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