

The library and depôt of manuscripts, was a dark room, in the S.E. angle of the upper virandah of the interior quadrangle of the palace. Instead of being beautifully arranged, as in the Bodleian, the books were heaped together in hampers, covered with leather; to consult which, it was necessary to discharge the whole contents on the floor. The selection, which we completed, with all the care and discrimination in our care to bestow, extended, in the whole, to the number of 300, and something over, all of them manuscripts of the choicest description; whether for matter, beauty of penmanship, or richness of decoration … We did not take any account of the remainder, or bulk, of this princely library. But I should conceive that it must have contained, altogether, from 3 to 4,000 volumes, or about ten times the number of our selection. (Price, Memoirs, pp. 445-6)

Looking back on the event as he wrote his memoirs, Price chose the Bodleian Library, in which books were stored on shelves, as a contrast to the arrangement of books in Tipu’s library, from which, according to his perception and his narrative, books could be plundered. The reference reflects the Bodleian’s position within British imperial thought. Price poses the Bodleian as the ideal library as opposed to the preservation practices of Seringapatam, although another officer has written about the excellent condition of the records and the system Tipu Sultan had in place for the management of the library (“Curious Particulars”, p. 266)

It seems there was something more than monetary value that made Captain Price and other officers select items from Tipu’s collections. Joshua Ehrlich argues that Tipu Sultan’s library is key to understanding the power aspirations of both British soldiers and the Sultan himself. Tipu amassed a library of great value, some of which he acquired through plunder. This brings us to the collection item bestowed upon the University of Oxford, after the plunder of the Seringapatam library by Company soldiers.

Manuscripts from the raided library in Seringapatam (Srirangapatna, Karnataka, India today) would come to enrich the collections of libraries in Britain, including the Bodleian, in part as gifts from the Company.

An inscription (pictured) inside this Safavid Persian Qur’an (MS. Bodl. Or. 793) states that it was presented by the East India Company directors as a gift to the University of Oxford in 1805. Other Qur’ans from Tipu’s library were also given as gifts to Cambridge University, St. Andrews University and the Crown. The choice of institutions of national importance to receive these significant books was done ‘evidently hoping to garner goodwill,’ [Ehrlich, p. 490]

A digital facsimile of this Quran can be seen in Digital Bodleian, where it is described as ‘From the library of Tipu Sultan, Fath ʻAli, Nawab of Mysore, r. 1753-1799.’
Link to digital item

However, this brief statement and the earlier language of ‘gifting’ in the East India Company’s inscription within the book provide provenance descriptions that gloss over the Company’s forcible seizure of Tipu’s library. These neutral statements ignore the episodes of violence in the book’s history, which go back even farther: Tipu’s own plunder of other libraries. It is the power aspirations of those who seized the books which historian Joshua Ehrlich recounts in his history of Tipu’s library. (See: The East India Company and the Politics of Knowledge, Cambridge University Press, 2023)

Below is a comment on the Qur’an from Professor Sadiah Qureshi, Sassoon Visiting Fellow at the Bodleian Libraries in 2023:
‘Muslims regard the Qur’an as the revealed word of God requiring ritual ablution and many special acts of respect when handling and reading. Seeing the Qur’an reduced to an object, especially plundered loot, within any collection is deeply distressing, and should be a thing of the past.’

This case study prompts us to ask the following questions:
– Who has the right to present an item as a gift? Is it a gift if it is a spoil of war or violence? How do the means of acquisition complicate the provenance of an object?
– How are an institution’s handling and display practices informed by the historical provenance and religious and cultural significance of the item? What idea does the presence or lack of said practices convey about the institution?

References:
Sims-Williams, Ursula. “Collections Within Collections: An Analysis of Tipu Sultan’s Library.” Iran : Journal of the British Institute of Persian Studies 59.2 (2021): 287-307.
Price, David. Memoirs of the Early Life and Service of a Field Officer, on the Retired List of the Indian Army. England: W. H. Allen, 1839. Digital copy available from the Bodleian Libraries
Ehrlich, Joshua. “Plunder and Prestige: Tipu Sultan’s Library and the Making of British India.” South Asia 43.3 (2020): 478-92.
“Curious Particulars Relative to the Capture of Seringapatam.” The Edinburgh Magazine, or Literary Miscellany, 1785-1803 (vol. 15, January 1800): 260-66. Digital copy available from the Bodleian Libraries

ARCHiOx, part 4: ‘Let him make a statue of a horse with its rider’

Camera photographing an ancient letter-seal
The Lucida uses a projected laser line and two tiny cameras to record the form of each surface of the seal. Bodleian Library, Sigill. Aram. V.

An essay by John Barrett, Senior Photographer, Bodleian Libraries, about discoveries from the ARCHiOx imaging project, which has been funded by the generous support of the Helen Hamlyn Trust. See also:  ARCHiOx: research and development in imaging – The Conveyor

By far the earliest collection of originals to be recorded for the ARCHiOx project originate from the Achaemenid Empire, and date to between 500 and 400BC.  The following image shows a clay seal, or letter-bulla, bearing the impression of the seal of Aršāma, a Persian prince and regional governor.  It is one of eight seals, which would have accompanied letters sent to the steward of Aršāma’s estates in Egypt. The impression made on this example, and six other bullae from the collection were made using the same cylindrical seal.  Lost to time, this incredibly intricately carved tool would have been rolled over the surface of each of these tiny clay seals, which measure little more than four centimetres.  The clay which forms these seals is unfired and consequently these small originals are incredibly fragile.  In some cases, the seals are held together by the string which would have attached them to the letters they accompanied.  Recording such vulnerable originals is of great importance to ensure their preservation.

A one-hundred-megapixel medium format digital camera has been used to photograph the four source images. In place of the custom flash modules, each seal has been illuminated using a studio flash unit.  The flash unit is moved to an equidistant position to the original at 90 degrees from the previous location, and the process repeated.

Recording the seals in this way has made it possible to capture them at over six and a half million pixels per square inch, but at this resolution the depth of field is extremely shallow.  Focus stacking is a technique whereby multiple images are photographed from a static position with an incremental adjustment made to the focus between exposures.  The resulting stacks of images are then combined in software. In this way the depth-of-field is extended and the recording appears absolutely sharp from top to bottom.  Perfect alignment of the four focus-stacked source images to enable photometric stereo processing is the most challenging element within the process.

An impression of the seal of Aršāma from Sigill. Aram. V.
An impression of the seal of Aršāma from Sigill. Aram. V.

The final recordings are incredibly impressive. Every tiny detail of the impression, historic repair and even the fingerprints of the maker are clearly visible.  These features can be explored using a 3D viewer within GIS software.  Moving over the surface of the recording is similar to flying over the surface of a desert landscape, where each granular element becomes a geographical feature. This new method of recording represents an important advance in imaging for the purposes of preservation.  The recordings of the seals will allow researchers to study originals in a way that has never before been possible.

In the left-hand example below, the shaded representation of the recorded surface has been generated by positioning a virtual light source at 60 degrees from the surface on which the original rests.  In addition, other shaders can be applied, as shown in the right-hand example, which uses a spectrum of colour to represent height.

 A different perspective. Two renders of the surface of Sigill. Aram. VIII made with data recorded with from the Selene. Left: a greyscale shaded render. Right: a heat map, using a spectrum of colour to represent variations in height.
A different perspective. Two renders of the surface of Sigill. Aram. VIII made with data recorded with from the Selene. Left: a greyscale shaded render. Right: a heat map, using a spectrum of colour to represent variations in height.

Recording the seals in this way has made it possible to capture them at over six and a half million pixels per square inch, but at this resolution the depth of field is extremely shallow.  Focus stacking is a technique whereby multiple images are photographed from a static position with an incremental adjustment made to the focus between exposures.  The resulting stacks of images are then combined in software. In this way the depth-of-field is extended and the recording appears absolutely sharp from top to bottom.  Perfect alignment of the four focus-stacked source images to enable photometric stereo processing is the most challenging element within the process.

Combining focus-stacking and photometric stereo. Though the thickness of the seal is a mere 7.5mm, limited depth-of-field due to recording at such a high magnification only allows for acceptably sharp capture of the top 2mm. The benefits of focus stacking are particularly notable at the edges of the seal as they taper down. Left: single exposure. Right: focus-stacked image. Sigill. Aram. V.
Combining focus-stacking and photometric stereo. Though the thickness of the seal is a mere 7.5mm, limited depth-of-field due to recording at such a high magnification only allows for acceptably sharp capture of the top 2mm. The benefits of focus stacking are particularly notable at the edges of the seal as they taper down. Left: single exposure. Right: focus-stacked image. Sigill. Aram. V.

Every tiny detail of the impression, historic repair and even the fingerprints of the maker are clearly visible.  These features can be explored using a 3D viewer within GIS software.  Moving over the surface of the recording is similar to flying over the surface of a desert landscape, where each granular element becomes a geographical feature. This new method of recording represents an important advance in imaging for the purposes of preservation.  The recordings of the seals will allow researchers to study originals in a way that has never before been possible.

3D views of the reverse of Sigill. Aram. VIII. The wonderfully preserved string from this letter bulla still holds a fragment of parchment from one of the letters to which it was originally attached.
3D views of the reverse of Sigill. Aram. VIII. The wonderfully preserved string from this letter bulla still holds a fragment of parchment from one of the letters to which it was originally attached.

The image below shows one of the fourteen parchment letters from the Aršāma collection.  The Aramaic text is reasonably well preserved, and has been almost fully transcribed.  The letter suggests that Aršāma valued not only horses, two of which feature on his seal, but also three-dimensional artworks.  Addressed to Nakhthor, the steward of his estates in Egypt, Aršāma commissions the production of statues to be made by a sculptor believed to be Hinzani.

Ancient Persian letter (fragmented). Bodleian Library Pell. Aram. III.
A letter addressed by Aršāma, Persian Satrap of Egypt to Nakhthor the steward of his estates in Egypt. An excerpt of the text is translated as follows. …‘And let him make statues (on) which there shall be horsemen (?), and let him make a statue of a horse with its rider, just as previously he made before me, and other statues. And send (them), and let them bring (them) to me at once, with haste’… Pell. Aram. III.

So it seems fitting that we should carry out Aršāma’s request, albeit two and a half millennia later.  Producing a scaled-up three-dimensional facsimile of the fifth seal using the data recorded with ARCHiOx technology.  Firstly, the Lucida scanner was used to record the general shape of the seal from each orientation.  This volumetric data provided a base, over which the higher resolution, higher frequency data recorded with the Selene could be overlaid.

With the photometric stereo and laser recordings combined, elevated printing was then used to construct the facsimiles at four times the original size.  Several variations were made in order to assess which might be most useful for the purposes of study.  Firstly, an uncoloured version was made, showing only the volume of the seal. Two coloured versions followed, the first printed with a shaded render in order to enhance the debossed design, and the second printed with the albedo (colour) image recorded from the original seal.

Left: Two, scaled-up, 3D printed facsimiles of Sigill. Aram. V, made in the print rooms at Factum Arte, Madrid. Right: The two tiny facsimiles in the centre of the group are printed at actual size. Variations of enlarged facsimiles were produced, either uncoloured or with renders printed on their surface.

A far greater challenge would be to create a facsimile of the lost cylindrical seal which was used to make the impressions in the seven bullae.  Though the fifth, seventh and eighth seals provide much of the design, some elements are clearly incomplete.  A collated line drawing from Christopher J. Tuplin and John Ma’s book, Aršāma and his World: The Bodleian Letters in Context reveals two important missing elements from the design.  In the drawing, the horse to the left of the soldier holding a spear appears complete. Crucially so too does the inscription above the horse.  With the assistance of Professor Tuplin, these additional details were explained. Another seal bearing a partial impression, made using the same cylinder is held in the collections of the Persepolis Fortification Archive in Chicago.  A photograph of this seal was used by Eduardo Lopez from Factum Arte in order to incorporate the missing elements into the digital reconstruction.

The lost cylindrical seal, remade. The design from the collated recordings 3D printed onto flexible plastic before being glued to a cylindrical base. An impression in plasticine demonstrates that the facsimile is capable of creating incredibly similar designs to those found on the original bullae.

Prior to producing the facsimile, the 3D recording was inverted so that the embossed design would be capable of creating an impression similar to those from the original bullae.  Though limited by the resolution of the 3D printer, the facsimile cylindrical seal is indeed a usable tool and capable of making impressions which look very similar to those which were ordered to be made by Prince Aršāma, two and a half thousand years ago.

Download the full essay by John Barrett, Senior Photographer and ARCHiOx Technical Lead (Bodleian Libraries)

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ARCHiOx, part 3: Patterns and paintings in a 17th-century Ragamala album

An essay by John Barrett, Senior Photographer, Bodleian Libraries, about discoveries from the ARCHiOx imaging project, which has been funded by the generous support of the Helen Hamlyn Trust. See also:  ARCHiOx: research and development in imaging – The Conveyor

An album of Ragamala paintings at the Bodleian Library (Bodleian MS. Laud Or. 149) is a beautifully painted manuscript, dating from the early 17th century. Not long after it was produced, the volume was donated to the Bodleian by Archbishop William Laud, at some point between 1635-41.

It has been proposed that that three recently discovered paper pouncing patterns may have been used in the production of paintings in the manuscript. The patterns, which have subsequently been loaned to the Bodleian, are skilfully made.  Tiny pin-pricks form the outline of illustrations which are clearly comparable with three of the paintings from the Ragamala Album.

Left: a paper pouncing pattern, photographed conventionally. Centre: an edited version of the previous image showing the position of the tiny pinholes. Right: A detail from fol. 8 of the Laud Ragamala Album. MS. Laud Or. 149.

Pouncing is a less obvious method of copying than pricking. Charcoal dust would have been transferred though the holes, duplicating the form of a design from pattern to page. Whether or not the three pouncing patterns were indeed the source of the paintings from the Bodleian’s 17th century volume remains somewhat of a mystery. In order to examine how closely the two align, the ARCHiOx team generated a set of renders from 3D recordings of the pouncing patterns and overlaid these with the colour images from the manuscript.

A layered image comprising of: Left: a painted page from the Laud Ragamala Album. Right: a mirrored heat-map render of the verso of the corresponding pouncing pattern. Centre: a composite of the left and right images. MS. Laud Or. 149.

Though some elements within the designs differ, there is a clear and extremely close correlation between the patterns and paintings.  3D imaging of the paintings themselves show no evidence of holes or depressions due to tracing, only the layers of pigment which have been applied to the paper.  Though the 3D recordings have not provided a definitive answer as to whether the patterns may be the origin of the paintings, it is hoped that they may serve as a template for similar analysis.

Download the full essay by John Barrett, Senior Photographer and ARCHiOx Technical Lead (Bodleian Libraries)

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ARCHiOx, part 2: Digital imaging within a tradition of facsimile-making

ARCHiOx is by no means the first technology to create facsimiles of ancient texts or images. The process of copying using pinholes is evident on the largest original which has so far been captured for the ARCHiOx project. Dating to the 14th century, the Gough Map is one of the earliest maps to show Great Britain in a geographically recognisable form and served as a blueprint for maps of Britain for over 150 years.

Oblique images of the sign marking the location of Hull, East Yorkshire. Left: albedo. Right: shaded render showing the micro topography of this area of the map, in the absence of the original’s colour. Tiny indentations marking the form of the sign provide evidence that the map was copied from a precursor map. MS. Gough Gen. Top. 16.

Bequeathed to the Bodleian Library by Richard Gough (1735-1809), the map is covered in over two-thousand tiny indentations which transferred the position and form of geographical features from a precursor map.  Through studying these pinholes, researchers may be able to determine which features would have been present on the precursor map and in doing so, estimate when it may have been made.

This historic map has been recorded numerous times since its creation.  It therefore serves as wonderful case-study in the development of copying and imaging techniques.  A copper printing plate was engraved in 1780, prints from which are held in the Bodleian’s collections. Using a novel reproduction method developed at the Ordnance Survey, a photozincography recording was made in 1871.  In 1958, a run of collotype prints of the Gough Map were made at Oxford University Press.   The map was recorded digitally for the first time in 2006.  Hyperspectral and 3D laser recordings followed nine years later, in 2015.   These initial 3D recordings were conducted by the Factum Foundation’s Head of 3D scanning, Carlos Bayod.

“The recording carried out in 2015 applied the Lucida 3D Scanner to capture for the first time the topographical characteristics of this unique map. One of the first collaborations between the Bodleian Libraries and Factum Foundation, this survey allowed us to see and measure the shape and surface of the map without the colour layer, making it much easier to allocate the distribution of the pinholes, among other marks present on the relief. The information captured by the Lucida systems offers the possibility of visualizing the map’s surface on-screen as a shaded render, an image format onto which it is possible to register other layers of information such as the colour photographs. Additionally, it creates a greyscale depth map that can be used for re-materializing the data as an accurate physical reconstruction, becoming the base for creating an exact facsimile”. Carlos Bayod Lucini, Head of 3D Scanning, Factum Foundation

The new photometric stereo recording of the Gough Map captured with the Selene, was captured in June, 2022. MS. Gough Gen. Top. 16.

The photometric stereo captures made for ARCHiOx are the highest resolution recordings of the Gough Map to date.  Both the front and reverse of the map were recorded at over 700,000 pixels per square inch.  In order to record the map at this resolution, 85 image tiles were captured, processed and stitched together to form a single image.  Prominent pinholes and scoring marks are clearly visible from the recordings. These have been analysed, using geographical information system software by Damien Bove, Researcher for The Gough Map Project and Picture Editor of Imago Mundi: International Journal for the History of Cartography

“The pricking on the Gough Map is key to its creation, marking the location and form of place signs copied through from a precursor map. Where the tool has been pressed through the skin, it has left holes. Most of these can be seen on high resolution photos and on the earlier Lucida scan. Where the tool was pressed with less force, however, it has left only small depressions. The ARCHiOx scan has allowed us to identify and measure these for the first time, giving us a fuller understanding of the earlier map.” Damien Bove, Researcher for The Gough Map Project and Picture Editor of Imago Mundi: International Journal for the History of Cartography.

Visitors examine a three-dimensional facsimile of the Gough Map, made by Factum Arte, following a presentation given by the Bodleian’s Map Curator, Nick Millea.

But the ARCHiOx recording has not only allowed for on-screen analysis.  The data has also been used to create a remarkably accurate three-dimensional facsimile of the map.  Currently installed in the Bodleian’s Map Room, the facsimile provides an opportunity for close examination, ensuring that the original map need not be as frequently transported or removed from its protective casing.

“Facsimiles allow us to have a more natural connection with valuable cultural objects. Thanks to the possibility of reproducing the surface relief and colour in high resolution, a facsimile can serve a triple function contributing to the preservation, study, and dissemination of the original, for the benefit of both experts and amateurs alike”. Carlos Bayod Lucini, Head of 3D Scanning, Factum Foundation

— An essay by John Barrett, Senior Photographer, Bodleian Libraries, about discoveries from the ARCHiOx imaging project, which has been funded by the generous support of the Helen Hamlyn Trust. See also:  ARCHiOx: research and development in imaging – The Conveyor

Download the full essay by John Barrett, Senior Photographer and ARCHiOx Technical Lead (Bodleian Libraries)

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ARCHiOx, part 1: Finding stories in the margins

An essay by John Barrett, Senior Photographer, Bodleian Libraries, about discoveries from the ARCHiOx imaging project, which has been funded by the generous support of the Helen Hamlyn Trust. See also:  ARCHiOx: research and development in imaging – The Conveyor

 

A 9th century insular manuscript, Gregory the Great, Homiliae XL in evangelia. MS. Laud Misc. 429.

The above manuscript, Gregory the Great, Homiliae XL in evangelia, is written in Latin and dates to the first half of the 9th century.  The 15th century shelfmark on folio 2, reveals that this volume was in the possession of the cathedral church of St. Kilian in Würzburg.  Examples of annotations made not in ink, but through scratching the surface of the parchment using a drypoint stylus have now been discovered and recorded on twenty-five pages from this volume, using the Selene.  The catalogue description for the recto of folio 74 shown in the image above, describes a drawing in the lower margin. A hunting scene, barely visible from the conventional photographic recording, but clear enough to make a partial digital annotation.  Far more successful at revealing the inscription, the 3D render shows not only the illustration, but also four camouflaged letters, R, O, D, A. This demonstrates how 3D recording can compliment traditional imaging in revealing and documenting new discoveries.

A shaded render of a drypoint addition from the lower margin of folio 74r.
A compiled digital annotation using conventional and 3D recordings, showing the position and form of the addition. MS. Laud Misc. 429.

The drypoint annotations recorded on folio 60r, in the image below, are inconsistent with the majority of others from this manuscript.  These have been added between passages of text rather than confined to the margins.  In this example, relatively deep incisions have been made, marking the position of punctuation. Far less obvious and perhaps only recognisable from the 3D render is a small, marginal illustration showing two hands, tied together with a bow.

A digital annotation from folio 60r, showing numerous drypoint additions. MS. Laud Misc. 429.

In order to determine whether or how this annotation might relate to the text, the image above was shared with Jo Story, Professor of Early Medieval History, Leicester University.  Her interpretation reveals a clear link between annotation and text.   The text from this homily describes the stoning of Stephen. The translation of folio 60r begins ‘when Stephen was dying for his faith, Saul kept the clothes of the stoners. Therefore, he himself stoned them all with his own hands, who returned all the works to the stoners.’  The connection between inscription and text is most evident from the passage at the end of the fourth line ‘Duo ergo sunt que’ – ‘because many are called but few are chosen’ – Chapter 22:14 from the Gospel of Matthew.  This passage immediately follows the verse ‘Then said the king to the servants, Bind him hand and foot, and take him away, and cast him into outer darkness, there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

Dozens of similar recordings of unlinked manuscript annotations have now been captured using ARCHiOx technology.  The discovery of the name ‘Eadburg’ from another of the Bodleian’s early medieval manuscripts by PhD candidate Jessica Hodgkinson (University of Leicester) is described in a previous Conveyor post.  Recordings from these two manuscripts have demonstrated that photometric stereo recording is extremely effective and is likely to hold the key to documenting incised markings from similar volumes.  Revealing these markings which have remained undetected for centuries is an incredibly exciting application of this new technology.

“The new photometric stereo recording methods that are being pioneered by John and the ARCHiOX team are transformative. The method allows us to see the surface of the pages in much greater detail than ever before and will give us insights into the preparation of the membrane and the methods used to make the quires, as well as acts of reading and engagement with the book after it was completed. New, and almost invisible, marks are now easily seen – revealing huge amounts of new information about medieval book culture – and the people who made and read them. This changes what we can do, the questions we can ask, and the answers that are revealed.” Jo Story, Professor of Early Medieval History, Leicester University.

Download the full essay by John Barrett, Senior Photographer and ARCHiOx Technical Lead (Bodleian Libraries)

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Women in the Margins: Eadburg and Bodleian Library, MS. Selden Supra 30

by Jessica Hodgkinson and John Barrett

A series of exciting inscriptions, almost invisible to the naked eye, have been discovered in the margins of an important eighth-century manuscript in the Bodleian Library, MS Selden Supra 30. Revealed through state-of-the-art 3D recording technology by the ARCHiOx project, these marginal annotations provide tantalising new insights into this manuscript’s history and its links to women, in particular, to a woman called Eadburg.

Introducing Bodleian Library, MS Selden Supra 30

Bodleian Library, MS. Selden Supra 30 is a copy of the Acts of the Apostles, a book of the New Testament, written in Latin. It is a small volume, measuring only 229 x 176 mm (only slightly bigger than an A5 piece of paper).

Bodleian MS. Selden Supra 30 open at pp. 18-19
Bodleian MS. Selden Supra 30 open at pp. 18-19

Like most surviving manuscripts from this period, MS. Selden Supra 30 does not contain a formal colophon or scribal note recording when, where, and by whom it was made.

However, certain features of this manuscript, including the style of uncial script used to copy the text, demonstrate that it was produced in England, most likely somewhere in the kingdom of Kent, probably in the first half of the eighth century (i.e., between c. 700 and c. 750 AD).

MS. Selden Supra 30 was certainly in Kent by the fourteenth century when a shelf mark was added to p. 1 showing that it was then in the library of the monastery of St Augustine’s in Canterbury.

The opening page of MS. Selden Supra 30 (p. 1) which has suffered damage and is now significantly discoloured. The shelf mark from St Augustine’s, Canterbury (Di. I. G. III) is visible in the upper margin. 
The opening page of MS. Selden Supra 30 (p. 1) which has suffered damage and is now significantly discoloured. The shelf mark from St Augustine’s, Canterbury (Di. I. G. III) is visible in the upper margin.

Prayers added to p. 70, which was originally left blank, suggest, however, that very early in its history MS. Selden Supra 30 was owned and used by a woman.

These prayers were copied in the same type of script as the rest of the manuscript but by a different scribe to the two responsible for copying its main text.

The first prayer is a petition to God made by an anonymous woman, described as God’s “unworthy servant” (indignam famulam).

This strongly suggests that, at the time the prayer was added, MS. Selden Supra 30 was being used by a woman, or a group of women. The prayer may have been copied into the manuscript by a female scribe.

The formula of this prayer is unique and does not survive in any other manuscript. It could have been composed by the petitioner herself.

In 1935, in the first edition of Vol. 2 of Codices Latini Antiquiores, Elias Avery Lowe, then a Reader in Palaeography at the University of Oxford, suggested that another addition made to MS. Selden Supra 30 could provide further evidence of its links to women.

Lowe recorded, for the first time in print, that the letters EADB and +E+ had been incised into the lower margin of p. 47. He noticed that the letters had been cut into the parchment with force, apparently using a knife, slicing through the upper surface of the membrane.

ARCHiOx recordings of the letters inscribed at the bottom of p. 47.
ARCHiOx recordings of the letters inscribed at the bottom of p. 47.

Lowe suggested that these letters were abbreviated forms of the female name Eadburh/Eadburg.

Discovering Eadburg

Studying MS. Selden Supra 30 in the Weston Library’s Rare Books and Manuscripts Reading Room in 2022, Jessica Hodgkinson, a PhD student at the University of Leicester, funded by the AHRC Midlands4Cities consortium, spotted another inscription in the lower margin of p. 18. This inscription had never been noticed before. It was very small and almost invisible to the naked eye but appeared to contain Eadburg’s name written in full.

State-of-the-art technology has now not only confirmed this new inscription, but revealed several other instances of Eadburg’s name, alongside many more early marginal additions, incised into the parchment of MS Selden Supra 30. These discoveries provide new and exciting insights into the use of this book by a woman called Eadburg in eighth-century England.

Recording the inscriptions
by John Barrett

Scratched markings on the surface of a page are usually photographed using a single light positioned at a low angle. This simple principle is termed raking light.  However, through recordings made for ARCHiOx, it has been demonstrated that scratched markings may be far more effectively recorded using a technique called photometric stereo.

A description of ARCHiOx and an explanation of the technology and processes in use can be read in this blogpost:  ARCHiOx: research and development in imaging – The Conveyor

 The photometric stereo workflow adopted for ARCHiOx uses 2D images to record and store 3D information. These images map the direction and height of the original’s surface, and are processed into renders showing only the relief of the original with the tone and colour removed.

Renders produced using a photometric stereo workflow are superior to raked light images in three ways:

A 3D render lacks the excessive contrast of a raked light image making markings easier to discern. Through the use of software, it is possible to re-light renders virtually, giving complete control over the intensity of the shadow and highlight over the recorded relief of the original.

The ability to filter for different textural frequencies makes it possible to separate the scratched markings from the texture of material on which the markings have been made.

Renders can be re-lit virtually from any direction or height making it possible to reveal markings made along any angle.

In addition, the depth of a marking can be measured by examining a cross-section through it. The profile may also provide clues regarding the mark-making tool, in this case a drypoint stylus.

A cross-section through the lower horizontal line of the letter ‘E’. The depth of the drypoint inscription through this line measures around 18 microns (0.018mm).
A cross-section through the lower horizontal line of the letter ‘E’. The depth of the drypoint inscription through this line measures around 18 microns (0.018mm).

A photometric stereo recording of the near-invisible inscription on p. 18 was captured in May 2022.

The Selene, a prototype imaging system designed and built by the Factum Foundation, project partner for ARCHiOx, was used for the recording.

Multiple images were captured from the inscription before being processed, filtered, and enhanced. The resulting high-resolution shaded render shows only the three-dimensional surface of the page.  Through this new image, the drypoint inscription has been recorded successfully for the first time.

 Top to bottom: An unedited render of the 3D surface of the bottom of page 18 with the inscription now visible.  An enhanced version made through tonal remapping.  A digitally annotated version.  The digital annotation with the render removed.

Top to bottom: An unedited render of the 3D surface of the bottom of page 18 with the inscription now visible.  An enhanced version made through tonal remapping.  A digitally annotated version.  The digital annotation with the render removed.

Subsequent analysis and processing, overseen by Jorge Cano, designer of the Selene, led to a new set of renders which enhance the markings further. These new images were created by compiling renders, re-lit virtually from multiple directions, and using a process called principal component analysis, or PCA.

The clearest recording of the drypoint inscription to-date. The inscription has been enhanced using techniques including virtual relighting, image stacking and principal component analysis.
The clearest recording of the drypoint inscription to date. The inscription has been enhanced using techniques including virtual relighting, image stacking and principal component analysis.

The lines which form this inscription are incredibly shallow. Even the most prominent are only 15-20 microns in depth, perhaps equivalent to less than a fifth of the width of a human hair. It is, therefore, unsurprising that the inscription is simply absent from a conventionally-lit colour image of this page.

Top: The drypoint inscription is absent from this capture recorded using conventional lighting.  Bottom: The digital annotation is applied at the exact position where it was recorded using photometric stereo technology.
Top: The drypoint inscription is absent from this capture recorded using conventional lighting.  Bottom: The digital annotation is applied at the exact position where it was recorded using photometric stereo technology.

Processing the data using computational methods has revealed an astonishing amount but analogue (i.e., human) intervention has still been required to digitally annotate the image to clarify the reading. Despite attempts to filter specifically for the inscription, shading from the texture of the parchment and its many tiny creases have proved almost impossible to remove. This makes it difficult in some areas, to rule-in or rule-out the presence of lines. An objective and cautious approach has been taken with the digital annotation. This has involved multiple imaging colleagues working independently to contribute to a set of annotations which could then be compared. Finally, the renders and digitally annotated images were shared with the researchers, allowing them to make their own observations and annotations with the benefit of context.

Subsequent recordings made for ARCHiOx have revealed that Eadburg’s name is spelled out in full five times on five different pages of MS. Selden Supra 30 (pp. 1, 2, 3, 12, and 18). On some of these pages, and elsewhere in the book, other abbreviated forms of this name, including E, EAD, or EADB, are also present.

Reading the inscriptions

The discovery of Eadburg’s full name etched several times into the manuscript’s margins definitively confirms Lowe’s theory that the letters previously identified on p. 47 are, indeed, abbreviations of the same name.

Eadburg’s name was copied out using letterforms common to all the newly identified inscriptions. The form of the A (an oblique line with an oval bow on the left) and the angular U and G are distinctive. This suggests that the same scribe may have made all of these additions. If so, it is at least possible that the scribe was Eadburg herself.

Readers and owners of early medieval manuscripts, both men and women, sometimes added their names to books, usually in ink, but occasionally, as here, in drypoint. Another early eighth-century example is the ink inscription that records, in Old English, that Abbess Cuthswitha owned a copy of Jerome’s commentary on the Old Testament Book of Ecclesiastes (now Würzburg, Universitätsbibliothek, M. p. th. q. 2, fol. 1r).

Eadburg’s name could also be a mark of ownership or evidence of reading. Although small in scale, and faint, someone, perhaps Eadburg herself, was evidently keen to preserve her name in the pages of this book to be seen by subsequent readers. What is unusual about Eadburg’s name, however, is that it appears here, in full or in abbreviated forms, 15 times.

Eadburg’s name is written on the opening page of the manuscript (p. 1). It overlaps part of the top of the enlarged decorated initial P which begins the text. Here, her name is preceded by a cross (+).

A series of ARCHiOx recordings of p. 1 of MS. Selden Supra 30:

Capture using conventional lighting (Bodleian MS. Selden Supra 30, p.1)
Capture using conventional lighting (Bodleian MS. Selden Supra 30, p.1)
Detail of the unedited 3D render of the inscription (MS. Selden Supra 30, p.1)
Detail of the unedited 3D render of the inscription (Bodleian MS. Selden Supra 30, p.1)
Digital annotation of the inscription (MS. Selden Supra 30, p.1)
Digital annotation of the inscription (Bodleian MS. Selden Supra 30, p.1)
Image showing the digital annotation applied at the exact position where it was recorded using photometric stereo technology (Bodleian MS. Selden Supra 30, p.1)
Image showing the digital annotation applied at the exact position where it was recorded using photometric stereo technology (Bodleian MS. Selden Supra 30, p.1)

The decision to etch the name over the top of the first letter of the text must have been deliberate. It establishes Eadburg’s presence in the book from the outset and connects her name intimately with the biblical text it contains.

On p. 2, her name is framed by a cartouche.

Detail of the recording of the lower margin of p. 2 showing the name Eadburg surrounded by a rectangular border.
Detail of the recording of the lower margin of p. 2 showing the name Eadburg surrounded by a rectangular border. (Bodleian MS. Selden Supra 30, p.2)

On p. 18, Eadburg’s name forms part of a multi-word inscription added to the lower margin. Here also, her name is preceded by a cross. Some of the following letters are easy to see, whilst others, especially those towards the end of the inscription, are difficult to make out, even with the benefit of the new visualisation techniques.

The most recent and clearest recording taken of the inscription, enhanced through virtual relighting, image stacking, and principal component analysis, appears to show, however, that, among the visible letters, there is a wynn (Ƿ), the Old English letter for W. This letter can be distinguished from the Rs in the inscription, including in the name Eadburg, by the form of the bow which is pointed and extends further down the vertical line of the letter than on R. The presence of a wynn shows that the inscription was written, not in Latin, but in the Old English vernacular language.

This inscription probably comprises three words. The name Eadburg is the subject of the statement, so we might reasonably expect the other letters to include a verb followed by the object.

A preliminary reading of the inscription is:

+ EaDBURG BIREð CǷ….N

+ Eadburg bears [cw….n]

Most of the letters in what appears to be the third and final word are unclear, with only CW– at the beginning and -N at the end remaining legible.

One Old English noun that could fill this position is cwærtern, meaning ‘prison’. Interestingly, the inscription is positioned beneath the beginning of the text of Acts 5:18 which describes the imprisonment of the Apostles by the high priest of the Temple and his followers because they had continued to preach the Gospel (…et injecerunt manus in Apostolos et posuerunt eos in custodia publica). If cwærtern is the third word in the inscription on p. 18, perhaps Eadburg sought to mirror the text, associating herself with the Apostles in their imprisonment.

Deciphering the drawings

Alongside Eadburg’s name, several intriguing drypoint drawings have also been discovered. Some are clearly human figures, though further investigation is needed to establish exactly who or what they depict. All the figures are very small. Several seem to have been made by incising a line around a thumb or finger to form the outline of the figure.

ARCHiOx recording of the lower margin of p. 9. Digital annotation applied in lower image showing two figures. The figure in the background has outstretched arms, and is reaching towards the figure at the front who appears to be holding up a hand to signal them to stop.
ARCHiOx recording of the lower margin of Bodleian MS. Selden Supra 30, p. 9. Digital annotation applied in lower image showing two figures. The figure in the background has outstretched arms, and is reaching towards the figure at the front who appears to be holding up a hand to signal them to stop.

The scene added to the lower margin of p. 11, which features at least three figures, may also include two E‘s. There appears to be an E, preceded by a cross, to the left of the first figure, and a second E, followed by a wynn (Ƿ) between the second and third figures. Could Eadburg have drawn this scene in drypoint and signed her work with her initial, as found elsewhere in the manuscript?

Recording of the dry-point addition in the lower margin of Bodleian MS. Selden Supra 30, p. 11.
Recording of the dry-point addition in the lower margin of Bodleian MS. Selden Supra 30, p. 11.

Identifying Eadburg?

Eadburg’s name or initials are etched into several pages, sometimes next to contemporaneous dry-point drawings. But who was she? More work on the newly discovered additions may bring us closer to answering this question.

We know of nine women called Eadburg living in England at some point between the seventh and tenth centuries (for details see the online Prosopography of Anglo-Saxon England). Other sources provide some tantalising clues that might help identify the Eadburg of MS. Selden Supra 30.

Charter evidence suggests that a woman called Eadburg was abbess of a female religious community at Minster-in-Thanet, in Kent from at least 733 until her death sometime between 748 and 761. As Lowe suggested in 1935, her dates and location correspond with the palaeographic assessment of the script of MS Selden Supra 30.

Abbess Eadburg of Minster-in-Thanet may also be the woman of the same name who corresponded with Boniface, the West Saxon missionary bishop and Church reformer. He became archbishop of Mainz in 732 and was martyred by pagans in Frisia in 754. Surviving letters show that Boniface held Eadburg in high esteem and that she sent books to him in Francia. He commissioned from her a deluxe copy of St Peter’s Epistles to be written in gold.

Boniface’s friend clearly had access to manuscripts and the means to make them. As such she is an especially strong candidate for the woman whose name was etched into the margins of MS. Selden Supra 30.

John Barrett is Bodleian Library’s Senior Photographer and ARCHiOx Technical Lead for the Bodleian.

Jessica Hodgkinson is a PhD candidate at the University of Leicester funded by the Midlands4Cities doctoral training partnership. Her research explores the participation of women in early medieval book culture in Western Europe through the analysis of surviving manuscripts commissioned, copied, owned and/or used by them.

 With special thanks to Jorge Cano, designer and engineer for Factum Arte and the Factum Foundation, for his work on enhancing the recording of p. 18, to Dr Philip A. Shaw, Teaching Fellow in the Department of English Studies at Durham University, for helping to decipher the Old English of this inscription, and to Professor Jo Story and Dr Erin T Dailey at the University of Leicester for their guidance and suggestions.

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