BiblioPhilly and the “Library of Stains”

CLIR postdoctoral fellow and BiblioPhilly cataloger Erin F. Connelly is known in the history of science community for her work on medieval medicine, especially #ancientbiotics, but she also has a scholarly appetite for stains. Here she is with the subject of her dissertation, The Lylye of Medicynes, and with some of the stains that grace its pages. [Click to reach her actual tweet.]

Since last fall, Connelly has  been part of The Stains Project, also known as Labeculae Vivae (Stains Alive), together with colleagues Alberto Campagnolo (CLIR fellow, Library of Congress) and Heather Wacha (CLIR fellow, University of Wisconsin – Madison). The project focuses on “dirty” old books and the stains found in them, using them as a tool for gathering scientific data that will provide clues to how previous generations used and stored their reading material. This project examines a variety of stains found on parchment, paper, and bindings from medieval manuscripts, in some cases using multispectral imaging to yield even more information.

Why stains?

Notes project co-founder Wacha, “The Library of Stains project is conceived broadly as a first foray into providing a fixed dataset for characterized stains that are commonly found on manuscripts, a sound methodology for the replication of gathering and analyzing the data, and a clear explanation for how to implement and use the database as a means to further the study of medieval manuscripts and their conservation. In so doing, the Library of Stains hopes to equip scholars with additional tools for analyzing their manuscripts vis à vis provenance, use, transmission, preservation and materiality.”

Like our own books, which are likely to carry the remains of yesterday’s lunch and other nonliterary evidence of our reading habits, the more than 400 BiblioPhilly manuscripts include many messy texts — not surprising, considering that many of them have been used regularly as working texts by teachers, students, and scientists. Working on the metadata for some of these manuscripts provides a natural hunting ground for Connelly: spills, wax drippings, fingerprints, dead bugs, and other enhancements of well-thumbed manuscripts (she also keeps an eye out for tears and repairs). Here are a few of her recent BiblioPhilly finds:

The Library of Stains  has been funded by a Postdoctoral Fellowship micro-grant from the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR), whose generous funding has also made BiblioPhilly possible. Both the Library of Stains and BiblioPhilly are made possible by funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Bonus links: