Lecture Abstracts & Recordings

Recordings of the Mellon Sawyer lectures are posted as they are made available. Click on the link underneath the abstract to view the recorded lecture.

Friday 9 SEPTEMBER 2016 – 1-2:30pm / 2520-D UCC

Paul Dilley
Assistant Professor, Department of Religious Studies/ Classics, University of Iowa
“From Roll to Codex?: Christians, Manichaeans, and the Book across Late Antique Eurasia”
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Friday 16 September 2016 – 1-2:30pm / 2032 UI Main Library
Shai Secunda
Jacob Neusner Professor in the History and Theology of Judaism, Bard College
“‘You May Not Communicate Oral Matters in Writing’: Writing and its Absence in the Transmission of Rabbinic and Zoroastrian Texts”
One of the defining inter-religious debates in Eastern Late Antiquity concerned the preferred mode of transmitting religious texts – in writing or orally. For example, Syriac Christians and Manichaeans held up writing as the ideal means for transmitting religious literature, while Jewish rabbis and Zoroastrian priests argued for the legitimacy, necessity, and even preferability of oral transmission. In fact, classical rabbinic and Sassanian Zoroastrian societies were simultaneously oral and written cultures, where writing was used for some important tasks while orality was reserved for others. This engendered a fascinating set of dynamics, reflections, and implications regarding the interplay of writing and its absence in these two communities. Studying them illuminates new aspects of late antique Judaism and Zoroastrianism, and also helps us re-frame how we conceive of the transmission of religious knowledge in premodern times.
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Friday 4 November 2016 – 10:30-2:30pm / 347 IMU Minnesota Room
Michael Friedrich
Universität Hamburg, Department of Chinese Language and Culture; Director, Research Group on the Manuscript Cultures of Asia, Africa, and Europe, Centre for the Study of Manuscript Cultures
‘Ancient and Medieval Chinese Manuscripts’

After considering new trends in manuscriptology and their relevance for fields such as cultural and intellectual history, material aspects of book production and their relationship with the functions of manscripts will be presented. Finally, some examples will serve to highlight the interaction of Chinese book forms and those of neighbouring cultures.
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Zsuzsanna Gulacsi
Department of Comparative Cultural Studies, Northern Arizona University
“From Picture Books to Illuminated Manuscripts: The Formation of Manichaean Book Culture in its Eurasian Context”
The study of Manichaean book culture is essential for understanding the wider evolution of this medium. Throughout history, the books of the Manichaeans were noted for their superb artisanship attested in the production of not only plain (non-illuminated) text books, but also in that of solely pictorial picture books and (for a few centuries in East Central Asia) luxurious illuminated manuscripts, such as service books used in royal contexts and illuminated letters written between church officials. The high quality papyrus codices of the Manichaeans surviving from 4th-5th-century Egypt constitute the largest and thickest manuscripts of late antiquity. The remains of their exquisite book paintings from 8th-10th-century Uygur Central Asia are unique across the Iranian cultural region, preceding the earliest Islamic figural illuminations by about 200-300 years.Watch the lecture here

Aided by a codicological method of study and advanced digital imaging technology, this lecture explores the formats, materials, scripts, layouts, calligraphy, and scribal decorations, as well as techniques of book painting and illumination employed among the Manichaeans throughout the 1400 years of their religion. With special attention to innovations that are distinct to the geo-cultural contexts of the available sources, it outlines the development of Manichaean book culture by defining three historical phases in light of primary evidence provided by actual books and book fragments, documentary evidence written about their books, and comparative evidence supplied by analogous objects of other religious traditions. The first phase began in Sasanian southern Mesopotamia during the middle of the 3rd century, when the founder of this religion, Mani (216-274/277 CE) established an attitude of reverence towards writing and painting among his followers by recording his teachings in books and picture books that he authored. The second phase came about under Uygur royal patronage and constituted a golden age of innovation that extended between the mid 8th and the early 11th centuries. The third phase was confined to China, when the last editions of Manichaean books and picture books were made, concluded during the 16th and early 17th centuries.
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Friday 18 NOVEMBER 2016 – 1-2:30pm / 2520-D UCC
Zsuzsanna Gulacsi’s lecture moved to Nov. 4

Friday 2 December 2016 – 8:30am-4:45pm / 166 IMU Iowa Theater (Iowa Memorial Union)
William Johnson
Classical Studies, Duke University
“From Bookroll to Codex”
This talk will, first, offer an overview of the literary bookroll in ancient Greece and Rome, with deep dives into how technical details of form interact with production (writers, scribes) and consumption (readers, society). That overview will be foundational for the second part of the lecture, in which we will turn to the much discussed issue of the transition from bookroll to codex. There too an overview will be offered— with, however, a focus not so much on the question of “why?” but on what this transition might  say about instability and changes in the larger cultural matrix, and, more specifically, how this shift in the idea of the book might relate to changing attitudes towards authorship and writing practices on the one hand, and use and reading practices on the other.
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Susan Whitfield
Director, International Dunhuang Project, British Library
“Beyond Scrolls and Codices: Manuscript Formats on the Eastern Silk Road”
Manuscripts in the tens of thousand have been excavated from first millennium AD sites of the eastern Silk Road. On various local media — birchbark, wood, palm leaf, silk, paper and others — and in over twenty languages and scripts, they reflect the diversity of the cultures in this period and place. This paper introduces the range of manuscript formats, materials, languages and scripts, and discuss their diffusion along the Silk Road. It also considers the lack of diffusion of some unique formats used in specific contexts and only found for relatively brief periods.
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Myriam Krutzsch
Aegyptisches Museum, Berlin
“Papyrus as an Ancient Writing Material: Its Structure, Production and Classification”
This lecture touches on the history of  ancient Egyptian papyrus, its production and use as a writing material. The structure of the papyrus sheet is explained, from the source materials [fibers, leaf shapes] to the making the papyrus roll. Special emphasis is focused on the diverse typology and classification of sheet joins, the places where individual papyrus sheets are connected to form a roll or scroll. Knowledge of these typologies not only gives us insight into ancient production technologies, but also can be used as a valuable tool for determining previously uncertain provenance and dating.
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Mark Barnard
Senior Conservator Emeritus, British Library
“The Dunhuang Diamond Sutra of AD 868: A Conservation Approach That Goes Back to the Original”
The Diamond Sutra of AD 868 is the world’s earliest dated printed ‘book’. This paper scroll was one of 6,000 items that came from Dunhuang’s cave 17 during Marc Aurel Stein’s 2nd expedition of 1911 to Western China. Brought back to the British Museum, London in 1914 its importance was soon recognized as it was put on display in 1914 along with other treasures from Dunhuang. From early images, its condition looked poor, with heavy staining and paper loss. It had also been repaired in antiquity. We believe that it had been restored up to three times before by 1972 when it was transferred to the New British Library. This presentation will chart a 20-year conservation project that involved ground-breaking research and a fundamental reassessment of traditional East Asian scroll mounting, and developed a new approach to the conversation about and preservation of the Dunhuang archive.
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Friday 16 December 2016 – 10:30am-2:30pm / 2520-D UCC
TH Barrett

Professor Emeritus, Department of Religions and Philosophies, School of Oriental and African Studies, London
“The End of the Manuscript? Buddhism and Early Printing in Asia”
Historians of the book for over nine decades have followed Lionel Carter in pointing to Buddhism as the ‘dynamic force’ responsible for the introduction of woodblock printing in China.  There seems no possibility now that his initial surmise will ever be challenged, but much more may now be said about the precise circumstances that seem to have given rise to the introduction of this technology.  Of particular value in this regard has been the recent and very careful work of Xin Deyong, who examines the written record for all early possible references to printing.  My own work by contrast tries to grasp the larger context in which printing started to be used, an attempt that does not yield such unambiguous results.  But both approaches end up by locating the original use of printing within rather specific religious contexts, with no indication that the new technology caused an instant revolution in the generation of text, even if the contexts in which it was deployed widened markedly over time.  Should we not rather emphasize with Joseph P. McDermott the resilience of Chinese manuscript culture?
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Abdurishid Yakup
Professor, Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences; Distinguished Professor and Dean, School of Minority Languages and Literatures, Central University of Nationalities, Beijing
“Aspects of Old Uyghur Printed Texts: Corpus, Technique, Dating, Production, Use and Sponsoring”
Printed texts, mainly woodblock printings comprise a small but a very important corpus of Old Uyghur texts, consisting of more than 1,000 fragments, currently preserved in the libraries and museums in Beijing, Berlin, Dunhuang, Kyoto, London, Paris and St. Petersburg. Most of them are of Buddhist content, including Buddhist sutras, jātakas, commentaries and alliterated Buddhist poems, translated, re-written and composed by Old Uyghur Buddhists. Besides them there are also certain pieces of calendars. The main bulk of the Old Uyghur printed texts is from the 13th and 14th centuries. This lecture first provides a brief introduction of the main corpus of Old Uyghur woodblock-printed texts, giving a general account on their content and main formal types, showing their characteristic material and morphological features. And then it tries to give a rather accurate description of the cutting and printing technique of Old Uyghur woodblock-printings, paying close attention to the relationship between written and printed versions of some texts. In this part of lecture, some important aspects of the so-called Old Uyghur movable letters will also be briefly discussed, though it is not the main topic of the lecture. This is followed by a discussion of dating of Old Uyghur woodblock-printings, which mainly reports results of an ongoing research project since 2008 on the topic. The last part of the lecture focuses on further important aspects of Old Uyghur printing texts, e.g. the purpose of producing Old Uyghur texts in printed form, places where the texts produced, use and sponsoring of the Old Uyghur woodblock prints, mainly based upon the colophons, scriber notes and relevant historical sources.
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20 January 2017 – 10:30-2:30 / 2520-D UCC
Brent Seales
Gill Professor, Computer Science Department, University of Kentucky
“From Damage to Discovery via Virtual Unwrapping: Reading the Scroll from En-Gedi”
Computer imaging techniques are commonly used to preserve and share readable manuscripts, but capturing writing locked away in ancient, deteriorated documents poses an entirely different challenge. This talk will present the components of a software pipeline—referred to as “virtual unwrapping”—that allows textual artifacts to be read completely and non-invasively. Using this pipeline we have recovered the writing within the extremely fragile En-Gedi scroll, showing it to be the oldest Pentateuchal scroll in Hebrew outside of the Dead Sea Scrolls.  This approach for recovering substantial ink-based text from a damaged object results in readable columns at such high quality that serious critical textual analysis can occur. As such, this work creates a new pathway for subsequent textual discoveries buried within the confines of damaged material.
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Vito Mocella
National Research Council, Rome
“The Quest of Lost Ancient Literature: The Secrets of Herculaneum Papyri Revealed Through Synchrotron Based Techniques”

We present the first experimental demonstration of a non-destructive technique that reveals the text of a carbonized and thus extremely fragile Herculaneum papyrus. Buried by the famous eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD, the Herculaneum papyri represent a unique treasure for humanity. Overcoming the difficulties of the other techniques we prove that x-ray phase contrast tomography technique can detect the text within scrolls, thanks to the coherence and high-energy properties of a synchrotron source. This new imaging technique represents a turning point for the study of literature and ancient philosophy, disclosing texts that were believed to be completely lost. In order to improve the imaging technique we performed also an extensive experimental analysis of the ink composition, using a combination of synchrotron techniques at the ESRF, discovering the presence of metal in the ink of two Herculaneum papyrus fragments and proving that metals were used in ink several centuries earlier than previously believed.
Watch the lecture here

3 February 2017 – 10:30am-2:30pm / 2032 UI Main Library
Kevin van Bladel

Associate Professor & Chair, Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures, Ohio State University
“The Six Manuscript Traditions of the Sasanian Kingdom”
The kingdom of the Persian Sasanid dynasty (224-651) encompassed many populations speaking different languages that became vehicles for literary traditions. One of the clearest signs of this is in the multiplicity of unbroken manuscript traditions extant today that began in the Sasanian kingdom and survived because they were curated by self-propagating guilds of religious experts and their supporting communities, each with their own language or dialect. These include the liturgies, hymns, and exegetical works of the Zoroastrians, in Avestan and Middle Persian; two Christian literary traditions, one in Syrian Aramaic and one in Armenian; the southeastern Aramaic of the Mandaean priests; and the Babylonian Jewish Aramaic literary tradition preserved by rabbinic schools. These together give the impression in hindsight of a world obsessed by religious boundaries, communal belonging and exclusion. This impression is belied by a sixth Sasanian literary tradition, that of the secretarial class, which reveals a completely different set of interests and exposes a culture of written Sasanian learning not particular to one religious group and not subject to the same homogenizing institutional filters that the other five manuscript traditions underwent.

Johannes Preiser-Kapeller
Researcher, Institute for Medieval Research, Division of Byzantine Research, Austrian Academy of Sciences
“From Parchment to ‘Big Data’: Methods and Tools for a Computational History of Medieval Afro-Eurasia”
Approaches of ‘global’ and ‘entangled history’ in the last decades have opened new perspectives on the connections, commonalities, but also differences between regions, polities and cultures across medieval Afro-Eurasia. A number of ongoing projects at the Institute for Medieval Research of the Austrian Academy of Sciences and the University of Vienna try to combine these approaches with concepts of network studies and complexity theory as well as various digital instruments. These include “Complexities and networks in the Medieval Mediterranean and Near East (COMMED),” “Entangled Worlds. Network analysis and Complexity Theory in Historical and Archaeological Research,” and the Wittgenstein-Prize project “Mobility, Microstructures and Personal Agency in Byzantium” of Prof. Claudia RappIn my talk I present the methodological and technological frameworks of these projects and illustrate their analytical value with case studies on the mobility of people, objects (such as manuscripts) and ideas between the Mediterranean, the Indian Ocean and the Pacific from Late Antiquity to the Early Modern period. In particular, questions of the organization of heterogeneous historical and archaeological data, the integration of temporal and spatial uncertainties, the modelling of social and spatial networks at various scales and the visualization of temporal and spatial dynamics will be addressed. Furthermore, I discuss potentials and pitfalls of more elaborate attempts of mathematical modelling and quantitative comparative analysis. Also the additional benefit of digital tools beyond data collection and their potential to allow for new research questions and analytical results shall be put up for discussion.

17 February 2017 – 10:30am-3:30pm / 2520-D UCC
Richard Salomon
Professor, Department of Asian Languages and Literature, University of Washington
“From Birch Bark to Palm Leaves: The Evolution of the Earliest Surviving Buddhist Manuscript Tradition”

Within the last twenty years, several hundred fragments of Buddhist manuscripts in the Gāndhārī and Sanskrit languages have been discovered in eastern Afghanistan and northern Pakistan, including some of the oldest surviving texts in any Indian or Buddhist language. Some of them date back to the first century bce, which is the period at which Buddhist texts are believed to have been first set down in writing. The earlier manuscripts in the northwestern region of the Indian subcontinent consisted of birch bark scrolls, but within a few centuries the Buddhists there seem to have adopted the unbound palm leaf folio format (poṭhī) which prevails in the rest of India. The presentation will discuss, first, the geographical, ecological and cultural influences which led to the development of the original birch bark scroll format, and second, the process and motivations for its abandonment in favor of the pan-Indian poṭhī style.

Justin McDaniel
Professor and Chair, Religious Studies, University of Pennsylvania
“Tracing Pali and Thai Manuscripts from Japan to Ireland: Collections, Collectors, and Connections”
When travelers from Europe, North America, and Japan among other places started exploring Southeast Asia, they often brought back manuscripts to their own museums and homes. Manuscripts are portable, beautiful, exotic, and informative. Thai and Pali manuscripts have made their way into foreign collections for over 500 years. They were put on display and presented as the quintessential representative of both Thai and Buddhist culture. Unfortunately, despite the large number of Thai and Pali manuscripts available in museum, library, and private collections abroad, they have been understudied. Moreover, we know little about the Thais and foreigners that acquired them, traded them, collected them, or stole them. Siamese/Thai the country officially changed its name from Siam to Thailand in 1939), Siamese, Tai (Tai Lue, Tai Khoen, Tai Yai/Shan), Pali, and Lao manuscripts cover a wide array of subjects, materials, and languages. Most were produced between the late fifteenth and early twentieth centuries on palm-leaf (bailan), streblus asper bark (khoi) paper, mulberry leaf paper (Broussonetia papyrifera), cotton, and silk and include rare pigments like Prussian blue, chrome yellow, and red led, vermilion, and gamboge. The languages on the manuscript include the Indic classical Pali language, as well as Khmer, Thai, Lao, Mon, Shan, Tai Leu, Tai Khoen, Sanskrit, Tamil, and Siamese/Thai. Techniques of manuscript production and illumination in Siam influenced Cambodian, Burmese, Malay, and Lao texts and paintings. Portuguese, French, Chinese, and British influence is also seen in the ways Siamese experimented with shadowing, background, and format in the nineteenth century.  The contents of the manuscripts include the earliest legal codes in Southeast Asia, chronicles of the lives of famous nuns, monks, and royal family members, cosmological maps, stories of the previous lives of the Buddha (jātaka), funerary sermons (Abhidhamma Cet Khamphi and Phra Malai), great battles and royal coronations, and ethical codes.  There are guides for classical dancers and musicians replete with paintings of instruments and costumes. Many texts contain recipes for magical elixirs and herbal medicine. Some manuscripts are early liturgical prayer books most often contain sets of paritta. Paritta are protective texts that keep the chanter safe from evil spells, menacing other-worldly creatures and the very real dangers of knives, disease, betrayal, fire and poison. There are even an entire collection of manuscripts which contain illustrated manuals on how to care for elephants, cats, and horses. Moreover, the narratives reveal that entertainment and ethical stories set on quotidian themes (family drama, romance, travel) were popular. Tracing the history of these collections and collectors provides a different perspective on orientalism, as well as economic, religious, and diplomatic history. This is a study not of political leaders, famous monks, or kings, but of thieves, adventurers, amateur art historians, and Buddhist wanderers. It is often these small interactions, these subtle cultural exchanges, and these eccentric go-betweens that get ignored by historians.

Jim Canary
Head of Conservation, Lilly Library, University of Indiana, Bloomington
“The Tibetan Book and Its Precursors”
The Tibetan book will be presented with a look backward to understand the materials, techniques and forces that have come together shaping the rich literary heritage of Tibet.   Palm leaf birch bark and paper have all been used to preserve the Buddhist teachings. The manuscript tradition in Tibet has been influenced by Indian Chinese and Persian models.  The Indian model of the palm leaf has been the primary factor in determining the pothi style of Tibetan texts. This talk will present a number of examples of Buddhist manuscripts from India, South East Asia and Tibet, PRC with the opportunity to look into the workshops of the artisans continuing these traditions. A look at efforts to preserve these traditions and projects underway to digitize and make available texts will also be covered.

10 March 2017 – 1:00-2:30pm / 2520-D UCC
Sabine Schmidtke – lecture moved to 31 March

31 March 2017 – 8:30-3:30pm / 2520-D UCC
AnneMarie Luijendijk
Professor, Department of Religion, Princeton University
and Brent Nongbri
Associate Professor, School of Culture and Society, Aarhus University
“Cultural and Textual Exchanges in Late Antique Oxyrhynchus: Papyri and Parchments with Christian Texts”
This paper zooms in on the city of Oxyrhynchus in middle Egypt. Over a century ago, scholars found a treasure trove of thousands of fragmentarily preserved manuscripts on the city’s ancient garbage heaps. I am particularly interested in Christian literary texts penned on papyrus and parchment, dating from roughly the second through sixth century and will examine material aspects such as writing surface, book format, and handwriting in relation to content.

François Deroche
Professor, Collège de France
“The Arabic Manuscript Tradition”
Taking over the codex form from earlier Middle-Eastern traditions by the middle of the 7th century, the Arabic-Islamic manuscript production soon had to face various challenges, both internal and external, material and ideological. Copyists, but also binders or illuminators, contributed to the search for new solutions –some quickly discarded, others to remain in use for over a millennium.

Sabine Schmidtke
Professor, School of Historical Studies, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton
“The Yemeni Zaydi Manuscript Tradition, 13th through 20th century”
The Zaydī community is a branch of Shīʿī Islam that has flourished mainly in two regions, namely the mountainous Northern Highlands of Yemen and the Caspian regions of Northern Iran. The two Zaydī states that were established in Yemen and Northern Iran constituted separate political and cultural entities. During the 10th and 11th centuries the Zaydīs of Yemen became increasingly isolated from their coreligionists in Iran as a result of their geographical remoteness and political isolation . The situation changed radically in the early 12th century, when a rapprochement between the two Zaydī communities began that eventually resulted in their political unification.  With the rise of the Yemeni Imam al-Manṣūr bi-Llāh (r. 1197-1217)  the political centre of Zaydism eventually shifted from Iran to Yemen, with Iranian Zaydism gradually falling into oblivion. The political unification of the two Zaydī states was accompanied by a transfer of knowledge from Northern Iran to Yemen that comprised nearly the entire literary and religious legacy of Caspian Zaydism. Most of this legacy is preserved until today in the private and public libraries of Yemen as well as in the various European collections of manuscripts of Yemeni provenance. During the reign of al-Manṣūr, the knowledge transfer to Yemen reached its peak. The Imam founded a library in Ẓafār, his town of residence, for which he had a wealth of books copied by a team of scholars and scribes. In 1929 the rich holdings of his library, which continued to grow under his successors, were transferred from Ẓafār to the newly founded al-Khizāna al-Mutawakkiliyya in Ṣanʿāʾ. The library, which is housed even today in the complex of the Great Mosque of Ṣanʿāʾ, is also known as al-Maktaba al-Sharqiyya (since 1984: Maktabat al-Awqāf). The presentation will discuss some of the codicological features of the manuscripts that were produced for the library of Imam al-Manṣūr and provide an overview of the entire Yemeni Zaydi Manuscript Tradition as it is partly preserved in public and private libraries in Yemen (many of which have already been destroyed or are in imminent danger), in various European and North American libraries (esp. the different Glaser collections and the collection held by the Ambrosiana in Milan). In addition to a brief survey of the various microfilming and digitization projects since the 1950s some ideas will be presented as to how the entire Yemeni Zaydi Manuscript Tradition could be salvaged and reunited, at least in a virtual environment.

Yasmeen Khan
Senior Rare Book Conservator, Library of Congress
“Bindings Informed by the Arab Manuscript Tradition: A Conservator’s Perspective”
This presentation will explore Arab bindings and related bindings from Muslim cultures in Asia and Africa, and the challenges they present to a conservator.  Compared to binding styles associated with Middle Eastern Christian communities, the Arabs developed a simple book structure that was easy to execute. The wide dissemination of these manuscripts through an active book trade in the Muslim world, with its associated crafts of restoring and re-purposing manuscripts and their bindings, has at times and over time created pastiche bindings.  How is a conservator to “read” such  books? How do issues of provenance, leaf order and use affect treatment choices? Through addressing these topics the groundwork will be laid for the binding workshop for seminar participants.

14 April 2017 – 10:30am-2:30pm / 2520-D UCC
Lynn Ransom

Curator and Project Manager, Schoenberg Medieval Database Project, Schoenberg Institute for Manuscript Studies, Rare Book & Manuscript Library, University of Pennsylvania
“Manuscript Description in a Crowd-Sourced, Open-Access World: Problems and Perspectives from the New Schoenberg Database of Manuscripts Project”
In the 1920s, the American librarian Ernest Cushing Richardson set out to create what he would call his “Union World Catalogue of Manuscript Books,” a finding aid for all of the world’s manuscripts produced before the age of print.  Though sounding far-fetched, his aspirations for a union world catalogue, when understood in the context of his day, were grounded in contemporary ideals of democratic access to knowledge.  Although the project ultimately failed, Richardson’s vision of a simple accounting of the world’s manuscripts has relevance today in the study, care, and conservation of these unique witnesses of our intellectual and cultural heritage.  Indeed, current advances in information technology make it possible not only to reconsider Richardson’s vision but also to move forward in its implementation.

The Schoenberg Database of Manuscripts (SDBM) has taken on the challenge. With data drawn from auction and sale catalogues and other sources dating back to the 15th century, the SDBM assists researchers in locating and identifying pre-1600 manuscript books from Europe, Asia, and Africa, establishing provenance for these books, and aggregating descriptive information about them. Thanks to a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, we are redeveloping the SDBM into an online, collaboratively-built, open access, universal finding aid and provenance research tool for the world’s manuscripts. In creating this resource, to be launched in the summer of 2016, the project team has had to grapple with many of the same issues that beset Richardson’s enterprise: how to maintain good description standards that will enable searching and access without intimidating the non-specialist who may have access to data that scholars do not? How do you ensure that good data is entered? What is sufficient data for good manuscript description? What is an acceptable level of “bad” data? When is it appropriate to lower standards? How do you manage user expectations when your data isn’t perfect? When does the perfect become the enemy of the good? I will consider these questions and discuss how the New SDBM project has addressed them in an effort to shed light on the changing, or unchanging, nature of crowd-sourced scholarship.

Daniel Lord Smail
Professor of History, Harvard University
“Why do People Keep Things (including Manuscripts)?”
For much of the last century, scholars in the human sciences have been preoccupied with the movement of objects in human societies. But people also invest great energy and imagination in the act of removing things from networks of exchange. A deep historical perspective on storing, keeping, collecting, and hoarding suggests that the habits and the materialities of storage are both enabled and disabled by a changing array of human institutions and material forms. In addition, different kinds of things are stored or cached in different ways, depending on their characteristics. Written documents, including books and manuscripts, are especially prominent among the ranks of storable things. In this paper, I will describe the broad outlines of a deep history of storage, with special reference to habits for storing and using manuscripts and legal acts among the laity of later medieval Europe.

28 April 2017 – 8:30am-2:30pm/ 2520-D UCC
Marina Rustow
Khedouri A. Zilkha Professor of Jewish Civilization in the Near East, Princeton University
“Fatimid State Documents, Serial Recyclers and the Cairo Geniza”
Among the many unexpected finds the Cairo Geniza has yielded are hundreds—possibly thousands—of medieval documents of state in Arabic script. Among these are decrees, rescripts, petitions, tax receipts and fiscal accounts from period of the Fatimid caliphs in Egypt and Syria (969–1171). Most of these Fatimid state documents were reused for Hebrew-script texts, hence their survival in the discarded manuscript chamber of a medieval Egyptian synagogue. In most cases, we can only speculate on the path they took from the government offices where they were produced to the synagogue where they were preserved. Nonetheless—and perhaps paradoxically given that they did not survive in an archive—they offer glimpses of the complexity and sophistication of medieval Middle Eastern techniques of archiving and deacquisition, as well as informal scribal habits in one of the largest and best documented Jewish communities of the Middle Ages.

Erik Kwakkel
Professor and Scaliger Chair for the Study and Promotion of Special Collections, Universiteit Leiden
“Aristotle and the Medieval University: The Birth of a New Book Format”
This paper focuses on manuscripts with Latin copies of Aristotle’s works produced for educational purposes between c. 1100 and c. 1300. During these two centuries a shift is observed in how Aristotle was used in the classroom: from a teaching instrument in monastic education in the twelfth century, to a means for training students in the university classroom during the thirteenth century. This paper draws attention to a parallel shift in the material format of Aristotle manuscripts produced in these centuries. With the rise of the university, c. 1200, arts faculties across Europe began to adopt the so-called Corpus vetustius as their standard textbook, a volume that encompassed a substantial number of texts by Aristotle. Focusing on the codicological and paleographical traits of the ninety-odd surviving copies, the aim of this paper is threefold: to identify the shared codicological and paleographical features of Corpus manuscripts; to highlight how these features may be understood as a new book format, distinctly different from twelfth-century copies of Aristotle; and to show how this new book format was adopted throughout Europe. The observations presented relate to several threads running through the “Cultural and Textual Exchanges” seminars: the appearance of a new book format within a specific cultural context; the diffusion of new bookish features across geographical space; and the strong ties that exist between the physical features of the Latin manuscript and the manner in which the object was used.

Katherine Tachau
Professor of History, University of Iowa
“Piece-work and medieval university book production: the pecia”
The demand for books in Western Europe that would ultimately spur the development of the European printing press in the mid-fifteenth century had begun to rise precipitously in the twelfth-century centers of advanced learning.  As those centers became universities, and as the numbers of universities increased, the demand for books had accelerated over the course of the thirteenth-fifteenth centuries.  Students and masters in Bologna and Paris had already become sufficiently numerous by the late twelfth century to require more books than the regional monastic houses could supply.  The prospect of undiminishing scholarly need led entrepreneurial laymen to set up workshops and innovate in the production of manuscripts for scholars, as well as in a smaller but lucrative additional “luxury book” business.  As a result, the making of books largely ceased to be dominated by monasteries for the first time since the sixth century, and shifted to urban centers where book production helped sustain other crafts.

Over the course of the last one hundred years, codicologists, paleographers, and historians working on medieval university manuscripts have increasingly come to understand the practices that lay booksellers (or “stationers”) introduced as the “pecia system.”  But was the production of manuscripts by pecia truly a stationer-centered, university-directed “system,” as historians have come to label it?  In this presentation I will explain the elements of production of pecia-manuscripts, trace their origins and historical spread, and argue for the usefulness of distinguishing a “pecia method” from a “pecia system” of copying manuscripts.  I also hope to make clear how the structure of pecia exemplars became the basis of early European printing practices.


Individuals with disabilities are encouraged to attend all University of Iowa-sponsored events. If you are a person with a disability who requires an accommodation in order to participate in this program, please contact Erin Hackathorn in advance at (319) 335-4034.