Editors' Statement

A Journal for Manuscript Studies


Mitch Fraas
University of Pennsylvania

William Noel
University of Pennsylvania

This is the first issue of Manuscript Studies, a journal that embraces the full complexity of global manuscript studies in the digital age. It has been conceived with four main goals in mind. First, to bridge the gaps between material and digital manuscript research; second, to break down the walls which often separate print and digital publication and serve as barriers between academics, professionals in the cultural heritage field, and citizen scholars; third, to serve as a forum for scholarship encompassing many pre-modern manuscripts cultures—not just those of Europe; and finally to showcase methods and techniques of analysis in manuscript studies that can be applied across different subject areas.

The often predicted decline of manuscript studies in the face of rapid technological change has not occurred. This journal aims to demonstrate that the digital developments of the last twenty years have made the study of manuscript culture and the material text ever more relevant to dialogues between different cultures, between the arts and the sciences, and between the past and the present. It also aims to provide a diverse array of cultural, methodological, and technological approaches with a badly needed common forum which can demonstrate the intellectual vitality and breadth of the field of manuscript studies in the twenty-first century.

Manuscript Studies welcomes submission of articles that concern the study of pre-modern manuscripts from any part of the world irrespective of the methods and technologies that inform that study. While the journal welcomes discussion of digital developments, the use of these technologies in manuscript scholarship, and the results of digital projects, it also embraces the examination of manuscripts in which digital technologies play no part. In Manuscript Studies detailed codicological investigation can sit side-by-side with text encoding. For example, in this inaugural issue Christopher Blackwell, Christine Roughan, and Neel Smith explore the history of Greek paleography and textual transmission using digital facsimiles of seven manuscripts of Homer’s Odyssey. They incorporate a deep understanding of the ways in which these different manuscripts were produced over time with the use of digital tools to align and identify a variety of letter forms throughout the disparate manuscripts.

The field of pre-modern manuscript studies is unevenly ploughed, and there are still many patches which remain relatively fallow. To help remedy this, the journal welcomes the submission of articles on manuscripts from any historical location or culture. The journal is especially interested in promoting conversation about manuscript studies beyond the borders of medieval and early modern Europe. We hope to create a forum which will encourage the common application of successful methods across the field of the material text. In this issue, we are especially excited to feature the work of Julie Davis and Linda Chance on the life of manuscript text in the early Japanese book, challenging the distinction between “printed” and “handwritten.” Likewise Benjamin Fleming reflects in his essay in this volume on the ways that Indic manuscript traditions regard the material form of a handwritten text and suggests the ways they trouble the notion that digitized manuscripts are divorced from any materiality.

The world is shrinking, not just because it is easier to communicate than it has been ever before, but also because the use of common standards and technologies across the world facilitate the study of the discipline and raise new questions that reveal more about how we became who we are. Manuscript Studies is particularly interested in articles that transcend time periods and geography, either through the methods that they propose, or through the questions that are being asked of the material. Within this issue for example Evyn Kopf takes a much-needed wider view of some of the fundamental questions in manuscript studies: What do we mean by a manuscript “surrogate”? Who is it that we are digitizing manuscripts for? How do we prepare for long-term use and preservation of digitized manuscript material?

Twenty years ago, contributions to the study of the pre-modern manuscript took the form of printed articles and full-length monographs. The economy of academic production made it difficult for citizen scholars to make contributions. The audience for pre-modern manuscripts has grown as access to digital images has exploded, and the ease of digital dissemination has meant that many contributions in the field are being made through websites, blogposts, and other new media. Manuscript Studies looks forward to submissions that embrace this source material, and help to disseminate it. The journal will play its part in this process; the reviews section will not be restricted to the printed word, but embrace digital projects and exhibitions including, in this issue, a review by Michael Madrinkian of the critical edition of Bx (the lost ancestor of all surviving B version manuscripts of Piers Plowman) edited by Thorlac Turville-Petre and John Burrow and recently published on the Piers Plowman Electronic Archive.[1]

The material and philosophical origins of Manuscript Studies are inextricably linked with entrepreneur, collector, technologist, philanthropist, and friend to so many in the field of medieval manuscripts, the late Lawrence J. Schoenberg.With Larry Schoenberg’s help, the Penn Libraries have been interested in the possibilities of manuscript digitization since 1996, when the Schoenberg Center for Electronic Text and Image (SCETI) was founded. When SCETI started, digital manuscript images were sparsely available, and then largely on CD-ROM. That same year the Aberdeen Bestiary appeared on the web, and was a harbinger of things to come.[2] Twenty years later, the landscape is completely different: millions of images of medieval European manuscripts are available online and electronic resources of all kinds are indispensable to the modern researcher. SCETI itself has captured more than two million images of cultural heritage objects, the majority of which are medieval and renaissance manuscripts, including more than 300 manuscripts that Larry and Barbara themselves donated in 2013. Web-publication of research, in many different forms, is becoming an increasingly accepted part of our research environment, and manuscript libraries and scholars have frequently been at the forefront in realizing the potential offered by digital technologies. Based on the vision of Larry and his wife Barbara Brizdle, the Schoenberg Institute for Manuscript Studies (SIMS) was founded in 2013, with the support of the University of Pennsylvania Libraries, to bring manuscripts, technology and people together for the advancement of learning. The Institute was founded to foster a community of scholars and students, potentially worldwide, that could exploit all of the potential of current technologies, as well as the power of different approaches, to the study of the medieval manuscript.

Manuscript Studies is a publication of the Schoenberg Institute. For the last eight years, the annual Schoenberg Symposium has been held at Penn Libraries, and several conference proceedings have been published as independent books. The papers from the 2014 conference “Thinking Outside the Codex,” held November 21–23, 2013 form the first volume of this journal. The journal will be published twice annually hereafter, and will not be limited to papers delivered at the Schoenberg symposium.

Manuscript Studies is published by the University of Pennsylvania Press, which has a long and distinguished history of publishing on the material text, and indeed is the publisher already of the Rosenbach lectures, held annually at Penn Libraries, and several volumes of Schoenberg Conference proceedings. The journal will be released in printed and digital form through the Penn Press to subscribers in order to support the dedicated editorial and material labor provided by the Press. Given the editorial intent of the journal and our commitment to expanding scholarly conversation and engagement, we have ensured that after one year, each article from the journal will be made available openly through the University of Pennsylvania Libraries.

[1] The Piers Plowman Electronic Archive is available at <http://piers.iath.virginia.edu/>

[2] Aberdeen University Library MS 24. See Arnott, Beaven, and Geddes, “The Aberdeen Bestiary An Online Medieval Text” Computers & Texts 11 (March 1996), 6. For more see this archived version of the Aberdeen Bestiary online from 16 January 1999: <https://web.archive.org/web/19990116230859/http://www.clues.abdn.ac.uk:8080/besttest/firstpag.html> Shortened URL: http://tinyurl.com/AbdnBestiary