Current Issue Article Abstracts

Spring 2023 Vol. 8.1

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Collaborative Methods: Evidence of Commercial Illumination Workshop Practices in the Beinecke MS 1216
Kimberly Lifton

Evidence of how illumination workshops functioned within commercial manuscript production has, for the most part, been lost to time. Therefore, the remnants of workshop practices that have survived provide a rare window into the inner workings of such workshops. This annotation considers a key system located in the New Haven, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, MS 1216, often referred to as the Clumber Park Chartier. It provides some suggestions as to how the key system may have functioned as a form of communication to coordinate members of the illumination workshop.


George D. Smith (1870-1920), Bernard Alfred Quaritch (1871-1913) and the Trade in Medieval European Manuscripts in the USA c. 1890-1920
Laura Cleaver

The late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries saw significant growth in the trade in medieval manuscripts in North America and the creation of well-known libraries including the Huntington, Morgan and Walters collections. The men who gave their names to those institutions loom large in the history of collecting, but their libraries would not have been possible without the networks of booksellers who supplied them. The latter included the American George D. Smith and the Briton Bernard Alfred Quaritch. Both men have received some attention from scholars, although much of what is known about them has been based on sources created by those involved in the trade. This essay compares the lives of these two men to examine their actions, motivations and the consequences of these for the movement of medieval manuscripts and the development of collections in the USA.


When Mice eat Cats: An Allegory of Empire as Border Art in the Diary of an Eighteenth-century Mughal Bureaucrat
Sudev Sheth, Mohammad Dawood

The study of Mughal history has relied extensively on manuscript sources in Persian language, especially court chronicles, travelers’ tales, biographical dictionaries, and statistical accounts. Visual evidence, to the limited extent it is identified for study, tends to focus on court paintings, monumental architecture, or exceptional regalia left by royals. This essay breaks new ground by introducing a less elite source with striking visuals that helps to challenge dominant explanations of social change in eighteenth-century India. The source is the Persian diary of a lower-level Mughal bureaucrat named Itimad Ali Khan titled Mirat-ul Ḥaqaiq or Mirror of Events. Produced in the 1720s and acquired by East India Company official James Fraser during his stay in Gujarat, the compendium is now held at the Bodleian Library at Oxford University. We begin by highlighting the cultural environment within which the Mirat-ul Ḥaqaiq was produced, and then present a conjectural interpretation of some stunning and unusual border art set across eight folios of the manuscript. Critical to this effort is an altogether new translation of the 71 lines of poetry that accompany the colorful illustrations. The art sequence tells the tale of a powerful and overconfident Cat King who is unexpectedly defeated by mice underlings. Despite recent scholarship that emphasizes eighteenth-century India as a period of continuity, growth, and economic prosperity, we suggest that for those directly involved in Mughal administration like Itimad Ali Khan, the spirit of the age felt more like one of social decline and political disorder boldly expressed by the topsy-turvy imagery of mice devouring cats.


Vernacular Religious Miscellanies of Exempla: The Case of UPenn MS. Codex 331
Mario Sassi

Originally used for preaching, exempla, short stories with a religious educational goal, rapidly spread in private manuscript collections and miscellanies, thanks to their wealth of characters, events, and situations. They moved easily from one manuscript collection to another, allowing the often-anonymous copyists and authors to personalize them according to their interests and the needs of their audience. This course was made possible by the spread of the vernacular languages, especially in Tuscany, that allowed for a larger audience; this also meant stories were able to not only share a religious message but also plots and tropes that could keep readers engaged.

To better understand the main features of these vernacular religious miscellanies of exempla, this essay will consider Ms. Codex 331, a collection of religious texts, housed in the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books, and Manuscripts at the Van Pelt Library of the University of Pennsylvania. The miscellany lacks a well-defined provenance and colophon, is a relic of an obscure past, an assortment of diverse materials. By discussing the exempla of this miscellany and underlining the connections that it has with other similar manuscripts, the paper argue that the change of audience brought about a new understanding of religious literature and culture, in search of a better balance between the educational purpose of preaching and the entertaining value of literature.


Beinecke MS 1085: A Fifteenth-Century Medical Fragment
Maia R Béar

Beinecke MS 1085, an unprepossessing fragment from a fifteenth century compendium of medical recipes in Middle English, has not at the time of writing ever been transcribed or thoroughly examined. In this paper, I aim to rectify that by transcribing the fragment and producing a thorough palaeographical summary covering its physical features, what little of its history can be found out, its script and dialect, and some of the more notable features of its content.


“Only connect”: Linking Up Data in the Schoenberg Database of Manuscripts
Natalia Fantetti

Using a recent placement at the University of Pennsylvania as its basis, this Annotation explains the processes used to create and edit Name Authorities in the Schoenberg Database of Manuscripts of a particular, underrepresented group within the database: women. The data available at present in the SDBM is skewed towards male collectors and dealers, in part due to the biases implicit in the sources used to create manuscript entries and Name Authorities. Therefore, it is necessary to work on specific highlighted groups such as women in order to combat these biases.

The essay will then move to discuss the process of creating and editing Wikidata entries for these women so that the two entries, the SDBM one and the Wikidata one, can be linked. It also argues that given the information about the candidates was usually already digitally present in some way, the data is in essence out there somewhere, it simply needs to be pulled together. In doing so, this paper highlights the importance of linked data and invites further targeted action to be taken for other similarly marginalised groups in the database in addition to women.


Books of the Medieval Parish Church: Elucidating Parish Book Culture in Medieval Sweden by Analysis of the Collections of Recycled Manuscript Fragments
Emilia Henderson-Roche, Jaakko Tahkokallio

The Books of the Parish Church-project is an ERC-funded project that launched in January 2021 and is hosted by the Finnish National Library. The project seeks to shed new light on the book provision of the parish churches, in the Swedish realm and in Europe overall, c. 1150–c. 1500. To do this, it utilizes the exceptionally rich collections of fragments of liturgical books from medieval Sweden that were systematically recycled and preserved by the royal tax administration in the early modern period. Here we offer a history of this unique source material and the objectives of the project.