Events, Manuscript Studies, Workshops

Parchment Making Workshop at Pergamena, 5 November

This past 5th of November, Dr. Hafner brought both her Manuscript Culture class and a collection of brave volunteers to Pergamena, one of the few tanneries left in the United States and one of the precious fewer tanneries in the world that also produces parchment. Officially listed as Richard E. Meyer and Sons, its current name derives from the Latin term for Pergamum, which first produced parchment in large quantities for writing purposes after Alexandria imposed a ban on papyrus exports to the city in response to Pergamum’s own attempt to build a great library to rival Alexandria’s. Down an unassuming rural road in Montgomery leading out into the woods, a van filled with semi-comatose students and faculty who knew exactly what was in store for them pulled up to a gray barn. When the van emptied and all had disembarked, the large front door of the barn opened. The crowd of eager and nervous medievalists approached, caught their first whiff of the scent of dead and dissolving flesh through the cool morning air, and came to understand exactly what the next seven hours entailed. Some practically ran into the barn, ready to see what Jesse Meyer, the owner, had in store for them. Some entered hesitantly, not sure how long it may take for them to acclimatize to this very new and different environment, or, perhaps, not sure if they wanted to acclimatize to it. Still others entered with grim determination, accepting the onslaught on their noses as the price they would have to pay to see just how the parchment we look at and read from actually was made, driven by the need for enlightenment. Dr. Hafner, who has been to Pergamena on multiple occasions and who brought another Fordham group there just last April, looked amused at the reactions of her students.

Once inside the barn, covered with cobwebs that looked as if they had been established there since the tannery’s opening in 1865, the crowd gathered around Jesse Meyer, who delivered an introduction to not only how Pergamena itself was established, but also why they do what they do and to what end. While leather production makes up a good deal of their income, Meyer related that parchment production also retains its demand. Book conservators look to Pergamena for parchment produced in an archival-friendly and historically accurate way, while artists who like to work with parchment also come to Meyer for their own materials. It is toward this latter end that Meyer himself got into parchment production. Before the tannery was made into what we know of as Pergamena, Meyer, a sculptor by training and nature, saw hides and parchment as great materials to work with as mediums for three-dimensional art as they can be shaped in practically any way one wants, as long as the hides are prepared properly.

Adding parchment to the products already produced by the family workshop, Meyer learned of the medievalist academic community and their desire to learn all they can of parchment production and how the physicality of the book impacted readers’ understanding of its contents. Meyer reached out to them, being one of the few in America who could give them exactly what they were looking for. Seeking to come closer to the medieval process, Meyer attempted to learn as much as he could from medieval handbooks on parchment production, but ran into the issue of descriptions of the process being less than clear. In a business such as tanning or parchment making, one is only as valuable as one’s process is secret, thus written details are few and far between, either in medieval sources or modern. Trial and error were Meyer’s tutors, and he’s learned well. Meyer, now actively engaged with medievalists across the country and attending the odd conference, often takes his show on the road, showing students and professors alike the rare sight of parchment actually being made.

Beginning his description of the process with a note of warning that parchment making and tanning can be bad for the skin, hair, nails, and relationships, Meyer presented the students first with a vat in which hides are left to sit in a lime solution, the acidity of which must be constant and monitored. Meant to dissolve remaining fat, flesh, and loosen hair or fur, these vats of lime are generally referred to as “pits” for the fact that they used to be always kept in pits in the ground. In some places in the world, such a Morocco, this is still done in such pits, with the oldest operating pit tannery in the world in Marrakesh. In upstate New York, barrels serve to contain the mixture of lime and liquefying beast.

Meyer brought the crowd deeper into the barn, cluttered with vats, soaking hides, and machinery spanning the last century. It was time for the hands-on portion of the presentation. Meyer reached deep into a nearby vat and drew from it a goat hide and flung it across a round beam, sending a stream of liquid flying across the room. In an admirable display of spontaneous coordination, the group of students parted instantly to avoid every airborne droplet. These skins were meant to be worn around an animal’s body, thus laying them flat in this untreated state would make them difficult to clean. Laying them across a beam gives some semblance of their natural shape. He demonstrated first how to scrape the hair off the skin. With a single movement, Meyer scrapped-off around one-third of the goat hair, showing just how effectively the lime solution works. Then, other students tried their hands at it, donning Meyer’s apron and gloves. Then, after the hair was removed, Meyer demonstrated how to remove the remaining flesh and fat from the underside of the skin. Brandishing now a crescent-shaped metal knife coloured by use and age to an appropriate hue of reddish-brown, Meyer showed how to remove the flesh without actually damaging the hide itself. The skins of deer, sheep, goats, and cows (the most common types he works with), while certainly durable, still can be damaged during this process, with cuts made by the scrapping knife an ever-present concern. For this portion a few volunteers went forth to try their hand at wielding this time-tested blade. With a mound of flesh steadily building up around the beam’s stand and the occasional, oddly satisfying, “plop” echoing through the workshop, Meyer related that it is at this point that one can really see the quality of the hide one is working with. The end product, be it either leather or parchment, is only as high a quality as the source material, and if the animal was butchered improperly or carelessly or killed in an inefficient or amateurish way, then it will result in an inferior hide, requiring that much more work to make serviceable.

From scraping and soaking, the crowd moved on to drying and stretching. After the skins were cleaned and soaked to remove the residual lime, they were air dried. Attached to frames with clasps holding the hide flat from every possible angle, the skin would dry under tension so as to prevent it from reverting to its natural shape. Parchment, as Meyer related and demonstrated, is flat because it is dried in such a tense position, thus, when it gets wet again, that tension is released, and it curls. Attached to these frames, the skin, once dry enough, needs to be shaved down to make the surface sooth enough to write on, but coarse enough to retain ink. Using another crescent-shaped scrapping knife, he showed how he would scrape strips of skin off the hide till it met the desired smoothness. Here, too, students tried their hands at the process, meeting varying levels of success, but everyone contributing a bit to the future usability of that skin for the preservation of a message, either in writing or as art.

By the end of the day, every student was fully engrossed in the details of watching an animal skin turn into a vehicle for the preservation and transmission of human knowledge and experience. Reservations had been replaced with genuine fascination and a newfound appreciation for what it took to produce the books of hours and bibles medievalists admire and, all too often, take for granted.

The Centre would like to thank Jesse Meyer for opening his shop up to us again on an early Saturday morning and giving us the chance to experience a part of human history that we have come all too close to losing.

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Manuscript Studies, Medieval Studies

Rebecca Bartels Recounts A Lecture Given by Consuelo Dutschke at Colombia University

On October 28th, students of Dr. Hafner’s Manuscript Culture class attended a lecture at the Butler Library in Columbia University in order to hear a private seminar from Consuelo Dutschke, curator of the Medieval and Renaissance rare book collections. The Rare Book Collections seminar room stood behind a secret door which at first glance looked like a wall. The Rare Books Collection has under its control a locus of incunabulum; namely books and documents printed from early Western Europe up until January 1, 1501.

Once we were all ensconced in the lecture room, Consuelo brought to our attention approximately twenty documents and books laid out over a long wooden table. “Keep an open mind,” Consuelo said as we leaned forward to survey the documents, “or you’ll never find what’s out there.” With these words in mind, we began to participate in an interactive lecture that involved answering questions, translating passages, and experiencing the privilege of holding the documents and books themselves.

Since manuscript scholars can’t rely on colophons or script types to give us the place, date, and author necessarily, we must rely on nuances within decoration and textual format to give us some context. Consuelo highlighted and demonstrated the importance of decoration as a way of localizing each book, in some cases identifyingdown to its very city of origin. Before even opening some of the texts, Consuelo described how the original book bindings hinted at a book’s region of origin. For instance, if a book had clasps (do you recall what it was about the clasps that made them specifically Italian? I think it had to do with their being closed toward the back of the book, but I’m not sure), it was likely to have been made in Italy. With Consuelo’s tutelage, we were enlightened on the uses of decoration and the history of the manuscripts and books.

Consuelo shared with us the importance of manuscript culture history. In 1953, French Paleographers created the CIPL (Comité International de PaléographieLatine), an establishment that aspired to solve a fundamental question about manuscript culture: how do we go about studying these manuscripts? Though the CIPLlost momentum, their work was not in vain. Today, the most used book on manuscript identity is Tuscany’s version of the CIPL, which includes a method of dating the documents by means of comparison and contrast. In the United States, Columbia works alongside UC Berkley to produce the Digital Scriptorium. The strengths of a digital database include the use of vibrant color, a vast library, and the ability to correct inaccurate cataloguing and classification information.

As for Columbia’s Plimpton Manuscript collection, Consuelo described why so many manuscripts were broken off in scrappy segments instead of being retained as whole books. George Plimpton, the founder of the Plimpton collection, bought a myriad of cheap little items from 1925 to 1965. One hypothesis as to why these manuscripts were sold folio by folio instead of by book was because of their cheapness. Consuelo offered another imposing hypothesis: that libraries often accept and recognize volumes of one work, having difficulty classifying and describing a book containing multiple works or texts. Due to this, many manuscripts have portions in several localities.

The class was certainly an enlightening one. Not only did we learn about manuscripts and documents by reading and holding them, but we learned about manuscript culture history and how conservationists and curators locate the time and place of the manuscript. In addition, Consuelo’s generosity and warmth culminated in an exciting and welcoming experience that shall not be forgotten. On behalf of the Centre of Medieval Studies, I wish to thank Consuelo Dutschke and Columbia University for hosing such an enlightening class, for it provided indelible inspiration towards our quests to study manuscript culture.

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Events, Latin language and Literature, Manuscript Studies

Katherine Briant Curates Book Viewing at the Mertz Library, NYBG

Briant exhibitOn September 30th, Katherine Briant of Fordham’s Center for Medieval Studies curated a viewing of medieval manuscripts and early printed books in the Mertz Library’s Rare Book and Folio Room as part of the first day of this year’s Biduum Latinum, which was hosted by the New York Botanical Garden.  Consisting of thirteen books of botany and medicine that span the late 12th to mid-16th centuries, Katherine’s exhibit presented examples of some of the most influential scientific texts of the Middle Ages in forms and copies ranging from the startlingly beautiful to the equally startlingly practical.

circa-instans-1190

NYBG MS QK 99 .P575 1190

Two Circa Instans copies were displayed, one from the late 12th century (QK 99 .P575 1190) and the other from the last quarter of the 13th century (QK 99 .P575 1275).  The former, much more practical in its appearance and having been well-used, contrasted with the latter copy, which was obviously meant to be admired beyond the contents of its leaves.

circa-instans-1275

NYBG MS QK 99 .P575 1275

The contrast gave the exhibit’s audience a more complete understanding of the space these texts inhabited in medieval intellectual culture and manuscript culture.  While of a more practical nature than many other kinds of texts, medical and botanical books were still decorated, showing the simultaneous importance of both the knowledge that the book was meant to transmit and the presentation of that knowledge on the manuscript page.

r-128

NYBG MS R128 .C65

Also of note were two other works Katherine presented and described.  The first, a medical compilation from 13th-century France (R128 .C65), shows the ways in which recorded medical knowledge was expanded and commented upon by readers who added ample notes and marginalia over time to the text.  Another text, a 1565 Venice edition of Mattioli’s Commentarii, was paired with an original woodblock used to create the illustration of Eruca Sativa (Rocket) for that plant’s entry in the book.  The audience had the chance to compare the image produced in the text with the mirror image carved into the woodblock, imagining the action of pressing the inked block into the page and visualizing the physicality that early modern book production entailed.

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Mattioli woodblock

This book viewing was a wonderful way to end the first day of the Biduum Latinum, and it provided participants with the opportunity to see the material objects that transmitted the botanical knowledge featured in the bootcamp’s second day.  The Center would like to congratulate Katherine on her successful exhibition and would like to extend a grateful thanks to the New York Botanical Gardens for their warm welcome.

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Events, Latin language and Literature

Dr. Robin Fleming Opens This Year’s Biduum Latinum at the New York Botanical Gardens

This past 30th of September, Dr. Robin Fleming gave a lecture in the New York Botanical Gardens’ Mertz Library as part of the first day of this year’s Biduum Latinum on the Roman importation of plants and animals to Britain during its brief time as a part of the Empire and the impact this practice had on Britain’s material history.  Fleming began her “Vanishing plants, animals, and places: Britain’s transformation from Roman to Medieval” with a lament that the people she most often wants to learn more of in historical accounts and existing records are not actually mentioned by or visible in those very records.  To find out more about those who are silent in the written record, she went to look to the physical, archaeological evidence of their actions and, specifically, what they did with Roman imports.  We know from the written record that certain spices, fruits, vegetables, and even livestock were imported, but it is from the archaeological evidence that Fleming observed what these things were used for and by whom.

Looking to the period of Roman withdrawal from Britain in the 4th-5th centuries CE, Fleming put forward that the over-all impact this withdrawal had was a material one.  Noting a trend in the study of the de-Romanization of Britain, which presents the Roman withdrawal as having only a political and social effect on the urban elite, Fleming presented ample archaeological evidence that the immediately felt impact of the lack of a Roman presence in Britain was tied specifically to the loss of consistent Roman imports, which had penetrated every level of British society.  From the rural villager to the proud owner of a country villa and the urban elite, Roman imports formed a substantial, or, at least, noticeable portion of one’s diet.  From chicken to coriander, Roman imports can be seen in the diets of peoples spanning every level of the social spectrum.  Fleming bases this on evidence collected from excavated cesspits found across Romanized Britain.  Fleming believes even some native plants such as strawberries, thought to be inedible by British Celts, were, via Roman influence and interest in this exotic new taste sensation, introduced to consuming these berries on a daily basis.
The Roman influence did not end with the expansion of the British diet.  The Romans brought also such practices as grafting to the Isles, and Roman land-owning elite had constructed massive granaries to hold, in as conspicuous as way as possible, their vast wealth of food, harvested from ever-expanding fields of what were previously grasslands or floodplains.  Showing that influence was not unidirectional, the Roman villa of Britain was itself constructed in a similar manner as a rural villager’s home, albeit at a much grander scale with some distinctly Roman decoration.  The archaeological record shows thatched roofs, straw-covered pounded dirt floors, and sparse tiling display what it was the Roman landed elite called home, in a far cry from what their fellow citizens of a similar social standing would have known on the continent.  We even see, in Kent, a small port attached to a brewery obviously meant to export British beer to the continent.

What, then, came of these Roman introductions after the withdrawal?  From the archaeological evidence, Fleming believes most of the plants and animals imported died off without continuous Roman cultivation and husbandry and constant replacements being brought in by ship.  Most of these alien flora and fauna were not kept in large enough quantities to spread naturally from the abandoned gardens or breed beyond the confines of Roman hunting grounds.  In fact, we see a sharp spike in the consumption of foraged food after the period of Roman rule comes to an end in Britain.  The plants and animals currently thought of as British staples were reintroduced in the Middle Ages with the reemergence of trade with the continent and the import of materials and people coinciding with the rise of monasticism (and monastic gardens) in the Isles.  However, this should not be taken as indicative of a decline in the health of the average Britain, as, in lieu of landlords demanding the majority of what one produced, families were able to grow food entirely for themselves, adding what was foraged to that and resulting in a, generally, healthier individual, as shown by the larger, more robust skeletons we see dating to after the Roman withdrawal.

Noting the anthropological theory that, while people make things, things also make people, Fleming presented the Roman rule and withdrawal from Britain as signifying two major shifts in British material history.  As the needs of cultivated plants and livestock require humans to alter their own schedules to provide the time to meet those needs, and humans often base their own social standing on their acquisition and holding of such things, shifts in material history inevitably denote shifts in political and social history.  Fleming’s intertwining of textual sources and archaeological evidence provides a window into how exactly material changes alter every facet of human society and interrelations.

The Center would like to graciously thank Dr. Fleming for beginning the Biduum on an excellent note, and the New York Botanical Gardens for hosting the event and providing the perfect environment for our study of Roman and Medieval botany.

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Alumni, History Department

Crosspost From History Blog: Summer Postcard: The Medievalist’s “Grand Tour”

Original post by Professor Nicholas Paul from: http://history.blog.fordham.edu/?m=201608

Eastbridge Pilgrim Hospital, Canterbury

Eastbridge Pilgrim Hospital, Canterbury

The next postcard in our series about the summer wanderings and adventures of Fordham historians sees PhD candidate Lucy Barnhouse undertake a medievalist’s version of the Grand Tour, presenting papers at the International Medieval Congress in Leeds, at Canterbury, and in Paris. Lucy reports:

“Leeds felt like something of a marathon on its own, and I was glad of the company of fellow Fordhamites Esther Cuenca and Louisa Foroughi. From our shared apartment we struck out for long but productive days of conferencing. Besides specialized panels galore, we got to enjoy medieval-inspired street food. It made good fortification for a series of panels on the social identities of medieval lepers.

Eastridge Pilgrim Hospital (interior)

Eastridge Pilgrim Hospital (interior)

From Leeds, I went directly to Canterbury, where the conference of the Society for the Social History of Medicine was hosted. The conference organizers gave us the chance to tour local sites of interest. Having predictably chosen to visit the pilgrim hospital of Eastbridge, I and some other medievalists proceeded on a self-guided tour of more of Canterbury’s historical architecture. After the conference—at which I presented alongside historians of the antebellum American South and twentieth-century England on the shared theme of hospitals in urban communities—I hiked out to Harbledown to see the twelfth-century leper hospital.

The last stop on the Grand Tour was Paris, where I attended my first meeting of the Society for the History of Authorship, Reading, and Publishing. I got to spend time with Alisa Beer, to meet new scholars, and to hear many interesting papers. Conference delegates also got free admission to the exhibits at the Bibliothèque Nationale, where we were hosted. Paris being Paris, I also consumed a truly alarming quantity of delicious pastries, and the conference wine-and-cheese reception was a gastronomic tour-de-force. Arguably more important was the fact that I got lots of encouragement to develop the paper I presented for a possible postdoc project. Now it’s back to the considerably less glamorous work of editing the dissertation!”

Thanks Lucy! And to all those Fordham historians on their summer adventures: keep those postcards coming!

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History Department, Judaic Studies

Magda Teter Begins This Year’s Lecture Series

This past 14 September, Professor Magda Teter, of Fordham’s History Department, delivered the first lecture of the new academic year on the liminal nature of the city of Trent after Simon of Trent’s supposed martyrdom.  Trent, a city on the border between Germanic and Italian cultures, was itself a liminal space in which concepts and societies interacted with each other and came into conflict.  The 1475 martyrdom of Simon of Trent, believed to have been an instance of blood libel, was not counted by the Italians as a parallel instance as that of William of Norwich.  They believed it to be instead a unique event, with no precedent.  Italian artists, in perpetuating Simon’s burgeoning cult, presented him as a triumphant saint, without sign of pain or anguish on his face.  North of the Alps, however, Northern European presentations of Simon had him more in line with other purported cases of blood libel, with Simon being tortured and mutilated.  These images emphasized the act of his martyrdom, while imagery produced in Italy presented the end result and his sanctification.

This difference in presentation was, Teter argues, symptomatic of a wider division between those who wanted Simon to be considered a saint and those who held the account of his death as suspect or merely wanted to see his as a victimization without greater spiritual value.  Mere weeks after Simon’s disappearance, Bishop Hinderbach of Trent distributed printed pamphlets in Latin and German relating the death of Simon and containing the earliest representations of contemporary Jews in printed media.  Weeks after that, Hinderbach released a second version of the story on newly printed pamphlets, with yet a third version of the story being spread via pamphlet after the papal order to cease the forced conversion of Jews in Trent, begun in response to Simon’s death.  It was this use of easily mass produced printed pamphlets that allowed Hinderbach to spread and establish Simon’s cult in Trent and beyond as quickly as he did and, largely, in spite of papal resistance.  Pope Sixtus IV, having forbade Hinderbach from allowing Jews to be forcibly converted or killed, resisted the notion that Simon was a saint by virtue of his supposed martyrdom on the grounds that only the papacy could render such judgments.  While Hinderbach, as Teter shows, was acting within the established medieval custom of allowing popular sentiment to drive the recognition of a martyr as a saint, the papacy at this time was establishing a more formal division between the concepts of saint and beatus/a, with the saint being the formally canonized figure and the beatus/a an approved figure to whom individuals can appeal without accusation of idolatry.  This conflict, ebbing for a time after Hinderbach’s death and the subsequent downturn in popularity of Simon’s cult beyond Trent, came to a temporary conclusion during the Council of Trent.  Teter believes that during this time, the attendees of the Council would have been inundated with the imagery of Simon’s martyrdom, resulting in a revival of his cult and his later inclusion in the liturgical calendar.  Simon’s inclusion in the liturgical calendar made it difficult for the papacy to assuage popular concerns over blood libel, as to deny its existence or instances in which it was purported to have occurred would be to call into question the legitimacy of officially recognized and celebrated saints.

Within this series of events, Teter sees the struggle between old and new understandings of how saints and beati/ae are or should be recognized.  Hinderbach, though the driving force behind the formation of Simon’s cult, was abiding by practices employed throughout the Middle Ages, while the papacy was attempting to exert greater influence over who could be officially recognized as a saint or even who could be seen as beati/ae.  Teter presents this struggle over recognition of Simon of Trent as exemplifying the liminality of the city of Trent at the time.  It was culturally liminal, chronologically liminal, and technologically liminal, and serves as a microcosm of the social, religious, and legal shifts taking place at that time.

The Center would like to thank Professor Teter for her lecture and for getting this academic year off to an excellent start!

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Faculty News, History Department

Richard Gyug Publishes His Newest Book

This past 15 August, PIMS published, as part of the Studies and Texts series, Richard Gyug of Fordham’s newest book, Liturgy and Law in a Dalmatian City: The Bishop’s Book of Kotor. Discussing an innovative liturgical compendium written in the mid-twelfth century mostly in Beneventan script, Liturgy and Law explores how the manuscript reveals civic and liturgical developments and interactions.

Richard Gyug, Liturgy and Law in a Dalmatian City: The Bishop’s Book of Kotor (Toronto: PIMS, 2016)

Richard Gyug, Liturgy and Law in a Dalmatian City: The Bishop’s Book of Kotor (Toronto: PIMS, 2016)

The Center for Medieval Studies would like to congratulate Dr. Gyug for his most recent contribution to the field!

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English Department, Graduate Studies

David Smigen-Rothkopf and Liz Light Recount Their Time In York

image001The Fordham-York exchange program was a wonderful experience full of challenges and inspiration! We’re two students at Fordham – Liz Light, a second-year PhD student in the English department who studies embodiment and gender in late-medieval devotional writing, and David Smigen-Rothkopf, currently finishing his MA Thesis on the idea of genealogy in Sir Thomas Malory’s Morte Darthur before starting in the English department this fall– who were chosen for the student-exchange program between the Center (and Centre) for Medieval Studies at Fordham University and the University of York. We helped out at York’s conference, Medieval Women Revisited, cosponsored by Palacky University in the Czech Republic. It was an experience filled with inspiring scholarship, excellent new studies from academics all over the world, camaraderie, and fruitful, thought-provoking conversations.

Upon our arrival from King’s Cross, Gillian Galloway kindly greeted us at the station and drove us to our apartment at which the York CMS had arranged for us to stay during our visit. We loved the apartment’s full kitchen, window view of the Minster, backyard rose garden, proximity to the CMS, and the really comfortable beds. Who could ask for more? Our hosts also gave us maps of amenities in the area, including a handwritten list of vegan restaurants for David!

On our first day we checked in with the Medieval Studies office, met everyone, and did a few quick preparations for the conference. One of the conference presenters, who lived close by, took Liz on a walk around town to point out some landmarks and get acquainted. When David arrived the next day, we went for a walk around the walls of York, through the park and the Shambles, eventually putting our heels up at the House of Trembling Madness (what a name!), a self-proclaimed medieval pub featuring a wall of over-the-top taxidermy, wooden beams flanking the ceiling, and many Yorkshire staples on the menu.

Zara Burford, PhD York, at left, and David Smigen-Rothkopf, MA, English Department, at right

Zara Burford, PhD York, at left, and David Smigen-Rothkopf, MA, English Department, at right

Our second day in York brought new adventures: a day trip with one of York’s PhD students, Zara Burford, who earlier this year had been on exchange to Fordham to help out at our “Manuscript as Medium” conference through the same bursary program that brought us to York! It was great to see her again and to have our hospitality returned with a trip through Yorkshire together.

Zara drove us to Rievaulx Abbey, a Cistercian monastery dating back to the twelfth century, now in ruins, nestled in the North York Moors. After a morning of exploring the abbey’s skeletal remains, we embarked on the seven-mile pilgrims’ walk to Helmsley Castle. The scenery was stunning, and we’re lucky it didn’t rain! Sheep, horses, cows, and the occasional hare greeted us on the walk. Arriving in Helmsley, we had tea in the castle’s walled garden before making the return trip to Rievaulx and then York.

The next day saw the beginning of the conference, but we still had time to explore York Minster in the morning! We spent a good amount of time admiring the many memorial stones and impressive architecture of the Minster, but we both agreed: the older, the better. It was amazing to go below the cathedral to see the remains of Roman and Norman York! After a quick bite to eat nearby, we made our way over to King’s Manor for the start of the conference.

The conference itself was wonderful. All of a sudden, no longer just guests, we were now hosts! The conference came to a rousing start with provocative presentations by Daniela Rywiková and Rachel Moss. Daniela’s opening

Daniela Rywiková, University of Ostrava

Daniela Rywiková, University of Ostrava

presentation about “Sin and Death Gendered” in late-medieval visual culture was especially interesting because her work is the first in Czech to investigate visual representations of “unspeakable” sins and their gendered associations. We also loved Rachel’s presentation on “(B)Romance and Rape Culture in Late Medieval England,” which asked provocative and challenging questions about homosociality and rape culture from Chaucer’s “Reeve’s Tale” to the modern-day case of Brock Turner’s recent prosecution. These two papers were an amazing way to kick off the conference, as they presented fascinating and refreshing new research. We reconvened for a homemade dinner in our apartment.

Brushing aside the jetlag with abundant coffee and Yorkshire tea, we were able to sit back and enjoy a full day of dynamic presentations and hearty discussion. The presentations were at the cutting edge of scholarship on medieval women’s social and economic roles. Through the collaborative effort of scholars from the United Kingdom and Central-Eastern Europe, the day proffered a vision beyond queens, saints, and nuns, to present a portrait of medieval Europe – indeed a multitude of portraits – where women played vital and active roles in the machinery of social, economic, and cultural life. Hollie Morgan’s opening paper discussed the magical and protective forces that ladies’ chambers played in medieval romance, tracing her findings to larger anxieties about women’s containment in contemporary culture. Gerhard Jaritz’s paper on gendered space in visual culture added important research to the field. Nicola McDonald’s presentation on women’s “unruly laughter” gave evidence for women’s reclamation of agency through irreverence, play, and “ludic misconduct.” Liz, who studies women’s embodiment and adores medieval medicinal manuals, especially enjoyed Kim Phillips’s paper on the cultural meanings of breast size for medieval women, titled “The Breasts of Virgins: Sexual Reputation and Female Bodies in Medieval Culture and Society,” which suggested that women’s breasts in the Middle Ages were active, not passive, body parts, with powerful meanings that inspired anxieties about female agency and sexuality.

After breaking for lunch, we prepared for the conference’s second half, which held a multitude of papers often exploring women’s economic roles in the Middle Ages. Maria Mogorovic presented invaluable research on marriage patterns and concubinage in medieval and early modern Istria, while Beata Mozejko explored women’s roles in Gdansk, Poland based on her groundbreaking findings from Gdansk’s written records. Vicki Blud offered a refreshing look at queer medieval women in Confessio Amantis and the Roman de Silence, revealing the instabilities of naturalized gender roles in these disruptive texts. Returning to the economic and social sphere, Cordelia Beattie asked of us, “Did Married Women Stop Making Wills in 15th Century England?” while Teresa Phipps “located” women in the town court rolls of Nottingham and Chester, showing us how medieval women traveled, trespassed, and traversed the streets, marketplaces, and homes of these towns.

The day concluded with a dinner, arranged by the York CMS, with the many speakers. Food, drinks, and laughter were in abundance, bringing the evening to a happy conclusion. David was so happy to see a vegan meal and dessert!

The next day brought us even more inspiring and thoughtful papers, focusing largely on women’s economic and social statuses. Michaela Antonin Malanikova explored spousal property relations in late medieval Czech towns while Deborah Young showed how women negotiated the boundaries of justice through their appearances as plaintiffs in Star Chamber court cases. Jeremy Goldberg, one of our kind hosts at York and the key organizer for this conference, revisited the social and economic implications for medieval women that he had considered in his 1992 book, Women, Work, and Life Cycle in a Medieval Economy, asking provocative questions about whether the so-called “position of women” can be categorized according to a single model, or through quantifiable statistical findings. Goldberg’s critique built an even more nuanced picture of medieval women’s economic position, this time revealing the problematic relationship between women and history by juxtaposing historical and literary sources.

We finished up the final day of the conference with a luncheon roundtable asking the question, “Medieval Women: Where Next?” It was wonderful to hear so many voices contributing to this discussion. What kinds of papers about medieval women are appearing in the academic world today? We talked about the need for more excellent scholarship on medieval women, especially work that crosses disciplinary boundaries and unearths concurrent and contemporary issues, such as women and power, embodiment and gender presentation, and internationalism. Provocative in its uncompromising appraisal of the current state of scholarship and its ambitious goals for the diversification of both the scope and participation in the field, this roundtable was a high point of inspiration and encouragement to both of us, and really reflected the camaraderie and solidarity that characterized the rest of the conference!

Liz Light, PhD candidate, English Department

Liz Light, PhD candidate, English Department

Our last day in York brought us to the Museum Gardens just behind the Centre for Medieval Studies, where we met some friendly owls through Yorkshire’s falconry group. A proper sendoff for a wonderful visit! We will dearly remember this fantastic experience. We want to thank the University of York’s Centre for Medieval Studies and, of course, Fordham University’s Center for Medieval Studies for such a great opportunity to meet new friends, rub shoulders with admired scholars, and encounter exciting ideas about medieval women and medieval scholarship in general!

David Smigen-Rothkopf, MA, English Department

David Smigen-Rothkopf, MA, English Department

Thank you, Fordham, and Thank You, York!
-Elizabeth Light and David Smigen-Rothkopf

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Manuscript Studies, Medieval England

Andrew O’Sullivan at the Folger Institute

Andrew O’Sullivan spent this past 23-27 of May at the Folger Institute in Washington, D.C. He attended there the Institute’s Orientation to Research Methods and Agendas with the intention of gaining a better understanding of the textual environment in which early modern readers began to re-learn and engage with Old English and Anglo-Saxon studies and the kinds of books those readers would have read to do so. While there, Andrew met Dr. Owen Williams, the Assistant Director of Scholarly Programs, who served as the groups’ primary guide through the busy week’s program. Extremely knowledgeable of current scholarship concerning the Institute’s library and materials, Dr. Williams engaged the attendee’s interests and provided them with the names of scholars with connections to the library whose work overlapped with those interests.
With this guidance, Andrew and the attendees each chose one or two books or manuscripts from the Institute’s Rare Books collection as the focus of their studies. Andrew picked Richard Verstegan’s 1605 history of Anglo-Saxon England and first printed Old English wordlist, Restitution of Decayed Intelligence; and William Somner’s Dictionarium Saxonico-Latino-Anglicum, a trilingual Old English-Latin-English dictionary printed in 1659. Andrew’s time with the books provoked new questions about their genesis and how their readers used them prompted in large part by the daily workshops and discussions during which the Folger Institute’s staff and other visiting scholars presented aspects of book production and trade.  As an example, Dr. Thomas Fulton, a Milton researcher on leave from Rutgers University’s English Department, observed in one presentation that the paratextual elements of the King James Bible, such as the frontispiece and its caption, may have shaped the structure of Paradise Lost. Inspired by this, Andrew spent that day paying extra attention to the paratext of Verstegan’s Restitution, noting a number of dedicatory poems written by, among others, Richard Stanihurst, an Irish historian, and Cornelis Kiliaan, a Dutch lexicographer. This wide array of scholars with an interest in English language history crossed national and confessional lines in ways that Andrew believes “defy easy explanation.” At the end of the week, Andrew and the other attendees presented the highlights of their individual investigations to the group so that they might inspire new methods of analysis or insights.
Andrew came away from the program with a richer understanding of the complex social context from which the books he chose emerged. Additionally, the experience of researching the Anglo-Saxon past at the Folger Library provided an opportunity to reflect on how each age places itself in relation to its past. Books like Verstegan’s were written to commemorate the English past, but they were also meant to demonstrate that England’s origins lay outside itself, much as the Folger Library seeks to remind us of our own nation’s extraterritorial origin. But the monumental aspect of the library and even the city around it work to consolidate history and create a unified image, meant to stand against time and dissolution. As a result, attempts to memorialize the past can have the effect of sealing it off rather than opening it up for engagement. Making the past visible and vital to the present requires constant work from its students; Andrew, and the other participants had the privilege of learning from the Folger Institute’s staff, who were able to show how the books in the library’s collection pointed to complex historical realities. To avoid presenting a rigid and brittle image of the past, institutions need people like those at the Folger Institute who can respond to the questions and interests of the public and present the objects they preserve in a way that invites further investigation.

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Digital Humanities

Heather Hill at the Digital Humanities Summer Institute

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University of Victoria, British Colombia, Canada

Over the week from June 5 to June 11, 2016, Heather Hill had the opportunity to visit the beautiful campus at the University of Victoria in British Columbia, Canada, for the annual Digital Humanities Summer Institute (DHSI). DHSI is a multi-faceted learning experience that brings digital humanists together from around the world. It includes daily classes, workshops, unconferences, networking events, colloquium sessions, and lectures throughout the week. This year, DHSI also coincided with the Electronic Literature Organization (ELO) conference being held on Victoria’s campus, allowing interaction between these two digital communities.

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From the class powerpoint presentation given by Constance Crompton and Lee Zickel

During her visit, Heather took a course on text encoding, learning the basics of the Text Encoding Initiative (TEI) and its complementary programs and organizations. She was able to apply what she learned immediately to the Independent Crusaders Mapping Project that is currently being developed by the Center for Medieval Studies. Students working on this project at the Center are encoding charters with TEI markup while also mapping the places of departure for each crusader. Heather will further be able to use TEI as she pursues a career as a digital humanities librarian next year at Pratt Institute.

Heather was also able to promote the work of Fordham’s digital humanities community and the Center for Medieval Studies at the DHSI colloquium. On the first day of the sessions, Heather presented on the project “Exploring Place in the French of Italy” (EPFOI) and described the Center’s methodology of mid-range reading. With this methodology, project members mapped place names without necessarily looking within a text, but they still acknowledged the individuality of each one. Audience members were receptive and asked several follow-up questions concerning how they could also utilize this method, seeming eager to replicate the process.

Heather would like to thank the GSA and the PDG committee for helping fund her visit to DHSI.

By Heather Hill

 

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