Posts Tagged ‘book history’


Understanding the Medieval Book (1)

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For the next two days I’ll be blogging from Columbia, South Carolina, on the beautiful USC campus, attending a two-day seminar on “Understanding the Medieval Book.” Thirty (30) attendees from 12 states have come together for four workshops and two evening lectures given by Christopher de Hamel, a world authority on medieval (especially illuminated) manuscripts. Each workshop will focus on one genre of medieval book: the Bible, the Book of Hours (horae), the Breviary, and the Missal.

The Bible

As de Hamel notes in his The Book. A History of the Bible (2001), “probably more has been written about the Bible, over a longer period, than about any other subject. More manuscripts of the Bible, or parts of the Bible, survive from the Middle Ages than any other tangible artefacts.”

Books of Hours

“A Book of Hours is a compendium of different devotional texts which the owner could read in private … the core of the manuscript (usually about a third of the way through the volume) comprises the Hours of the Virgin: a standard series of prayers and psalms intended to be used in honor of the Virgin Mary at each of the canonical hours of the day. These are Matins, Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers, and Compline.” (de Hamel, A History of Illuminated Manuscripts (1986, rev. 1994)–same for next two).

The Missal

A “fundamental distinction in the services of the late medieval Church is between the Mass and the daily offices. These were completely different in function and in form. The Mass is the communion service or Eucharist, one of the most solemn and important Sacraments of the Church, instituted by Christ at the Last Supper and consisting of consecrating and partaking of the bread and wine which represent the body and blood of Christ. It was celebrated at the altar, and its service-book was the Missal.”

The Breviary

“The Mass is not to be confused with the daily services performed in the choir: Matins, Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers and Compline. We discussed the shortened version of these offices in the chapter on Books of Hours. They are not sacramental services, but are basically prayers and anthems in honor and praise of Christ and the saints. Their service book was the Breviary. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, antiquarians used to call any medieval liturgical manuscript a ‘Missal’ (be cautious therefore of titles added on the spines of manuscripts), and even now cataloguers confuse Breviaries and Missals. To the medieval mind, this would be unthinkable.”

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The first session was the best of the day:  Martin Antonetti (Smith College) reported on a workshop sponsored by the so-called Alliance to Advance Liberal Arts Colleges (formerly the “Mellon 23”): Amherst, Barnard, Bryn Mawr, Carleton, Denison, DePauw, Furman, Grinnell, Harvey Mudd, Haverford, Macalester, Middlebury, Oberlin, Pomona, Reed, Rhodes, Scripps, Smith, Swarthmore, Vassar, Wellesley, Wesleyan, and Williams.  The workshop was held at Oberlin College (Oct. 29-30, 2010) and its theme was “book studies;” this term was defined as encompassing book history and book arts, and (further) as embracing all formats from cuneiform to digital. The goal of the workshop (2 days of meetings, spurred by a pre-circulated questionnaire) was to explore the role of book studies in liberal arts education. The presentation topics focused on curriculum building, structuring a book studies course, integrating book studies into other courses, and faculty/librarian interaction. The need for blending the hand and the head was acknowledged as primary. Also, book studies speaks to the current revolution in reading and writing digitally, and can be articulated as a timely response to larger technological changes (it can provide a useful historical and theoretical context to new media). One of the conclusions of the workshop was the necessity to minimize costs by embedding aspects of book history in existing courses, and offer summer seminars for faculty members in printing, and other book arts. The central goal of the workshop looking ahead is the publication of a manual or textbook for institutions to use in developing book studies. Some of the obstacles to succes were identified: some institutions had too few rare books for examples; a reluctance of faculty to acknowledge the discipline; the difficulty of assigning the program to a department; the separation between library and departments; curricular negotiations; stigma related to craft; regulations on librarians teaching for- credit courses; the perception of book studies as non-scholarly (antiquarian); and finding political will and financial resources. One concrete outcome in that at Smith, book studies is an approved concentration as of December 2010.

The second presenter of the first session was Ruth Rogers (Wellesley), who discussed her team-taught course “Papyrus to print to pixel: a history of the technologies of the word” (or “P3” for short). Wellesley has a full book arts program, and its director (Katherine Ruffin) is an inspiration. Rogers and Ruffin taught the course, but it became so unmanageable in scope (and popular) that they had to divide it into two courses.

The second session (with three presentations) was less interesting but still useful, in that two of the presenters were library school students, and had solid special collections-centered projects. One student had examined two scrapbooks created by John Ruskin, held at the Lilly, and the other presented on the 1960s artists’ journal De-coll/age as not only a work of art in its own right, but as a source of writings by artists and a record of otherwise unrecorded art events. The final presenter offered a critical appreciation of the work of book artist Gaylord Schanilec.

Finally, there was a 2-hour keynote by well-known artist Ann Hamilton about her work, but I found little of use in it.