Monthly Archives: March 2014

Manuscript Road Trip: Oklahoma

The Flight into Egypt, Walters Art Museum, MS W.188, f.112r

The Flight into Egypt, Walters Art Museum, MS W.188, f.112r

Photo by Tony Grider

Photo by Tony Grider

After driving about 90 miles north out of Dallas on I-35, we’ll cross the Red River into my home state of Oklahoma. I am certain that my Russian immigrant great-grandfather (who owned a drygoods store in the small town of Lehigh in the early twentieth century) could never have imagined that his great-granddaughter would someday be exploring centuries-old books in what was known until 1907 as “Indian Territory.” He certainly couldn’t have imagined that I would be able to do so while sitting at my desk in my Massachusetts home. working map

There aren’t many medieval or Renaissance manuscripts in public collections in Oklahoma, but there are enough to warrant a visit. We’ll start at the University of Oklahoma in Norman, where we will find one of the strongest History of Science collections in the country. According to the library’s website, “The History of Science Collections of the University of Oklahoma Libraries was established in 1949 with an initial gift from OU alumnus Everette Lee DeGolyer. Current holdings of nearly 100,000 volumes, representing every field and subject area of science, technology and medicine, include complete sets of first editions of major scientists such as Copernicus, Galileo, Newton and Darwin.

Galileo Galilei, Sidereus nuncius (Venice, 1610), title page, with inscription by Galileo (OU, History of Science Collections)

Galileo Galilei, Sidereus nuncius (Venice, 1610), title page, with inscription by Galileo (OU, History of Science Collections)

Volumes range chronologically from Hrabanus Maurus, Opus de universo (1467), to current publications in the history of science.” DeGolyer was a renowned geophysicist with a powerful love of rare books. He donated his impressive collection in the history of science to the University of Oklahoma; the remainder of his collection was given to Southern Methodist University in Texas (a library we virtually visited a few weeks ago).

Oratio Grassi, Tractatus De Sphaera (Rome, 1623), manuscript, title page (OU, History of Science Library)

Oratio Grassi, Tractatus De Sphaera (Rome, 1623), manuscript, title page (OU, History of Science Library)

Among the works in the collection are several sixteenth-century treatises (in Latin, Persian and Arabic), two manuscripts connected with Bernadino Baldi, Galileo’s inscribed copy of his Sidereus Nuncius, and an important recent acquisition of a manuscript copy of the Tractatus de sphaera, by Oratio Grassi.

Just east of Oklahoma City in the small town of Shawnee is the Mabee-Gerrer Museum. Founded in 1919 by a well-travelled and artistically-minded Benedictine monk named Gregory Gerrer, the collection is home to several late-medieval manuscript leaves (my thanks to curator Delaynna Trim for the images) including a leaf from a Book of Hours that preserves Psalms from the Office of the Dead and a leaf from an Italian antiphonal that preserves the antiphon “Angeleus ad pastores” sung on Christmas morning:

Shawnee, Mabee Gerrer Museum, Medieval Manuscript 1 (recto)

Shawnee, Mabee-Gerrer Museum, Medieval Manuscript 1 (recto)

Shawnee, Mabee Gerrer Museum, Medieval Music leaf.

Shawnee, Mabee-Gerrer Museum, Medieval Music leaf.


A survey of early manuscripts in Oklahoma wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the Green Collection, a massive and extraordinary faith-based private Oklahoma City collection focused on ancient Biblical manuscripts. More information about the collection is available here and here.

Before leaving Oklahoma, we’ll make two stops at the University of Tulsa: the Gilcrease Museum and Special Collections. The Gilcrease owns two early-American manuscripts describing explorations of French territories in North America and encounters with the Algonquin Tribe (one of which is known as the “Codex Canadensis“), along with several early Spanish documents. In the Library’s Special Collections department you will find one of Otto Ege’s combination manuscript/printed leaf sets titled Original leaves from famous Bibles: nine centuries 1121-1935 A.D (in which there are four leaves from manuscript Bibles), as well as several choirbook leaves and early documents.

Next time, I’ll take you back to Illinois and Wisconsin to share manuscripts seen on a recent actual road trip.




Filed under Medieval Manuscripts

Manuscript Road Trip: In the Heart of Texas

The Flight into Egypt, Walters Art Museum, MS W.188, f.112r

The Flight into Egypt, Walters Art Museum, MS W.188, f.112r

Texas bluebonnets

Texas bluebonnets in bloom

A few weeks ago, we were cruising through the desert in New Mexico. Now we’ll leave the cacti behind and spend some time in the great plains and big sky of Texas. Full disclosure: my great-grandparents settled in Texas in the late nineteenth century and my grandparents and mother were born there, so I’m practically a native.

At last count, there were nearly 500 medieval and Renaissance manuscripts in Texas, scattered across thirteen collections in six cities (Amarillo, Dallas, Austin, Waco, Houston and San Antonio). Today, we’re going to visit collections in four cities, focusing on those with a strong digital presence: Southern Methodist University in Dallas; Baylor University in Waco; the University of Texas, Austin; and the University of Houston.  working map

The Bridwell Library at Southern Methodist University in Dallas owns thirty-four very fine manuscripts and just over a dozen fragments. Descriptions and a few images of each are online here. MS 13, a mid-fourteenth-century Book of Hours written in France for use in England, caught my eye, initially just because it is a relatively early Book of Hours. But when I looked more closely, it was the illustrative cycle that really grabbed my attention because it includes not only an image of the assassination of Thomas Becket but also of Thomas of Lancaster, who was executed in 1322 after rebelling against King Edward II and who was soon afterwards revered as a saint.

SMU, Bridwell Library MS 13, the Martyrdom of St. Thomas of Lancaster (f. 142)

SMU, Bridwell Library MS 13, the Martyrdom of St. Thomas of Lancaster (f. 3)

His cult was short-lived and not widespread, so the liturgy honoring him in this Book of Hours is quite rare. This book was written just a decade or two after his death, making it a very early testament to the burgeoning cult of St. Thomas of Lancaster.

As we head south out of Dallas towards Austin, we’ll make a quick stop at Baylor University in Waco, at the Fine Arts Library. Here, we will find about a dozen leaves at the Jennings Collection of Medieval Music Manuscripts and Early Printed Music, among them a leaf from an early twelfth-century Germanic breviary and a rare specimen of Beneventan script.

Breviary, s. XII (Baylor University, Crouch Fine Arts Library, Jennings MS 3)

Breviary from Germany, s. XII (Baylor University, Crouch Fine Arts Library, Jennings MS 3)

Beneventan leaf, s. XI (Baylor University, Crouch Fine Arts Library, Jennings Manuscript 2)

Beneventan missal, s. XII (Baylor University, Crouch Fine Arts Library, Jennings Manuscript 2)

This excellent teaching collection provides a thorough overview of the development of musical notation from the eleventh through the fifteenth centuries, from unheightened Germanic neumes through square Gregorian notation on a five-line staff.

The Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas in Austin holds the lion’s share of medieval and Renaissance manuscripts in the state, with over 200 codices and several hundred leaves and fragments. This important collection – a highlight of the region – has been completely digitized and thoroughly catalogued here (a search tip: leave the search form blank and click “browse” to see them all). I was particularly intrigued by HRC 29 (a miscellany written in Germany around the year 1045), but I’m always drawn to the Teutonic Carolingian beauties.

Univ. of Texas, Austin, Harry Ransom Center MS 29 (f. 30)

Univ. of Texas, Austin, Harry Ransom Center MS 29 (f. 30)

Among the texts in this codex is one that describes and illustrates constellations: at right, the cluster of Andromeda, Pegasus, Aries, Triangulum and Pisces. Each diagram includes a description of the stars that make up the constellation (Pegasus, for example, comprises “bright stars” in its face, two in its head, one at the hip, one at the ears, and so on).

The manuscript has an important and fascinating history. It was written by the hand of Ellinger of Tegernsee (ca. 975 – 1056), who signed the manuscript twice, once with a cipher (f. 32) and at the end with a  full colophon (f. 103v) (below). In the colophon, he identifies himself not with Tegernsee, where he was Abbot from 1017 – 1026, but with the abbey in Niederaltaich (Latin Altahense), the monastery to which he was banished in the wake of monastic reform in 1041. I find it rather poignant that, even though he wrote the manuscript while banished to Niederaltaich, he specifically appealed to St. Quirinus, the patron of Tegernsee, in the colophon. Clearly his heart was still in his old abbey, and he managed to return there shortly before his death in 1056. The miscelleny must have been written, therefore, in the 1040s or early 1050s. The manuscript  was later Nr. 816 in the great collection of Sir Thomas Phillipps (1792 – 1872).

Univ. of Texas, Austin, HRC MS 29, Abbot Ellinger's cipher (f. 15) and colophon (f. 103v)

Univ. of Texas, Austin, HRC MS 29, Abbot Ellinger’s cipher (f. 32) and colophon (f. 103v)

HRC 29 is extremely fragile and can’t be handled in its current condition – and so we must thank the Center for digitizing it and thus making it available to readers while preserving it from further damage.

Here comes a technical note (skip this paragraph if you’re not interested in the technical side of manuscript cataloguing and digitization). I am very interested and engaged in cataloguing theory – in particular electronic cataloguing – as it pertains to medieval manuscripts. I’ve seen a lot of records in different formats as I’ve travelled around the library superhighway, and there is a lot about HRC’s records, search engine, image platform and user interface that I really like. It all starts with good, clean data. These manuscripts have been thoroughly catalogued in a consistent way using a well-designed XML database. In addition to keyword and date-range options, the search screen includes drop-down authority lists; this is a critical feature for any search function, as it prevents your users from having to guess if your cataloguer is referring to Augustine (for example) as “Augustine, St.” or “Augustinus” or “Augustine, St., Bishop of Hippo.” The Library of Congress has spent decades establishing such authority lists…use them! The HRC manuscript images are clearly labeled as public domain, and the digital surrogates are presented as downloadable PDFs, making them easy to read online and off. The records are also searchable through Digital Scriptorium (although I don’t know if the Austin records were exported into the DS database without rekeying; ideally, if you’re going to store your records on Digital Scriptorium as well as your own server, you want to create your records with the DS export in mind – email me if you want to know more!).

Now, back to the manuscripts. In addition to digitizing its codices, the Ransom Center has been engaged for some time in an innovative crowd-sourcing cataloguing project, posting images of fragments recovered from bindings in their collection on a Flickr Photostream and asking the hivemind to help identify and catalogue them.

Univ. of Texas, Austin, Harry Ransom Center, Incun. 1498 L635p (spine)

Univ. of Texas, Austin, Harry Ransom Center, Incun. 1498 L635p (spine)

This project is a spectacularly successful example of how social media and web networks can be used to tap into the collective expertise of scholars worldwide. The image collection not only demonstrates the myriad ways manuscripts were recycled as binding waste but is also yet another example of why it is always worthwhile to conduct a survey of the early bindings in your Special Collections library. The Ransom Center undertook just such a survey and found a treasure trove of hundreds of fragments – some nearly 1,000 years old – hiding in the stacks.

Now we’ll turn east towards the Gulf of Mexico for our last Texas stop, the University of Houston. Here, a catalogue search for Corporate Author = “Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts Collection University of Houston” results in records for 20 medieval/Renaissance manuscripts. If you’re going to catalogue your manuscripts in MARC, by the way, I recommend establishing a general tag like this one (here in the 710 field, but 655 would work as well). Not everyone thinks to do this, but it’s generally a good idea as it allows users to easily filter the manuscript records.

One University of Houston manuscript has been beautifully digitized from cover to cover, a late fourteenth-century Book of Hours for the Use of Reims. This is another relatively early Book of Hours, with several illuminated initials and full borders.

Univ. of Houston, Reims Hours, f. 15 (detail)

Univ. of Houston, Reims Hours, f. 15 (detail)

The scribe has signed his name, “Raulinus de Sorcy,” on folio 15. It is extremely rare to find a scribal colophon in a Book of Hours, especially one of such an early date (my thanks to Jean-Luc Deuffic and Peter Kidd for their comments below, which led me correct my original reading of the scribe’s name; for more on this manuscript, see Peter Kidd’s blogpost here).

University of Houston, Reims Hours, f. 7

University of Houston, Reims Hours, f. 17: the Virgin and Child enthroned, with some pretty fabulous dragons in the margins

The website created for a recent exhibit includes several other images from the University’s manuscripts, as does the Special Collections Flikr stream.

Next week we’ll head due north, crossing the Red River to visit my home state of Oklahoma.



Filed under Medieval Manuscripts

Manuscript Road Trip: Otto Ege, St. Margaret and Digital Fragmentology

The Flight into Egypt, Walters Art Museum, MS W.188, f.112r

The Flight into Egypt, Walters Art Museum, MS W.188, f.112r

This week, I’m going to get off the virtual superhighway to share a discovery. Digital publication seems appropriate given that most of this work was conducted using online resources and images, making this a great case study for digital humanities research and the newly-christened field of “digital fragmentology.”

I wear many hats at the moment: Acting Executive Director of the Medieval Academy of America, blogger, professor of library science, and medieval manuscript consultant. In the latter role, I have for some months been cataloguing the manuscripts belonging to the Five Colleges consortium of Western Massachusetts (Amherst, Hampshire, Mt. Holyoke, Smith, and the University of Massachusetts – Amherst). Smith and U. Mass. each happen to own one of the leaf collections compiled by Otto Ege titled “Fifty Original Leaves of Medieval Manuscripts”  (if you need to be brought up to speed, take a look at my Ege post from Ohio).

These portfolios are comprised of leaves from fifty different manuscripts owned and dismembered by Otto Ege in the 1940s. You may remember that in each portfolio the leaves are numbered from 1 – 50, and Leaf 1 (for example) in one portfolio comes from the same manuscript as Leaf 1 in every other portfolio. I finished cataloguing the Smith College portfolio last month and have been working on the U. Mass. portfolio for the last few weeks. Today, we’re going to take a close look at “Fifty Original Leaves” leaf nr. 48 (a.k.a. FOL 48).

Otto Ege, "Fifty Original Leaves" portfolio, Leaf 48v (Lilly Library)

Otto Ege, “Fifty Original Leaves” portfolio, Leaf 48v (Lilly Library)

The leaves known as FOL 48 were cut from a rather innocuous Book of Hours from France, twenty lines per page, around 17 x 12 cm. In other words, fairly typical for the late fifteenth century. Books like this one were mass-produced in professional workshops, with custom features added for local use. There are, quite literally, thousands of these floating around. One of the cataloguing tasks for a leaf such as this is to identify not only the date of origin (third quarter of the fifteenth century) and general place of origin (northern France), but also the particular section of the Book of Hours from which the leaf was taken. This isn’t as difficult as it seems, especially these days when there are numerous very useful online resources for working with Books of Hours (I highly recommend the Book of Hours Tutorial and the Hypertext Book of Hours).

Using these resources, I was able to identify FOL 48 in the Smith College portfolio (at right) as having come from Matins of the Office of the Dead.

Smith College, Ege MS 48v

Smith College, Ege MS 48v

Most people who work with Books of Hours know that in order to determine the liturgical Use (the location for which the book was made) you have to locate the Antiphon and Chapter Reading for Prime and None of the Hours of the Virgin and compare the incipits to the lists originally published by Falconer Madan in 1923 and since expanded by others (here). This is an imperfect system, but it’s a start. But, as Knud Ottosen first discovered, you can also identify Use by looking at the Responsories and Versicles of the Office of the Dead (Ottosen’s work is online here).

Usually, when you only have a leaf or two to work with you’re not going to have enough text to allow a determination of liturgical Use. This is the case with Smith’s FOL 48; only one responsory is preserved on the leaf, not enough to make a determination.

Smith College, Ege 48r

Smith College, Ege MS 48r

By looking through the examples of FOL 48 siloed by Fred Porcheddu here, however, I was able to find additional Responsories from the Office of the Dead, enough to determine that the Office in this manuscript is for the Use of Chalons-sur-Marne (now Chalons-sur-Champagne), near Reims in NE France, in the Champagne-Ardenne region. This may not seem like an important piece of information, but hold on to it, because it turns out that it is.

Now let’s turn our attention to U. Mass. Amherst’s FOL 48 (below). This leaf – which comes from the very same late fifteenth-century Book of Hours as the leaf at Smith – is in Middle French verse instead of the expected Latin liturgical prose, preserving forty lines of a previously-unidentified vernacular poem: the abridged version of Wace’s French verse Life of St. Margaret known as “Apres la sainte passion.”


Returning to the online collection of Ege leaves, I found two consecutive leaves from this section of the manuscript that preserve more of the text: at Kenyon College (here and here) and at the Cleveland Institute of Art. These three leaves from FOL 48 preserve lines 25 through 159 of the 661-line poem. Wace’s text has been edited several times, and A. Joly’s edition of 1879 is available online (see pp. 99 – 118).

St. Margaret of Antioch, like most early Christian martyrs, had a difficult life. Born the daughter of a pagan priest, her mother died soon after she was born and she was nursed by a Christian woman. She converted to Christianity and vowed to remain ever a virgin, whereupon her father disowned her and she was formally adopted by her nurse. When she was a teenager, the local Roman governor (Olybrius) insisted that she renounce Christianity and marry him. She refused and was subjected to various tortures. In the midst of her suffering, she was swallowed by Satan in the guise of a dragon and used the crucifix she always carried with her to escape intact from the belly of the beast. In the end, Olybrius in his fury had her beheaded.

St. Margaret of Antioch (Toulouse? ca. 1475) (New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Acc. 2000.641)

St. Margaret of Antioch (Toulouse? ca. 1475) (New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Acc. 2000.641)

The episode with the dragon evolved into the seminal iconographic episode of St. Margaret’s life, and, as one who emerged safely from the dragon’s belly, she became in the late Middle Ages the patroness of pregnant women. The inclusion of her life in this Book of Hours likely implies that the book was made for the use of a woman. Don Skemer, in his monograph Binding Words, notes that “In late medieval France, far more than in the British Isles, St. Margaret attained cult status in the popular religious imagination as a Christian martyr whose legend offered the hope of divine aid. Pregnant women sought divine aid in reading, contemplating, or hearing of her passion, and one could always place a copy on a parturient woman’s abdomen or chest to prevent difficult pregnancies, ease labor pains, and facilitate safe childbirth.” (p. 241). It is quite possible that this version of the Life of St. Margaret functioned as what Skemer calls a “textual amulet”; recitation of the poem, holding the book, even placing the book on the pregnant abdomen, was thought to facilitate a safe and easy childbirth through the intercession of the Saint. Margaret herself, in lines 535-549 of the poem, tells the pregnant reader that if she reads or listens to or even rests beneath the book in which Margaret’s life is recorded, she will deliver her child “without peril.” (Joly, p. 114) In a world where childbirth was one of the greatest threats to a woman’s life, these words would have been a powerful source of comfort.

The three leaves preserve lines 25 through 159 of the 661-line poem. With forty lines per leaf (some lines are skipped, which is why the math doesn’t work out perfectly), the  text would have taken up around seventeen leaves if it had been given in its entirety. I’ve written to every collection known to own this Ege portfolio to ask if their Leaf 48 is in French verse (or rather, I’ve written to every collection that hasn’t posted images of their Ege leaves). I’ve heard  from most of them and have identified only one additional leaf of the text: FOL 48 at the New State Library in Albany preserves lines 461-507. These high line-numbers suggest that the poem was indeed recorded in its entirety and that there are more leaves waiting to be identified.

I was particularly struck by the fact that the leaf at U. Mass. begins with line 25, as this suggested that the preceding leaf might have had the expected 20 lines on the verso and only four lines on the recto, leaving plenty of room above (3/4 of the page, in fact) for a miniature of St. Margaret. So I asked the internet to find me a leaf from a late fifteenth-century French Book of Hours with an illustration of St. Margaret and lines 1-24 of “Apres la sainte passion.” It did:

Sotheby's London, 3 December 2013, Lot 21b

SL 21b versoThis leaf, illustrated by a miniature of St. Margaret holding her crucifix as she emerges from the dragon, sold at Sotheby’s London on 3 December 2013 (lot 21b) to a private collector in New Zealand. It preserves lines 1-24 of the Vie de Sainte Marguerite, making it consecutive with the U. Mass. leaf; the dimensions are the same as Ege’s FOL 48; the script is the same; the illumination is by the same hand. Even the square  bits of white tape used to attach the leaf to a matte in years past are identical to those on the U. Mass. leaf. There can be no doubt: this miniature is from the same manuscript as FOL 48 and it was Otto Ege himself who cut out the miniature when he dismembered the manuscript and sold the leaves piecemeal, probably in the 1940s, and certainly at a massive profit. (my thanks to Sotheby’s Mara Hofmann for the images and to the owner for permission to reproduce them here)

These leaves – scattered across five collections on two continents – together preserve a beautiful miniature of St. Margaret and 200 lines of the Vie de Sainte Marguerite. That’s pretty cool in and of itself. It’s always satisfying and worthwhile to piece dismembered manuscripts back together, since the whole is so much more important and interesting than the individual parts. This is in fact the primary axiom of the newly-christened field of “Digital Fragmentology”: the book is greater than the sum of its pages. When you start to look at manuscript leaves in their original context, a deeper understanding of the parent manuscript emerges which itself adds to the corpus of knowledge about medieval texts, liturgy, literacy, and art. Last week, the leaves of FOL 48 came from just another fifteenth-century Book of Hours from northern France. Now they’re from a Book of Hours written for a woman in or near Chalons-sur-Marne that includes a French verse Life of St. Margaret. It is not hard to imagine the owner of the book, frightened and in the midst of labor, turning these pages as she looked to St. Margaret for comfort. Suddenly, the manuscript has an origin, an owner, a reader, a history.

There are two other reasons why this identification is important:

1) The leaves in the Ege portfolios do not include miniatures. The Sotheby’s leaf is the only identified miniature from this manuscript, and its identification suggests that there may be more illustrated leaves from this Book of Hours out there waiting to be recognized. Scott Gwara has posited in Otto Ege’s Manuscripts (pp. 74-5) that Ege usually bought defective Books of Hours, codices whose miniatures had already been excised, allowing him to buy the books at a discount and increase his profit margin when he sold the leaves individually. In general, the evidence supports that hypothesis. The St. Margaret miniature,  however, presents evidence to the contrary in the form of the identical squares of white tape, the same white tape used by Ege to matte leaves from other manuscripts. In this case, we can safely conclude that it was Otto Ege himself who sliced the St. Margaret miniature from the Book of Hours, selling it apart from the text leaves that became no. 48 in the “Fifty Original Leaves” portfolio.

The First Four Leaves... where are the rest?

The First Four Leaves of the Vie de Sainte Marguerite

2) This French verse Life of St. Margaret appears in numerous manuscripts, some of which are Books of Hours (Blacker believes there are more than one hundred examples of the text in various contexts; for a list of a few of these, see Blacker, p. 165 n. 43 and Keller, p. 14, type 4). Of the late fifteenth-century Books of Hours that contain the text, there seems to be a cluster made for the use of Reims or Chalons-sur-Marne (for example, here, here, and here, in addition to the present manuscript). This points to a pattern that has been hidden until now: a particular and unexplained devotion to St. Margaret and her midwifery in the Champagne-Ardenne region of NE France in the late fifteenth century.

And that is where I leave you, convinced, I hope, of the possibilities for scholarship made possible when scattered leaves are reunited. There are currently at least three Digital Fragmentology projects in the works in the United States and in Europe that are being designed and implemented by teams of programmers and scholars, some of whom have been thinking about this subject for decades (including myself). It’s thrilling to see the development of metadata standards and image platforms that will allow us to digitally reunite these membra disiecta, opening up numerous new avenues for research, teaching and scholarship.

And now, back to the highway.



J. Blacker, G. Burgess and A. Ogden, Wace: The Hagiographical Works (Brill, 2013).

E. A. Francis, “A Hitherto Unprinted Version of the Passio Sanctae Margaritae with Some Observations on Vernacular Derivatives” in Publications of the Modern Language Association, Vol. 42 (1927), pp. 87-105.

S. Gwara, Otto Ege’s Manuscripts (De Brailes, 2013).

A. Joly, La Vie de Sainte Marguerite (Paris, 1879).

H.-E. Keller and M. A. Stones, La Vie de Sainte Marguerite (Tubingen, 1990).

D. Skemer, Binding Words: Textual Amulets in the Middle Ages (Penn. State Press, 2006).


Filed under Medieval Manuscripts

Manuscript Road Trip: Los Manuscritos del Suroeste

The Flight into Egypt, Walters Art Museum, MS W.188, f.112r

The Flight into Egypt, Walters Art Museum, MS W.188, f.112r

I’ve spent the last few weeks virtually exploring libraries in Arizona and New Mexico, looking for pre-1600 manuscripts. What I found has convinced me even more deeply of the importance of considering provenance and context where medieval and Renaissance manuscripts in North America are concerned.

Consider for a moment the (very over-simplified) origins of modern Arizona and the Southwest in general (a caveat: because the subject of this blog is European by definition, I am here looking at the history of Arizona from a European perspective, with all due respect to the indigenous cultures in the region). While New England was colonized by northern Europeans crossing the Atlantic, the southwest United States was colonized from the south, by Spanish conquistadors and missionaries making their way north from Mexico. With this in mind, it should come as no great surprise that the majority of pre-1600 manuscripts in Arizona are in Spanish, of Spanish or Central-American origin. These tend to be documentary, missionary, or historical in nature and came to their current repositories as part of larger archival collections with a greater chronological extent. In other words, they weren’t collected because of their age, they were collected because of their context. In fact, the “pre-1600” chronological criterion that I have used throughout this virtual road trip feels particularly arbitrary where these manuscripts are concerned.working map

Sixteenth-century manuscripts from northern Europe often feel like they “belong” to the end of the Renaissance, while those written in Spain from the same period seem to “belong” to the beginning of Spanish Colonialism, an era that stretched from the fifteenth through the nineteenth century. Manuscripts from the entire Spanish Colonial period are in fact particular strengths of Special Collections departments in this part of the country. In this context, my arbitrary date line has to be pushed backwards to, well, 1492. For manuscripts of Spanish origin that have found their way to the United States, in other words, to find the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, you have to look before Columbus. By that standard, there are just a few manuscripts in Arizona that could be considered as of truly medieval or Renaissance origin. That being said, the sixteenth-century manuscripts are of great interest as well, so I have included them in this survey anyway. I apologize for the lack of images this week; I haven’t found any that I could post here.

Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park

We’ll pick up where we left off a few weeks ago, heading east on I-10 out of Riverside, CA. We’ll pass some of the most beautiful desert scenery in the country as we drive through Palm Springs and Joshua Tree National Park, before crossing into Arizona and reaching our first stop, Arizona State University in Tempe, just outside Phoenix.

Arizona State University is the exception to the rule, in that the single pre-1600 manuscript in their collection is indeed from the Renaissance, a humble mathematical codex written in 1429 in Italy (perhaps Mantua). The ASU manuscript (Schoenberg Database nr. 117778), purchased from Bernard Rosenthal in 1985, was described in detail (but not reproduced) by Barbara Hughes in “An Early 15th-century Algebra Codex: a Description” in Historia Mathematica 14 (1987), 167-172. The manuscript turns out to be a rather important copy of Maestro Dardi da Pisa’s Algebra (a.k.a. Aliabraa-Argibra) written by the scribe Jacomo di Ierushali (see Hughes, p. 170). According to Warren van Egmond, “The algebra of Maestro Dardi is the most important work of mathematics to have been written in Europe in the 350 years between the Liber abbaci of Leonardo Pisano in 1202 and the Ars magna of Girolamo Cardano in 1545.  No other work of the period displays a comparable level of competence, organization, and scope…” (see the introduction to his proposed critical edition of the text). In her discussion of the manuscript, Hughes describes the ASU codex as possibly being the “most reliable manuscript” of the text and hypothesizes that it may have been used by Mantuan mathematician Mordecai Finzi as the basis for his translation of the text into Hebrew, as evidenced in part by the numerous Hebrew annotations in the manuscript. As Hughes convincingly demonstrates, the preface to Finzi’s translation seems to refer to the ASU manuscript as his source by citing the name of the scribe and the date it was written (Hughes, p. 171).

Also of note in Phoenix is the Melikian Collection, a private collection focusing on Armenian manuscripts and artifacts.

St. Xavier de Bac Mission, Tucson, Arizona (built in 1783)

San Xavier del Bac Mission, Tucson, Arizona (built in 1783)

As it runs through Phoenix, I-10 turns south. We’ll follow it through the desert to Tucson, where we will visit the University of Arizona.

Most of the early manuscripts in this collection are of Spanish or Central American origin, and are found in the Charles F. Lummis collection, in a sub-group containing documents dating from 1559 to 1932: a 1559 manuscript concerning the reform of the royal hospital near Burgos, Spain; a 1584 manuscript relating the legal history of this hospital from the 1450s to the 1580s; and a 1613 “purity of blood” testimonial attesting to the non-Jewish background of one Estaban Ruiz of Santa Marta, Spain. The latter is of particular interest as it dates from the period of Jewish expulsion from Spain when it was particularly important to prove one’s lack of Jewish blood. Finally, MS 89 is a 1592 census of Native Americans in Colima, Mexico.

There are two items that fall outside of the Spanish sphere: MS 135 (a large Italian choirbook thought to be of Dominican origin) and a choirbook leaf at the University’s Museum of Art.

Now we’ll continue eastward on I-10 into New Mexico, turning left at Las Cruces onto I-25 (if you’d like to visit Mexico, turn south instead). This will bring us to the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, where we will find six pre-1600 British documents in the Robert W. Korber Collection in the Center for Southwest Research. These were collected by Robert Korber during his overseas military service and are part of a larger collection of documents.



Next week, we leave the desert behind for the plains. Put on your boots and meet me in Texas!

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