You can’t visit the exhibition — but you can hear the talk! (and order the catalog)

There was great excitement at the opening of the Penn Libraries’ exhibition, “The Making of the Renaissance Manuscript,” in February. Curator Nicholas Herman gave a compelling gallery talk to a spellbound audience, and it was sure to have a robust audience, especially when the Renaissance Society of America came to town in April.

Alas, fate had other plans. The library closed in March as the nation grappled with the COVID-19 pandemic. The Renaissance Society’s meeting was also cancelled.

Read more

The Uncanny Valley and the Ghost in the Machine

Cartoon of young man viewing a butterfly captioned "Digital Image of LJS 101" and asking Is this a manuscript?"

A discussion of analogies for thinking about digitized medieval manuscripts, presented by BiblioPhilly co-principal investigator Dot Porter at the University of Kansas Digital Humanities Seminar, September 17, 2018.

In this talk, which presents research and  concepts in the embryonic stage, Porter asks “If a digitized manuscript isn’t a manuscript, how can we present it in ways that explore aspects of the original’s manuscript-ness, ethically and with care, while both pushing and respecting the boundaries of technology?” Although this practice of thinking about what it means to digitize a manuscript and what that becomes seems really philosophical, Porter continues, she contends that this is really a practical question. She presents the concept of the Uncanny Valley, from robotics, in which the more human and lifelike a robot appears, the better received it is — until it becomes too lifelike, and even creepy. This is the territory of the Uncanny Valley, and the way this might inform thinking about digitized manuscripts.

Porter’s presentation draws upon a number of digital representations of manuscripts, including images, page-turning interfaces, videos, and collation models. She concludes with a discussion of the concept of “The Ghost in the Machine” and the degree to which a digital representation of the manuscript can and cannot convey the Ghost or the aura of the manuscript.

Read the whole thing here:


And that’s how we roll…

Update: now on BiblioPhilly’s OPenn, for high-resolution viewing and downloading:

Genealogical rolls showing the direct descent of English kings from Adam were a major (and blatant) propaganda tool during the Wars of the Roses in later fifteenth-century England. The BiblioPhilly libraries have three from the reign of Edward IV, each very fine — but this one from Lehigh University has an intriguing nineteenth-century housing that makes it especially remarkable.

The Lehigh roll is based on the text of a roll that Roger of St. Albans presented to Henry VI, with continuation into the reign of Edward IV. The survival of considerable numbers of the these rolls suggests, as Alison Allan notes, that “they were the work of a small group of craftsmen,”[1] and that their production was deliberately planned to support the usurpation of the young Yorkist king. They showcase his purportedly superior hereditary claim and hint that his accession was divinely foreordained.

The glass-fronted wood housing with rollers and external knobs for this particular roll is an artifact in and of itself, and the question of how to photograph the roll without destroying its  enclosure has been the subject of a great deal of discussion. If removal of the roll from the case is impossible, as seems increasingly likely, the imaging team will explore photographing portions of the roll and digitally stitching it together.

In the meantime, enjoy this video of principal investigator Lois Fischer Black carefully turning the handles to get a full view of the roll.

Lehigh University Ms 8

Roger of St. Albans. Geneaological Roll, in Latin. 15th-century manuscript on a vellum roll 20 feet 5 inches x 12 inches (612.8 x 30 cm.), written in England. Bears the 16th-century inscription “liber Robert Ohlund (?) de Stondlley (?).” Acquired by Lehigh in 1955, the gift of Mr. Robert B. Honeyman, Jr. Chronicle from the time of Adam to the reign of Edward IV.  A high-resolution digitization of this image will be prepared as part of the Bibliotheca Philadelphiensis project.

[1] Alison Allan, “Yorkist propaganda: Pedigree, prophecy and the ‘British History’ in the Reign of Edward IV.” C. D. Ross, ed., Patronage, Pedigree and Power in Later Medieval England, Alan Sutton, Rowman & Littlefield, 1979.

Caring for the body: Lilium medicinae by Bernard of Gordon

 Lilium medicinae, Bernard de Gordon. Historical Medical Library of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia, Ms 10a 149, fol. 55v. Image from Bibliotheca Philadelphiensis on OPenn.

Lilium medicinae, Bernard de Gordon. Historical Medical Library of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia, Ms 10a 149, fol. 55v. Image from Bibliotheca Philadelphiensis on OPenn.

Not all medieval manuscripts are all about the pretty pictures and salvation (or not). This one is about the body.

This manuscript of Bernard de Gordon’s Lilium medicinae (Historical Medical Library of The College of Physicians, 10a 249) is one of a number of manuscript editions of a comprehensive and practical manual for medical practitioners. The work is divided into seven sections that address the body from head to foot. Each section includes definition, causes, diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, and clarification.

Lilium medicinae survives in a number of copies, including its original Latin and a number of translations including English, a testament to its popularity, especially in England. The College’s copy was made in 1348 and completed at the feast of Corpus Christi (June 20) — almost exactly when the Black Death landed in Melcombe in the county of Dorset. 

Read more

Behind the scenes at BiblioPhilly

Jordan Rothschild, Schoenberg Center for Electronic Text & Image at the Penn Libraries, checks digitized images from Free Library of Philadelphia Lewis MS E160 against the manuscript.
Jordan Rothschild, Schoenberg Center for Electronic Text & Image at the Penn Libraries, checks digitized images from Free Library of Philadelphia Lewis MS E160 against the manuscript. Click the image to view an enlargement.

In case you missed it: earlier this summer, the video team at the University of Pennsylvania followed a manuscript from the Free Library of Philadelphia through the imaging process at the Schoenberg Center for Electronic Text & Image at the Penn Libraries. The Free Library holds the majority of the manuscripts being digitized by the project, and imaging for these is largely complete. Over the next several months, these images will be uploaded to OPenn and freely available to anyone.

Read the article on Penn Today and watch the video here:

Although the manuscript featured here, Free Library of Philadelphia MS Lewis E 160, is still being prepared for uploading, it will be available in a few weeks. Meanwhile, you can view the images already mounted at this link:


The unhappy end of a very bad fox

Image of foxes disguised as noblemen and a flock of chickens
Jean Bouchet, Les regnars traversant les perilleuses voyes des folles fiances du monde
Rosenbach MS 197/30, fol.30r
Foxes disguised as noblemen have plans for those chickens.

This is a “very evil fox,” according to Les regnars traversant les perilleuses voyes des folles fiances du monde, a Middle French poem by Jean Bouchet. Monsieur Reynard had done all the bad things, and now he is paying for it in the very hot place. The manuscript is part of the collection of the Rosenbach of the Free Library.

Bouchet’s text and the nine accompanying miniatures have been digitized and are available online as part of the Bibliotheca Philadelphiensis project funded by the Council on Library and Information Resources. The text and images employ the fox as a metaphor for the vices of contemporary man. They denounce all estates of society: the king, the nobility, the clergy, the merchant class, and the common people. The fox and his friends cavort through the poem polluting a badger’s lair, carrying a flaming torch, dressed as clergymen carrying rosaries, knocking down a church, and dressed as noblemen. 

Read more