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  • Symposium


14th Annual Lawrence J. Schoenberg Symposium on Manuscript Studies in the Digital Age

This symposium will interrogate the notions of loss, survival, and recuperation in manuscript studies, so often in the background but rarely acknowledged as defining features of the field.

This event has already occurred

November 17-19, 2021
Open to the Public
Fragment of Avicenna's (980-1037) Canon medicinae, Italy, 14th or 15th century (Ms. Coll. 591 Folder 44)

The Schoenberg Institute for Manuscript Studies (SIMS) at the University of Pennsylvania Libraries is pleased to announce the 14th Annual Lawrence J. Schoenberg Symposium on Manuscript Studies in the Digital Age.

Engaging with pre-modern books and manuscripts necessarily involves reckoning with the paradox of loss. While a historical document from the distant past is the material survivor of a singular attempt to hedge against the disappearance of an idea, image, or text, the extant specimen always has to be considered alongside missing exemplars, damage and erasure, lost comparanda, and the vanished life-worlds that produced the object in the first place. This symposium will interrogate the notions of loss, survival, and recuperation in manuscript studies, so often in the background but rarely acknowledged as defining features of the field.

Bringing together scholars, librarians, curators, and conservators, we will investigate losses unknowable and quantifiable, ancient and recent, large and small, physical and digital. How have chance survivals shaped literary and linguistic canons? How might the topography of the field appear differently had certain prized unica not survived? What are the ways in which authors, compilers, scribes, and scholars have dealt with lacunary exemplaria? How do longstanding and emergent methodologies and disciplines—analysis of catalogs of dispersed libraries, reverse engineering of ur-texts and lost prototypes, digital reconstructions of codices dispersi, digital humanities, cultural heritage preservation, and trauma studies to name a few—serve to reveal the extent of disappearance? How can ideologically-driven biblioclasm or the destruction wrought by armed conflicts -- sometimes occurring within living memory -- be assessed objectively yet serve as the basis for protection of cultural heritage in the present? In all cases, losses are not solely material: they can be psychological, social, digital, linguistic, spiritual, professional. Is mournful resignation the only response to these gaps, or can such sentiments be harnessed to further knowledge, understanding, and preservation moving forward?

The online program will take place in morning and afternoon sessions (EST) from Wednesday, November 17, to Friday, November 19. The symposium will end with a keynote address by Professor Elaine Treharne, Stanford University

Accordion List

  • Matt Aiello, University of Pennsylvania
  • Olivia Baskerville, Institute of English Studies, University of London
  • Federico Botana, Institute of English Studies, University of London
  • Georgios Boudalis, Museum of Byzantine Culture, Thessaloniki
  • Laura Cleaver, Institute of English Studies, University of London
  • Kate Crosby, King's College London
  • Eyob Derillo, The British Library
  • Siân Echard, University of British Columbia
  • Susan Einbinder, University of Connecticut
  • Natalia Fantetti, Institute of English Studies, University of London
  • Joanna Fronska, Institute de Recherche et d’histoire des textes (CNRS), Paris-Aubervilliers
  • Kathryn Gerry, Bowdoin College
  • Elina Gertsman, Case Western Reserve University
  • Dot Porter, Schoenberg Institute for Manuscript Studies, Penn Libraries
  • Sana Mirza, Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution
  • Hannah Morcos, Institute of English Studies, University of London
  • Pierre-Louis Pinault, Institute of English Studies, University of London
  • Angéline Rais, Institute of English Studies, University of London
  • Heghnar Watenpaugh, University of California, Davis
  • Yunxiao Xiao, Princeton University

Event Series


[Please note: The schedule follows Eastern Standard Time]

Loss of and in Manuscripts

Recovering and Remediating Loss


Accordion Column of Lists

Joanna Fronska, Institut de Recherche et d’histoire des textes (CNRS), Paris-Aubervilliers

The history of manuscripts from Chartres is defined by loss. The municipal library was destroyed in the 1944 bombing and most of its collections either perished in fire or suffered substantial damage. Since 2006, researchers from the Institute de Recherche et d’histoire des textes have been working on the reconstruction of the collection. A series of projects have ensured the digitisation of most of the surviving fragments, tested methods of their restoration and the scientific photography that aimed to improve their legibility. A dedicated website with a comprehensive bibliography and a growing number of detailed descriptions of manuscripts provides a discovery tool and a constantly evolving research environment. In the meantime, a long and meticulous work of the identification of the burnt fragments, the reunification of dispersed leaves and the restoration of their order continues both in the ‘physical’ library in Chartres and on-line, in the Bibliothèque virtuelle des manuscrits médiévaux.

Building on this preliminary work a new, more in-depth research on the history of the cathedral chapter library of Chartres has been launched, with the edition of all surviving inventories as its main aim. Once home to manuscripts that shaped the textual universe of its famous eleventh and twelfth-century schools, the chapter library fell prey to humanist curiosity and revolutionary seizures and was partly dispersed. The search and discovery of the manuscripts from Chartres scattered amongst several European collections, as well as the reconstruction of volumes fragmented by fire changed the history of the loss into a story of survival.

Eyob Derillo, The British Library

This presentation will bring to light the little known Maqdala manuscript collections held in the British Library. Throughout his reign, king Tewdros II (1855-65) was actively involved in collecting manuscripts. To honour Christ, the king intended to build a church dedicated to the Saviour of the World on his fortress of Maqdala. His collection of about 980 to about 1000 manuscripts were going to be housed in the new church. The manuscripts, along with other treasures, subsequently fell into British hands following the British military expedition in Abyssinia (the former name of Ethiopia) against Theodore in 1867 and the battle of Magdala in April 1868. Of the 980 manuscripts in the collection, over 600 were left in Ethiopia, many distributed to local churches. All aspects of Ethiopian literature are represented in the manuscripts collection, notably Gospel Books, Apocrypha, hymns, liturgy, ecclesiastical and civil law, Psalters, Patristic literature, Saints’ lives, as well as letters, medicine and philology. A particular strength are the Ethiopian magical and divinatory scrolls. The collection is equally strong in illuminated manuscripts of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

Kate Crosby, King's College London

European colonial wars and occupation in Southeast Asia and Sri Lanka led Buddhists to fear that the Dharma (the teaching of the Buddha) was on the brink of disappearance. Buddhists reacted to this long-predicted catastrophe, attempting to stem this loss or circumvent it. This led to a series of developments including large-scale printing and engraving projects to preserve the early Buddhist canon, and meditation practices adjusted for a fast-track route to enlightenment while it was still possible. While these endeavors sought to preserve the letter and spirit of the Buddha’s teaching, they, in turn, contributed to the wholesale loss of rich traditions of Buddhist literature in vernaculars and the manuscript cultures that preserved them, as well as silencing Buddhism’s traditional somatic meditation practices and attendant involvement in the broader pre-colonial physical and biological sciences. This paper will examine these events, the nature of our loss, and how this unrecognized loss informs Buddhist-derived meditations such as Mindfulness and the common perception of Buddhism as being primarily concerned with psychology and mind-science.  

Elina Gertsman, Case Western Reserve University

This paper sets out to explore spaces of loss in later medieval manuscripts as semiotically and epistemologically fraught: as sites of the imaginary, generating and anchoring active processes of memory and imagination. What was the place of the image in the epistemology of absence?  How does the space of loss transform into a proliferant locus, a place of generative and catalytic forces?   I will consider several iterations of such spaces—voids, holes, and erasures —from several perspectives: as visual signs of figurative failure, as markers of unrepresentability, and as vehicles for phenomenological and cognitive work demanded from their viewers.

Georgios Boudalis, Museum of Byzantine Culture, Thessaloniki

This presentation will focus on parchment and paper Greek codices from the Byzantine era which at some point in their life and for various reasons, suffered losses in their folios and/or in their writing. We will explore the different types of losses and the ways in which they were repaired during the Byzantine and post-Byzantine era, as well as the methods used today in the context of modern book conservation, and consider the following questions: What were the reasons to repair the losses in a manuscript in Byzantium and what are the reasons to do so today? How has the notion of loss and the approach to the repair of losses in codices changed? How have historic repairs performed over time? Can any of those historic methods, materials, and techniques provide hints and ideas useful in modern conservation? Several examples from monastic collections as well as the author's work as a book conservator in the last years will be shown and discussed.  

Dot Porter, Schoenberg Institute for Manuscript Studies, Penn Libraries

Much ink has been spilled describing the many and varied ways that the digitization of premodern manuscripts results in a product that is lesser than “the real thing.” In her talk, Porter will respond to varieties of loss related to manuscript digitization, making reference to some of the 2021 SIMS Lightning Talk presentations.

Yunxiao Xiao, Princeton University

Before the paper era, most early Chinese manuscripts were written on bamboo or wooden strips that were bound together. As the archeological condition left the original binding threads extremely difficult to preserve, modern archaeologists must either collect and sequence the strips if they were scattered over the ground or around the tombs, or separate and rearrange the strips if they were jumbled together. There are primarily two types of material and textual losses: the first is strips or parts of the strips that are missing, and the second is the loss of the strips’ original sequence—as a result, we have very little knowledge of the original form and format of early Chinese books.

However, what is missing can also be a hint as to how to reconstruct the manuscripts and portray the epistemological, scholarly, and scribal activities behind the making of the ancient books. In this paper, I will first reconstruct the book format of three literary Warring States (476–221 BC) manuscripts that the Tsinghua university has in its collection by analyzing a series of textual, paratextual, and visual traces, especially the nature of the damaged and missing slips. I consider the *Xinian and the *Rui liangfu Bi MSs as in the typical “scroll” format, whereas the *Suanbiao MS is in a formerly unknown “folded” form. Hence, through the lens of the reconstructed book format and other physical indicators, we can further speculate on the nature and use of the early Chinese books. Finally, this study underscores that the significance of a discovered manuscript lies not only in content of the ancient text it conveys, but also in the physical reality of the ancient text; most importantly, it represents a moment, a condition, and a specific use of textual knowledge.

Kathryn Gerry, Bowdoin College

While the “material turn” has put the visual arts at the forefront of historical and cultural studies, the resulting spotlight on the material culture of the past has perhaps made medievalists even more keenly aware of how much of that material past has been lost. Historians working in medieval Europe were themselves in a similar situation, placing a high value on the characters and events of the past, but certainly aware that the textual and physical traces of that past were often irretrievable. Matthew Paris, a prolific historical writer and narrative artist of the thirteenth century, made use of the past in his manuscripts in order to bolster the current position of St Albans Abbey, his home monastery, and to preserve its status into the future. His concern with the inevitable losses of art, architecture, and knowledge over time can be seen in his attempts to fill in gaps in the historical record and to record recent events and the abbey’s current possessions with precise detail. This paper will examine some of the ways in which Matthew’s manuscripts, including hagiographical works as well as chronicles and institutional records, demonstrate his own concern with preserving a fragile material past, and how his work can today help us to piece together that lost world. 

Accordion Column of Lists

Natalia Fantetti, Institute for English Studies, University of London

Whilst there has undoubtedly been progress in telling the stories of the women involved in the medieval manuscript trade in the first half of the twentieth century (and in book history more generally), they have yet to be fully integrated into the main accounts of the trade in the period. Instead, if a researcher is to trace the not insubstantial work of women in this field, they must turn to the scraps, footnotes, and anecdotes in order to paint a fuller picture. Using my research on Wilfrid Michael Voynich and the women who populated his business network, I will extrapolate and discuss the issues arising from dealing with work from the not-too-distant past that is “lost”; lost in the sense that it has been forgotten or hidden away but is waiting to be rediscovered. These will include the difficulty in locating women when they are referred to under their husband’s name (as in the case of Voynich’s mysterious investor, Mrs. Reilly); the problem of misnomers and pinning down exactly what words like “assistant” really mean in a real-world context; and finally, the link between value and preservation. For if we preserve what we value, and women’s work has historically been undervalued and therefore by extension, under-preserved, how do we go about creating an alternative, more inclusive record that reflects our changing understandings?

Susan Einbinder, University of Connecticut

The imposing figure of Rabbi Solomon Marini makes several appearances in the ‘Olam Hafukh, Abraham Catalano’s prose account of a plague epidemic that ravaged the Paduan Ghetto in 1630-31.  Rabbi Marini’s presence during and after this outbreak was not only memorable for his spiritual leadership and force of personality; of some two dozen rabbis in the Ghetto, he was the only Paduan rabbi to survive the plague.  Sadly, his literary output did not fare as well.  In addition to a commentary on Isaiah, what remains are two collections of sermon notes or outlines preserved in manuscripts owned by the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York.  Thus far ignored by scholars, these often-skimpy outlines are nonetheless valuable historical, literary, and religious documents.  This talk illustrates how we may use them to restore lost homiletical compositions and what that restoration may yield.

Sana Mirza, Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

The city of Harar has long been regarded as a major center of Islamic learning, a pivotal city at the nexus of trade routes linking the highlands of Ethiopia to the Red Sea and Indian Ocean. Hundreds of manuscripts were produced within the city from the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries. Yet only recently has the city’s extraordinary manuscript tradition garnered international interest or been considered for their great potential to elucidate the dynamics of the Muslim communities within Ethiopia, the Red Sea and beyond. 

The Qur’an manuscripts, in particular, provide rich material with which to examine the visual culture of Harar, the nature of its manuscript production, and the intersection of local religious motivations and long-distance artistic networks. These transregional resonances offer a wide array of possibilities for highlighting relationships between regional rather than imperial centers of manuscript production. The investigation into these traces calls attention to questions of survival, revival, and the incompleteness of the historical record.

Siân Echard, University of British Columbia

In 1794, the English antiquarian Richard Gough published an account of the Bedford Missal, along with several engraved plates based on the manuscript. He dedicated the account to the London bookseller who was at the time the manuscript's owner, urging him to keep it safe from "the ravages of time," and “the far worse havoc of Political Frenzy.” Gough was writing about the original object, but he was doing so at a time when transcriptions and facsimiles made from medieval manuscripts were moving out of the realm of scholarly antiquarianism, and into wider circulation. This movement was the result of a confluence of factors, including the development of connoisseurship; rising public interest in medieval objects; and technological advances in printing. But it was also a response to loss. The Ashburnham House fire of 1731, and the catastrophic damage to the Cotton manuscripts being housed there, had raised awareness of the fragility of the medieval material past. Transcriptions and facsimiles had always been in part a pragmatic response to the difficulties of access to medieval materials. After 1731, when some of those study copies suddenly became the only surviving witnesses to texts whose “best” manuscripts were destroyed in what more than one commentator called that “fatal fire,” ideas about access and preservation inevitably came to include the question of avatars: what made a good copy? Could a copy really stand in for something that had been lost? This paper will explore how English antiquarians of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries thought about loss and preservation, about primary sources and copies, and about their own role in the transmission of the medieval past.

Laura Cleaver, Olivia Baskerville, Federico Botana, Hannah Morcos, Pierre-Louis Pinault, Angéline Rais, Institute of English Studies, University of London

It is unusual to be able to trace the ownership of a pre-modern manuscript from the time of its creation to its present location. Gaps in provenance occur for many reasons, ranging from a deliberate desire to obscure a manuscript's history to a lack of interest in preserving records of previous owners with a book.

The Cultivate MSS project, funded by the European Research Council under the Horizon 2020 work programme, is examining the international trade in manuscripts between c. 1900 and 1945. Rich archives of book catalogues and sale records allow for a detailed reconstruction of the ownership of manuscripts in this period. These sources demonstrate that some former owners' names were commonly cited as books were traded, whilst others were forgotten. Similarly, the bookplates and inscriptions of some owners have been preserved in large numbers, while others have been removed. This session will present a series of case studies to reflect on how provenance information was (and was not) recorded in this period, and what lost provenance information reveals about attitudes to manuscripts and their owners. 

Matt Aiello, University of Pennsylvania

This paper investigates two small Old English homiliaries, heavily refurbished after the Norman Conquest, for all they can tell us about the loss of land in the second half of the eleventh century. I offer two broad but interlocking theoretical arguments, both of which stem from material and textual readings of these manuscripts. The first, which is the more general historical takeaway, is that the post-Conquest compilers of Oxford, Bodleian Library, Junius 85/86 selected homiletic texts that offer up the seemingly lost ground-level traumatic testimonies of the English poor lamenting violent land dispossession in the Southeast of England – the area most gravely affected by Norman colonialism in the immediate aftermath of 1066. Second, and relatedly, I argue that reading homiletic texts as testimony invites us to revise the temporal parameters of the testimonial genre more broadly. I use Junius 85/86 as a case study to show how old language can continuously reanimate itself to witness new forms of loss in deeply precise ways. More specifically, this paper traces how texts lie dormant until a selection process – a process we can trace in the archive – comes to activate them as testimony: no longer analeptic productions of an event-based trauma model but living and breathing discourses energized at different moments in time with shifting but traceable referents.

Heghnar Watenpaugh, University of California-Davis

The intentional destruction of art, especially religious art, is a central element in modern mass violence and genocide. The widespread destruction of cultural heritage, particularly of the religious heritage of Christian groups in the Ottoman Empire, is a central dimension of the Armenian Genocide that is only recently receiving sustained critical attention. How has the destruction of much of this heritage, and the dispersal of the rare surviving remnants, affected today’s conception of the art history of the Ottoman Middle East? How can we understand and theorize the loss of medieval Christian culture without replicating the violence of its destruction? What does that portend for the way in which art history is written today, and in which art from this era is exhibited? This paper examines these issues through the Zeytun Gospels, a medieval manuscript that was looted and sundered during the Armenian Genocide. When a fragment of that work appeared in the collection of the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, a lawsuit ensued in 2010. Today the manuscript survives in two fragments, in Los Angeles and Armenia. Over the last century, the manuscript interacted with individuals and institutions, and was transformed from a liturgical object, to a monument of national history, to a great work of art, and to a memorial object that symbolizes both violence and resilience.  This case embodies the defining elements of art history in the 21st century: the contest over the definition of the object (sacred relic or work of art?), the struggle between communities and powerful institutions for control over cultural patrimony, the human right to culture, the impact of the global art market, and the ways in which objects mediate individual and group identities. The Zeytun Gospels is an example of what I call “survivor objects” – objects that have endured genocide, war, or exile along with their communities, and often play outsize roles in processes of survival, restitution, and commemoration.

Elaine Treharne, Stanford University

The Old English poem, The Wanderer, famously reminds us that ‘swa þes middangeard ealra dogra gehwam dreoseð ond fealleþ’ (‘so this middle-earth each and every day declines and decays’); that is, all that exists deteriorates and is lost over time. The rich lexis of this poem with its focus on complete social and cultural collapse—the terrible inevitability that faces the mortal and man-made—reminds the reader of the degree, scale and complexity of loss. In the first half of this presentation, I’ll conceptualise and evaluate manuscript and textual loss through its many manifestations. Then I’ll move on to ask why loss—absence, fragmentation—is so seductive. Why is so much time spent on that which is missing while an abundance of what survives remains unstudied?

Lightning Round Videos

The 14th Annual Online Schoenberg Symposium on Manuscript Studies in the Digital Age is delighted to present 9 5-Minute Lightning Round Videos featuring projects addressing the topic "Loss," including digital or digitally-enabled projects at all stages of development, from ideas to implementation.

All Lightning Round Videos will be pre-recorded. They will be made available by November 15 via the Schoenberg Symposium YouTube playlist or individually via the links provided.

Accordion List

Mary M. Alcaro, Rutgers University
Closing the Book on Kanuti: Lost Authorship & Digital Archives

Claire Clivaz, DH+, Swiss Institute of Bioinformatics, Lausanne
A Lost and Found Ending of the Gospel of Mark

Lisa Fagin Davis, Medieval Academy of America
IIIF, Fragmentology, and the Digital Remediation of 20th-c. Biblioclasm

Kate Falardeau, University of Cambridge
London, British Library, Add. MS 19725: Loss and Wholeness

Chris Nighman, Wilfrid Laurier University
Loss and recovery in Manuscripts for the CLIMO Project

Mark Saltveit, Independent Scholar
Extreme Loss and Subtle Discoveries: The Corpus of Sotades of Maronea

Margaret Simon, North Carolina State University; Hillary Nunn, University of Akron; Jennifer Munroe, University of North Carolina--Charlotte
Lost in Transcription: EMROC, Recipe Books, and Knowledge in the Making

William P. Stoneman, Happily Retired Scholar
George Clifford Thomas (1839-1909) of Philadelphia: Lost in Transition

Hallie Nell Swanson, University of Pennsylvania
Lost Leaves, Orphaned Leaves, and Composite Codices: Searching for Persian Manuscript Culture in Digitized Projects

Featured image: Fragment of Ibn Sina's (or Avicenna, 980-1037) al-Qānūn fī al-Ṭibb, translated as Canon medicinae. Copy produced in Italy, 14th or 15th century (Ms. Coll. 591 Folder 44).