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  • Symposium

Collecting Histories

7th Annual Lawrence J. Schoenberg Symposium on Manuscript Studies in the Digital Age

This year's symposium highlights the work of the Schoenberg Database of Manuscripts by bringing together scholars and digital humanists whose work concerns the study of provenance and the history of collecting pre-modern manuscripts.

This event has already occurred

November 6-8, 2014
Kislak Center, 6th Floor Van Pelt-Dietrich Library
Open to the Public
Book stamp of Sir Thomas Phillipps (1792-1872) showing a lion rampant.

In partnership with the Rare Book Department of the Free Library of Philadelphia, the Schoenberg Institute of Manuscript Studies at the University of Pennsylvania is pleased to announce the 7th Annual Lawrence J. Schoenberg Symposium on Manuscript Studies in the Digital Age. This year's symposium highlights the work of the Schoenberg Database of Manuscripts by bringing together scholars and digital humanists whose work concerns the study of provenance and the history of collecting pre-modern manuscripts. The life of a manuscript book only just begins when the scribe lays down his pen. What happens from that moment to the present day can reveal a wealth of information about readership and reception across time, about the values of societies, institutions, and individuals who create, conserve, and disperse manuscript collections for a variety of reasons, and about the changing role of manuscripts across time, from simple vehicles of textual transmission to revered objects of collectors' desires. The study of provenance is the study of the histories of the book.

The program begins Thursday evening, November 6, at the Free Library of Philadelphia, Parkway Central Library, with a panel on the past, present, and future of manuscript collecting in Philadelphia. On Friday and Saturday, the symposium will continue at the Kislak Center of Special Collections, Rare Books, and Manuscripts at the University of Pennsylvania. The program features papers and workshops that delve into these histories through both traditional and digital means.

Accordion List

  • Toby Burrows, King's College London
  • Katharine C. Chandler, Free Library of Philadelphia
  • Megan Cook, Colby College
  • Alexander Devine, University of Pennsylvania
  • Derick Dreher, Rosenbach Museum and Library
  • Lisa Fagin Davis, Medieval Academy of America
  • James N. Green, Library Company of Philadelphia
  • Scott Gwara, University of South Carolina
  • Peter Kidd, Independent Scholar
  • William Noel, University of Pennsylvania Libraries
  • Nigel Ramsay, University College London
  • William Stoneman, Harvard University
  • Julia Verkholantsev, University of Pennsylvania

Four workshops will offer hands-on exploration of problems and issues related to provenance research in the digital age. They are:

  • Mining and Visualizing Manuscript Provenance Data at a Large Scale
    Leader: Mitch Fraas, University of Pennsylvania Libraries
  • The Bibale Database: A digital tool for researching historic collections and manuscript provenance (Background, Structure, Developments, Context)
    Leader: Hanno Wijsman, Institut de recherche et d’histoire des textes (IRHT-CNRS) & Bibale
  • Provenance that POPs Workshop
    Leader: Laura Aydelotte, University of Pennsylvania Libraries
  • The Butcher's Bill: What the Schoenberg Database Can Reveal about the Trade in Medieval and Renaissance Manuscript Fragments
    Leaders: Scott Gwara, University of South Carolina, and Eric Johnson, Ohio State University

In addition to these workshops, we will be offering an opportunity to test-drive a prototype for the NEH-funded New Schoenberg Database of Manuscripts on Friday, November 7, at 5 pm. Everyone is invited. We need your input!

Event Series


Presentation Abstracts

Accordion Column of Lists

Peter Kidd, Independent Scholar

It goes without saying that all areas of research have been transformed in the last 20 years by the internet, and this applies equally to research into the provenance of books and manuscripts. But the internet is far from being mature. If it is not still in its infancy, then one could say that it is in its adolescence: messy, disorganised, unreliable, and often egocentric!

In this paper I intend to give an overview of some of the main ways in which the internet can benefit provenance research (databases, digitized primary and secondary texts, digitized images, blogs, fora, etc.), offering suggestions about how these tools can be used now, and could be made more useful in future. I will also give some examples of ways in which the internet cannot yet help us, and tasks that still require “old fashioned” methods.

It is my hope that each listener will learn of at least one new resource or technique that will help their future research, and that the published version of the paper will provide an interesting historical snapshot to look back at from the future: a researcher in 2020 and beyond will not appreciate our work unless they understand how different the internet was in 2014.

Toby Burrows, King's College London

The English collector Sir Thomas Phillipps (1792-1872) assembled the largest personal collection of European manuscripts, which is estimated to have contained more than 40,000 items and was far larger than the manuscript collections in most major libraries today. The manuscripts had varied geographical origins across Western Europe, were written in many different European languages, and covered a wide range of different subjects and topics. Their dispersal took place gradually over more than one hundred years after Phillipps’ death, and their modern locations are spread across the globe.

In this paper, I will present an initial report on a project to reconstruct and analyse the provenance of the manuscripts which formed the Phillipps Collection. The scale of the Phillipps Collection has proved a significant challenge to traditional research methods in the past. In this project I am employing innovative data modeling and analysis techniques in order to trace the history of the manuscripts, and to map the provenance events and networks which are embodied in the history of the collection. My paper will focus particularly on developing a data model for provenance events, on the use I am making of the Schoenberg Database of Manuscripts, and on the deployment of graph database software for this kind of analysis.

Mitch Fraas, University of Pennsylvania Libraries

The Schoenberg Database of Manuscripts (SDBM) is one of the richest sources of transaction data on the movement of pre-1600 manuscript codices available to scholars today. With over 220,000 records pertaining to manuscript provenance over several centuries, the SDBM provides scholars a unique opportunity to look at the history of manuscript transmission writ large. This workshop will demonstrate several the ways in which using mapping and other visualization tools alongside the Schoenberg database can reveal patterns, help ask and answer new questions, as well as clarify existing hypotheses.

Megan Cook, Colby College

In or around the year 1600, the antiquary, lawyer, and manuscript collector Joseph Holland came into possession of a large Chaucerian miscellany. The book, now Cambridge University Library MS Gg.4.27, had originally contained an extensive program of illumination, but several miniatures were removed prior to Holland’s ownership, resulting in a loss of text. Holland took a number of steps to both repair and expand this mutilated manuscript, inserting missing passages, adding new poems that were never a part of the manuscript’s original design (but which did appear in later printed editions) and supplementing the Chaucerian text with paratextual materials adapted from Thomas Speght’s 1598 edition of Chaucer’s collected Works.

Holland’s emendations show that he recognized Gg.4.27 as an attempt to produce a collection of Chaucer’s major works, if not the complete canon. At the same time, his additions and alterations suggest his idea of what a Chaucerian collection should look like was shaped in fundamental ways by sixteenth-century printed editions of Chaucer’s collected Works.

Holland is a crucial figure in the preservation of this important Chaucer manuscript, but by examining his use and emendation of Gg.4.27 in the context of early modern Chaucer in print, we can see the ways that the book is both a medieval and an early modern production and how early modern ideals of both author and text shape the Middle English archive we rely upon today.

Lisa Fagin Davis, Medieval Academy of America

The silent film star Gareth Hughes has never appeared in the cast of characters who populate the world of medieval manuscript provenance in the United States. But he should. A study of the leaves and codex that he bequeathed to the University of Nevada in Reno demonstrates how the manuscripts he acquired perfectly suited the Gothic aesthetic that permeated the first act of his life, lived as a Hollywood darling in the 1920s and 1930s, as well as the faith-based second act in which he embraced the life of a monastic missionary to the Paiute in Nevada.

Hanno Wijsman, Institut de recherche et d’histoire des textes (IRHT-CNRS)

In this workshop I would like to present the Bibale database ( an electronic tool that makes available data on medieval and early modern collections and on the transmission of medieval manuscripts. This tool has been developed over the last years at the Institut de recherche et d’histoire des textes (IRHT-CNRS) in Paris and is officially online in a first form since May 2014. Attention will be given to several aspects:

  1. the history of the development of Bibale at the Section of codicology, library history and heraldry at the IRHT and the close links with the older documentation there (card indexes, suspension files, research library)
  2. the structure of the present database and the choices that have been made for its search possibilities
  3. the planned developments for the near future
  4. the institutional context of the IRHT: the close links of Bibale with other IRHT tools like Medium, BVMM, Jonas, Initiale, etc. (
  5. the dynamics of the Biblissima project (Bibliotheca bibliothecarum novissima: an observatory for the written cultural heritage of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance), developed through the French government program Équipements d’excellence (

The first part of this workshop will consist of a presentation of the mentioned aspects and the second part of a more interactive discussion about the details and the practical use of the database.

Nigel Ramsay, University College London

Seymour de Ricci’s Census of Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts in the United States and Canada (1935-40) is still the only catalogue of manuscripts that has for any one country in the world attempted to provide a descriptive notice of every MS falling within its datespan. De Ricci would not have attempted the venture—and certainly could not have completed it—without the financial backing and prestige that were provided through the Library of Congress. The Library of Congress acted as sponsor, paymaster (though not the ultimate source of funding) and provider of administrative backing; and it also kept de Ricci up to the mark when he seemed to be moving away in other directions.

De Ricci’s extraordinarily ambitious scheme must be seen in the context of bibliographic trends that were current in the 1920s and 1930s: the aim of achieving universality of coverage in various bibliographic fields, and of doing so in a uniform, consistent way. For instance, the Short-Title Catalogue of Books Printed … 1475-1640 of Pollard and Redgrave (1926) can be taken to have greatly influenced de Ricci just as surely as it prompted the Library of Congress to start reassessing and reshelving its holdings of rare books. In this period the Library was set on an ambitious course of providing bibliographic information to as many US libraries as wanted it, and de Ricci’s proposals fitted the Library’s ambitions for attaining a comparable pole position in the field of medieval and Renaissance manuscripts.

Accordion Column of Lists

Scott Gwara, University of South Carolina

Apparently, the first medieval manuscript in the New World, now at the Walters, arrived with a Spanish bishop in 1555. In North America medieval manuscripts can be documented in the early eighteenth century. These are sporadic acquisitions, given to the new Republic’s historical societies, Athenaea, and library companies; to the early universities, notably Harvard; and to seminaries, largely through the bequests of erudite travelers. Even before the Civil War, however, Americans had collected manuscripts for personal libraries. Small and haphazard, their gatherings often comprised inferior books in fragmentary or damaged condition. Yet in Savannah, Georgia, the timber baron Alexander Augustus Smets assembled an exceptional collection of manuscripts publicized nationally in New Orleans and Boston, and worldwide in Leipzig and London. Smets bought his books in the marketplace. The Schoenberg Database enables researchers to trace these manuscripts, assess their quality, identify the motivations for their acquisition, and discover the routes of their dispersal. Slightly earlier than Smets, the Baltimore collector William Howard MD, the son of Governor John Eager Howard, had an excellent small collection, largely absorbed into that of Robert Gilmor in 1834—just at the time Smets was buying from the London bookseller Thomas Thorpe. A Baltimore native, Gilmor was related to Howard through the marriage of his sister, Jane Gilmor Howard. Some of Howard’s manuscripts are likewise traceable through the Schoenberg Database, although Gilmor’s collection was auctioned, and scattered, in 1849. While Smets, Howard, and Gilmor were the first important owners of medieval manuscripts in the antebellum South, other medieval manuscripts can be traced to South Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, and Alabama. Exploring these few books enables us to fathom the earliest distinctively American medieval manuscript collections.

Alexander Devine, University of Pennsylvania

The "Paris" and ‘pocket’ bibles of the 13th-century survive today in greater numbers – as "complete" books and as "fragmented" manuscript leaves - than any other kind of medieval manuscript. My paper explores why this should be. We will first consider the scale upon which these books were produced in the 13th-century before tracing the post-medieval economic and geographical networks of sale and purchase, and ownership and collection that have kept these bibles circulating so consistently on the book market for hundreds of years. By locating the position of these 13th-century bibles on the medieval book trade to their prominent (commonplace?) presence in the modern transatlantic ‘Rare Books’ trade, we will interrogate the construction of these manuscripts’ cultural value in relation to their use, their provenance and their commercial availability to collectors of medieval manuscripts. In mapping the transformation of these innovative medieval textual technologies into antiquarian objects across the interconnected spaces of the library, the book seller’s salesroom and the collector’s repository over the centuries, we will explore these 13th-century bibles’ transformations from Scriptural texts and bibliographical tools, to collectable objects and "medieval" artifacts.

Laura Aydelotte, University of Pennsylvania Libraries

Workshop participants will be introduced to the Provenance Online Project (POP), a collection of nearly 12,000 digital images of provenance markings including bookplates, inscriptions, stamps and bindings. We will use resources from POP in activities for identifying individual provenance markings, tracing the history of individual books and manuscripts, and imaging the shape of the libraries of past owners. Following the activity portion will be time for discussion about what the group’s interactions with this new online project suggests about the present practices and digital futures of provenance research.

Julia Verkholantsev, University of Pennsylvania

The eleventh- or twelfth-century parchment codex 170/347 is one of the rarities archived in the UCLA Young Research Library Special Collections. It has much to offer to a student of paleography: illuminations, a scribe’s colophon, calligraphic minuscule script, later inscriptions and modifications, inserted paper quires, missing folia, study notes, and even a cryptographic table. One of the most fascinating aspects of this New-Testament-turned-lectionary manuscript, however, is its history as a world traveler, for the most part incognito. Although the manuscript’s mysterious disappearance from St. Catherine’s metochion in Cairo obscured its trajectory, the analysis of its graffiti and the comparison of catalogues’ data help reestablish its provenance and narrate its journey beyond the walls of a monastic scriptorium. The resulting travelogue not only tells the story of how Sinai-born MS 170/347 landed in Los Angeles; it offers insight into the fate that befell many other rare books in the height of the nineteenth-century collecting and scholarship rush.

William Stoneman, Houghton Library Harvard University

The Schoenberg Database of Manuscripts can be used not only to track the provenance of individual manuscripts, but also to uncover larger patterns in multiple provenance strings of manuscripts. For example, does an individual auction sale or bookseller’s catalogue have any discernable influence on the acquisitions made by a collector or institution? Or is the publication of a collection or exhibition catalogue preceded or followed by any discernable pattern of acquisition activity? In this paper I explore patterns of acquisition, exhibition and sale associated with the collections of William Bragge (1823-1884) of Sheffield and Dr. T. Shadford Walker (1834-1885) of Liverpool. Bragge was the largest single exhibitor in the Burlington Fine Arts Club exhibition in 1874. The sale of his library less than two years later at Sotheby’s in June 1876 was only identified as the property of “a gentleman of consummate taste and judgment,” but full reports in The Times revealed his identity to those not already in the know. Not surprisingly the London antiquarian booksellers, Bernard Quaritch, were a major buyer at the sale; its Catalogue 31 published in the fall of 1876 after the sale contains numerous items acquired there. Quaritch was also apparently bidding on behalf of the British Museum and of Dr. Walker of Liverpool. In October of the same year Walker was a major contributor to the Liverpool Fine Arts Club exhibition of illuminated manuscripts and every one of the 18 manuscripts exhibited by Walker had been purchased at the Bragge sale earlier that year.

Scott Gwara and Eric Johnson, University of South Carolina and Ohio State University

Manuscriptlink is a digital humanities project that aims to re-unite related but dispersed manuscript constituents (fragments, leaves, and cuttings) into virtual codices that can be viewed online. These constituents originally belonged to complete manuscripts. Either by accident or through deliberate mutilation (for commercial purposes), individual pages or even partial pages were cut out and put into circulation. Manuscriptlink aims to reconstitute a “lost” medieval library by restoring the bibliographical, textual, and artistic coherence of its dismembered books.

The symposium is made possible with the generous support of the Dean's Office of the University of Pennsylvania's School of Arts and Sciences.