Current Issue Article Abstracts

Spring 2020 Vol. 5.1

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Yemeni Manuscripts Online: Digitization in an Age of War and Loss
Nancy Um

In 2013, a corpus of manuscripts from Yemen became openly accessible to the public through the Princeton University Digital Library portal. Numbering around 250 codices, most were digitized and cataloged from three private collections held in Yemen, under the auspices of the Yemeni Manuscript Digitization Initiative (YMDI), a scholarly network that was underpinned by institutional support from the Princeton University Library and Freie Universität Berlin. This article delves into the YMDI project, as a significant case study, with the goal of considering how this group of digital surrogates functions as an online collection, rather than viewing the Princeton portal as a transparent access point for these manuscripts or examining any of the YMDI volumes or their contents individually. Mass digitization projects are often sketched as efforts of “salvage,” focusing on issues of both preservation and accessibility. By contrast, here, it is asserted that the meaning and significance of these manuscripts have not been sustained through the act of digitization, but rather transformed, particularly amidst Yemen’s current unstable political situation. It is hoped that this article will provide a critical backdrop to the YMDI collection, by situating the cultural act of digitization historically, thereby helping users to understand these collections more substantively and inspiring us to think critically about how and why we digitize historic manuscripts in a precarious contemporary world.

Opening the Text in the Floreffe Bible (London, BL Add. MS 17738): From Ways of Seeing to Ways of Touching
Dominic Marner

The Floreffe Bible is a two-volume bible now housed in the British Library (Add MSS 17737 and 17738). It is a wonderful example of the complex relationship between text and image and between the sophisticated interplay of exegesis and imagination. This study explores the interspatial, intertextual and interactive aspects of a hole in the parchment on folio 180r/v. The hole both illustrates the text which surrounds it and to provides a portal or aperture into the text below possibly providing the viewer/reader with an opportunity to recreate a miracle of Christ by quite literally touching his garment. Likewise, once the folio is turned another intertextual and interspatial opportunity is provided by the aperture. This unusual situation demands considerable understanding of both the process of making the book and the possibilities of interacting and reading the text and contributes to our understanding of the truly sophisticated handling of text and image in the makers of the Floreffe Bible. This manuscript is infused with typological and exegetical richness, inviting the reader the explore the opening in the text, not only through sight but touch.

Litterae florissae in English Manuscripts in the Late Twelfth/Early Thirteenth Century
Sara Charles

This article examines a group of manuscripts produced in England in the late twelfth/early thirteenth century and compares their artistic penwork, particularly looking at litterae florissae and linefillers. Some of these manuscripts have already been linked by their decorated initials, and were thought to be produced in a workshop in Oxford. By looking closely at the style of flourished letters, it was possible to identify a precise standard of creating letterforms, further linking these manuscripts to one production centre in Oxford. English litterae florissae and linefiller styles have not received much academic analysis to date, but finding similarities between letter styles has the potential to provide further identification for manuscript production and workshop standards.

The Durham Latin Prose “Brut” to 1347 with a Continuation to 1348: A Nationalistic Chronicle of England and Its Manuscripts
Trevor Russell Smith

This article re-examines the unedited Durham Latin Prose “Brut” chronicle and its manuscript tradition in light of the discovery of a previously unknown manuscript. The Durham “Brut” covers the history of England from its legendary origins through the English victories over Scotland and France in 1346–47. The chronicle’s later years are related to those in two other important late-medieval chronicles, the Anonimalle Chronicle and the Lanercost Chronicle, and for a short section of John of Washington's later chronicle. Only one witness of the Durham “Brut” was known until 2011, when another was identified with a 1347–48 continuation in a seventeenth-century hand. This article identifies an additional medieval witness that also includes the continuation. This article examines all three manuscripts together to track their development through both layout and a word by word comparison of a section of the text (Edward III’s 1346 invasion of Normandy). This article will serve as a starting point for future editors of this neglected but important chronicle, written during a time of great change in English culture and national identity. 

A Brief Introduction to Seventeenth- Century Military Manuscripts and Military Literacy
Lucian Staiano-Daniels

The history of early-modern European manuscripts has rarely focused on the use of manuscripts in armies. Some historians have even presented early-modern armies as unconcerned with daily records of the common soldiers under their command. Others have used early-modern handwritten documents as sources of information, without examining them as artifacts. But these documents are interesting works of vernacular art, created under difficult circumstances. They also provide clues to things like the literacy rate of some common soldiers. This article introduces early-modern military manuscripts. The focus is on the army of Electoral Saxony during the Thirty Years War (1618-1648).



How Many Glyphs and How Many Scribes? Digital Paleography and the Voynich Manuscript
Lisa Fagin Davis

It can be safely claimed that there is no medieval script that has been seen, analyzed, and debated more than that of the mysterious and as-yet-unread Voynich Manuscript (Beinecke MS 408). For centuries, bibliophiles, linguists, codicologists, art historians, and amateur cryptologists have pored over the manuscript, examining it from every angle, debating every wormhole, arguing over every stain and crease. Some things we know: the invented script is comprised of carefully- written glyphs without precedent or obvious model; forensic material evidence has determined that the parchment, ink, and pigments date from the early 15th century; the provenance trail is nearly unbroken from the seventeenth century to today. But we still don’t know how to read it, in spite of new theories flying across the internet on a near- weekly basis. “Voynichologists” disagree as to some of the most important and basic questions about the manuscript. How many letterforms are there? How many scribes can be identified? Are there ligatures, majuscules, abbreviations, and other scribal conventions? These questions have never been satisfactorily answered. Using digital paleographic methodologies including the Archetype (DigiPal) application and other annotation tools, this project will revisit the paleographic analyses of the Voynich glyphs to propose answers to some of these questions and discuss how these answers open avenues for further research. 

In the Orbit of the Sphere: Sacrobosco’s De sphaera mundi in UPenn MS Codex 1881
Aylin Malcolm

Johannes de Sacrobosco’s De sphaera mundi was the most popular astronomical text in Europe from the late thirteenth century to the late seventeenth, and a core component of the late medieval university curriculum. This essay is the first published study of a remarkable copy of De sphaera in a manuscript recently acquired by the University of Pennsylvania (MS Codex 1881), which includes an unedited commentary on De sphaera and a variety of diagrams. I begin by addressing the textual relationships between this codex and other fifteenth-century copies of the main text and commentary, including both manuscripts and incunables. I then evaluate its diagrams, which would have assisted readers in visualizing and memorizing topics introduced in the main text, and which range from simple geometrical volvelles to a compendious climata diagram. To conclude, I consider what MS Codex 1881 might offer twenty-first-century audiences, including my initial work on digital editions of its diagrams. As a useful case study for both research and teaching, this manuscript will likely benefit several areas of inquiry in medieval and early modern studies, including the history of science and the history of education.



Erik Kwakkel and Rodney Thompson, eds. The European Book in the Twelfth Century.
Joanna Fronska

Paul M. Love, Jr. Ibadi Muslims of North Africa: Manuscripts, Mobilization, and the Making of a Written Tradition.
Amanda Propst

Jeffrey F. Hamburger, Robert Suckale, and Gude Suckale-Redlefsen, eds. Painting the Page in the Age of Print: Central European Manuscript Illumination of the Fifteenth Century.
Gregory Clark

Erik Kwakkel, ed. Vernacular Manuscript Culture, 1000–1500.
Hannah Morcos

Gaudenz Freuler. The McCarthy Collection, Volume I: Italian and Byzantine Miniatures.
Bryan C. Keene


List of Manuscripts Cited