Archive for the ‘Out and about’ Category

For several years, a pair of mallard ducks have nested in the New Court of Corpus, probably based on its academic credentials and excellent foliage. The annual sight of the Corpus ducklings and their subsequent herding to the Cam occurred yesterday to great fanfare, as the entire College stopped what they were doing to watch.

Ducks real

Corpus ducklings


The medieval theory of the duck was that it was named ans in Latin after its constancy (assiduitate) in swimming (natandi). If you look closely, this is described in the first sentence of the section on ducks in the Peterborough bestiary (MS 53, 14th c.), starting with the historiated letter ‘A’:


CCCC MS 53, f. 203v


However, the name likely came from an Indo-European root word which was also visible in the Old English word for duck : enid. The Corpus Glossary (MS 144, early 9th c.) shows the translation of Latin aneta for Old English enid:


CCCC MS 144, f. 8v

The modern English word for duck came from the original Anglo-Saxon verb, dúcan, meaning to dive or duck in the modern sense. The word was already in use for the bird by the late Anglo-Saxon era, but continued in tandem with enid or ende through the 15th c.


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On Friday, January 15, 2016, the St Augustine Gospels- a 6th century gospel book that is reputed to have been sent with St Augustine on his mission from Pope Gregory the Great to convert the English people- was brought from Cambridge to Canterbury Cathedral for the day to serve as inspiration to the assembled Primates at an extraordinary meeting of the Anglican leadership. The goal was for the manuscript to serve as a physical reminder of the core principles of the church; based on long tradition, the words of the Gospels themselves, and the faith that unites all believers.

Portrait of St Luke (CCC MS 286, f. 129v)

Portrait of St Luke (CCC MS 286, f. 129v)



The visit was in conjunction with the loan of an ivory crozier which is venerated as a relic of Augustine’s mentor, St (formerly Pope) Gregory, from the monastery of San Gregorio al Celio in Rome. These two items were displayed together in the crypt of Canterbury Cathedral during the closing service of the meeting. Following the ceremony, Parker Library staff gave informative talks on the manuscript in the Cathedral library, which were attended by Cathedral staff and visitors. This was an extremely rare opportunity to see the 1,400 year old manuscript out from under glass, as it is typically only available to view in its case in the Parker Library exhibition on one day a month.

The gospel book, also known as CCCC MS 286, was initially kept at St. Augustine’s abbey in Canterbury and venerated as a relic of the saint. After the dissolution of the monasteries, it was brought to Canterbury Cathedral. Decades later, Matthew Parker, (then Archbishop of Canterbury), was given a mandate by Elizabeth I to collect ancient books and documents from the realm, with which to study the history of Christianity in England and shore up the tenets of the new Anglican church. He proceeded to collect a large number of manuscripts from Canterbury Cathedral, including the Gospels, a collection which now forms the core of the Parker Library, which has been the home of the gospel book since Matthew Parker bequeathed it to his old College in 1575.

Further details are available here.

Special thanks are due to the incredibly welcoming and efficient staff of Canterbury Cathedral, whose kindness to the Parker Library staff (all a bit tired from their 5AM start from Cambridge!) really made the visit a success.





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AMARC is a friendly organisation which brings together all sorts of people with an interest in manuscripts and archives. Its meetings are one of the few opportunities for librarians, curators and conservators to meet up with scholars and researchers and find out what others are up to in an informal environment. It also produces an excellent Newsletter twice a year. Individual membership is a mere £10 a year.

Plug over. I recently attended this year’s AMARC winter meeting which was on the theme of Conserving Manuscripts and Archives in Oxford. It was an excellent opportunity for the two main organisations carrying out manuscript and archive conservation in Oxford, the Bodleian’s Department of Conservation and Collection Care and the Oxford Colleges’ Conservation Consortium, to showcase some of their recent work, in the morning through presentations and in the afternoon via visits to the conservation studios.

The two organisations were introduced by their heads. It was great to hear Jane Eagan talk about the Oxford Colleges’ Consortium which is modelled on the Cambridge one, based in Corpus. The roles of the two consortia workshops are very similar; emphasis is placed on preservation as well as conservation, on making sure that the environmental conditions in the historic libraries that they serve are suitable for the storage and display of archive and manuscript materials. Virginia Lladó-Busán, the Bodleian’s head of conservation, seemed remarkably sanguine about being responsible for the conservation of some 9-10 million items. She talked about the various dimensions of conservation work within a major research library; the department both provides practical services and carries out scholarly research, often in collaboration with curators and scholars.

Four Oxford conservators then gave presentations on recent projects. From the consortium, Victoria Stevens talked about the conservation of four Buttery Books from University College. These are fascinating documents listing the payments made by members of college for food and drink. They are extremely useful, among other things, for determining which members were actually present in the college at any one time. The Univ. Buttery Books date from the 1640s, at a time when Oxford was a key Royalist centre during the Civil War. They were obviously well-used working books with a distinctive tall, narrow shape and the Univ. ones were in terrible condition when they arrived in the workshop.

They had lost their bindings, their spines were distorted and many of their pages were in a very fragile state. In this blogpost, Victoria describes the early stages of the project. It is now half complete and in the afternoon, Victoria was able to show us two completed books with their new quarter tanned leather bindings and two still in their original state.

Also at the consortium, Katerina Powell described a project to rehouse several hundred fragments of medieval music manuscripts owned by Merton College.

Merton fragments and their new boxes

Merton fragments and their new boxes

Many were used as pastedowns or wrappers in Merton manuscripts or early printed books. They are listed in Rod Thomson’s 2009 catalogue of the Merton manuscripts. Katerina has produced a set of folders and boxes for the collection, balancing the need to provide secure and appropriate storage with the desire to keep the fragments accessible so that they can be used for teaching purposes.

Moving away from medieval manuscripts, Arthur Green of the Bodleian conservation department talked about the conservation of a set of wet-transfer copies from the Abinger Collection, an important collection of letters, papers and notebooks from the Godwin and Shelley families. Wet-transfer copying was a reprographic process patented by James Watt (of steam engine fame) in the 1780s in which a document written with special ink was inserted in a press with a thin sheet of paper. The text was thus transferred onto the thin sheet which was translucent enough to be read from the other side, with the words the right way round. These thin sheets obviously present a particular challenge to conservators due to their fragility and the particular chemicals employed in the dye and the paper. The loose sheets are now conserved in fascicules which allows them to be handled and read safely.

The final speaker, Sallyanne Gilchrist, talked about an often overlooked aspect of the conservator’s role: preparing for and installing exhibitions. Her case-study was the enormously ambitious loan of 69 items for Love and Devotion, an exhibition of Persian manuscripts held at the State Library of Victoria in Australia in March-July 2012. Long before installation there was a enormous list of tasks including consolidating pigments and other repairs to the selected items, producing condition reports and profiles, making frames and cradles, planning crate layouts and supervising shipments. Regular communication with and intense visits from SLV staff helped to build good relationships between the key individuals involved and kept the process on track. The exhibition was a great success in Melbourne and a version of it has just opened at the Bodleian (until 28 April 2013).

Getting to the Bodleian conservation centre at Osney Mead was something of a challenge due to recent flooding…

Flooding on the road to Osney Mead

Flooding on the road to Osney Mead

… but whilst there we saw a variety of work, including this unfinished illuminated manuscript which provides valuable evidence of its process of manufacture.

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I was lucky enough last week to visit Barcelona, accompanying the globe-trotting Machaut manuscript (Ferrell MS 1) which was recently on exhibition in Paris. But it has important Spanish as well as French connections so it’s appropriate that it’s now on view in a new exhibition at the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya (MNAC). Although Ferrell MS 1 belonged to and was possibly made for Gaston Fébus, Count of Foix, who was celebrated in the recent Paris exhibition, it seems to have been given by him as a gift to Yolande of Bar (1365-1431), wife of King John I of Aragon. It thus entered the Aragonese royal collection and is listed in the 1417 inventory of the books of King Alfonso V of Aragon (“El Magnanimo”).

The MNAC exhibition is entitled ‘Catalonia 1400: the International Gothic Style‘ and the Machaut manuscript is on display in the first section of the exhibition which explores the close relationship the courts of Aragon and Catalonia had with France, particularly as it was expressed through the exchange of gifts, including jewels and manuscripts, and the impact that relationship had on cultural and artistic sensibilities in late 14th and 15th century Catalonia.

Installation of an exhibition is a stressful time but it was lovely to meet some of the people that we’ve been corresponding with over the last two years or so in arranging the loan, including the loans co-ordinator, registrar, exhibition curator and his assistants and the manuscript conservator:

MNAC staff

MNAC staff

Once the manuscript was safely installed, I had a quick look at the rest of the exhibition which contains some beautiful manuscripts, silver and altarpieces. I particularly admired the work of the Catalan artist Bernat Martorell. The curator, Rafael Cornudella, was especially delighted to have Martorell’s St George retable from the Louvre in the exhibition.

The rest of the museum contains some absolutely stunning works of medieval art, notably numerous Romanesque wall paintings from churches across the Spanish Pyrenees which were collected and preserved in the 1920s. The collection of Gothic altarpieces is also exceptional.

Corpus Christi image

Corpus Christi image

This is a detail from one I really liked which depicts various miracles associated with the Eucharist from a chapel dedicated to Corpus Christi. Having read many exempla stories from all over Europe which describe hosts bleeding when stabbed (proving that they truly are Christ’s body), it’s exciting to see the same narrative depicted so clearly in contemporary church decoration.

MNAC is definitely worth a visit, especially while the Catalonia 1400 exhibition is on. It closes on 15 July.

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The Romance of the Middle Ages

The Romance of the Middle Ages

I was in Oxford recently and made a beeline for the current exhibition at the Bodleian Library, The Romance of the Middle Ages. It’s well worth a visit.

It covers everything from early romances such as Horn and Havelok the Dane (MS Laud Misc. 108) through cycles relating the tales of Troy, Tristan, Arthur and Alexander, many of which are beautifully illustrated, such as the Roman de Troÿle, a French prose adaptation of Boccaccio’s Il filostrato (MS Douce 331). Romance is truly international: Arthur appears in the Welsh Red Book of Hergest (Oxford, Jesus College, MS 111) and Alexander is present in the Flemish Roman d’Alexandre (MS Bodley 264) and, as Iskandar, in the Persian Shahnama (MS Ouseley Add. 176). Perhaps unexpectedly, the earliest manuscript of the French national epic, Chanson de Roland, turns out to belong to the Bodleian (MS Digby 23 (part 2)).

As well as treasures from the Bodleian’s own collections, there are also significant borrowed items, such as the only surviving manuscript of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (British Library, Cotton MS Nero A. x).

There’s a fascinating section in the exhibition on medieval romance after the Middle Ages incorporating everything from Shakespeare’s later plays and The Faerie Queene through chapbooks, the Percy folio and Walter Scott, via the Pre-Raphaelites and the Inklings to Terry Jones’ copy of the shooting script for Monty Python and the Holy Grail. My favourite item was C.S. Lewis’ copy of J.R.R. Tolkien and E.V. Gordon’s 1925 edition of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (Arch. H e.55). Lewis has annotated the poem’s description of the knight’s armour with a beautiful drawing.

The exhibition is free and runs until 13 May. If you can’t make it there in person, there’s a beautifully illustrated catalogue by the exhibition curators, Nicholas Perkins and Alison Wiggins, and a mini-documentary.

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This is a guest post by Lucy Hughes, Modern Archivist at Corpus.

This one-day conference held at Clare College, Cambridge, on 6 March 2012 was timed to commemorate the 100-year anniversary of the birth of J. C. T. Oates, author of the landmark catalogue of incunabula in Cambridge University Library. It was organised by Satoko Tokunaga, who was a visiting Research Fellow at Corpus Christi College between 2010 and 2011, and was supported by the EIRI Project of Keio University, Tokyo, and the Cambridge University Library Incunabula Cataloguing Project.

The theme – ‘Incunabula on the Move’ – stimulated reflections on how books have been traded and exchanged in a physical sense, changing geographical and institutional locations over time, as well as how they have sometimes been recontextualised in a more abstract sense. The exchange of ideas between bibliographers like Oates, Bradshaw and their associates, was shown to be as dynamic as many of the books themselves are well-travelled. Satoko’s own paper showed us how patterns of rubrication can yield clues to the history of book production, whilst Paul Needham’s paper on Ulrich Zel – whose productions were often printed without dates – showed how the study of paper stocks can help with establishing possible chronologies. Eric White, of Bridwell Library at the Southern Methodist University, reminded us how valuable auction catalogues can be as a source for tracing the histories of individual copies and their owners, whilst John Goldfinch’s paper gave intriguing insights into the custodianship of incunabula at the British Library historically, and the exchange of books between it and Cambridge University Library. After lunch we were treated to reflections by Toshiyuki Takamiya and Lotte Hellinga, who both drew on their personal memories of Oates as scholar and mentor. This brought the day to a fitting conclusion, although for those able to stay longer there was an opportunity to view a selection of incunabula at the University Library. It was a very inspiring occasion, attended by a range of participants from across the book history, book-dealing and library worlds, and also by many young scholars.

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Here’s the splendid 16th-century Hof van Liere where the  conference took place:

Hof van Liere, University of Antwerp

Hof van Liere, University of Antwerp

The first part  of my report is here.

The second day of the conference provided lots of stimulating examples of training for special collections librarians from around the world.

Susan Allen described the activities of the California Rare Book School which was established in 2005  and provides short, intensive courses on a variety of subjects from the History of the Book in Hispanic America to Intellectual Property and other Legal Issues.

Hélène Richard discussed the nature of training for special collections librarians in France. Many municipal libraries hold important special collections but not all have staff who have undertaken the heritage management training programme offered at ENSSIB (the French national library school). A range of continuing education courses have been developed for library staff covering issues such as cataloguing, preservation, digitisation and legal matters.

Raphaële Mouren of ENSSIB described the new Masters course in special collections librarianship that she has been involved in developing and spoke of the importance of the 3Cs – Cataloguing, Conservation and Communication.

Monique Hulvey of the Bibliothèque municipale de Lyon spoke about the excellent outreach work being done there, connecting the history of the book with the history of the city. After creating a provenance database, staff have linked historic libraries and individual books to particular neighbourhoods and streets. They use old maps of the city and walking tours to bring collections to life for the public. They emphasise the particular role of Lyon in the book trade, for example, looking at the Rue Mercière, where many printers and booksellers premises were located in the 16th century. The aim is to stimulate curiosity among local people and visitors; the popular lunchtime sessions with guest speakers are billed not as lectures but as an ‘hour of discovery‘.

Adriana Paolini‘s work is also about stimulating curiosity – and creativity. She talked about projects that she runs with children and young people using objects from special collections to promote writing and reading – and the training that she gives to librarians to conduct such workshops.

Diederik Lannoye spoke about the training workshop in analytical bibliography that has been developed as part of the STCV (Short-title catalogue of Flanders) project. Staff in participating institutions have received practical training in the basics of rare book cataloguing – and the specifics of the STCV method, including bibliographical fingerprints, which follow the STCN model.

Anne Welsh of the Dept of Information Studies at UCL described the new historical bibliography module that she has developed, focusing particularly on the value of experiential learning. The module involves practical sessions working with special collections material and a visit to St Bride Library. Students even had an opportunity to set and print their own text.

Giliola Barbero, who teaches at the Catholic University of Milan, commented on the importance of those involved in the curation of manuscripts and rare books in Italian libraries having some knowledge of IT. She described the gradual introduction of IT into the teaching of cultural heritage management to meet that need. A new postgraduate degree in electronic cataloguing of cultural heritage has now been developed at .

Like Anne, Katie Henningsen of the Archives Dept at the University of Kentucky focused on the value of hands-on experience in learning, but this time, with new rather than old technology. She devised a project for a student intern which involved evaluating digital image software, selecting a suitable product, developing a digital exhibition and writing a guide for other staff in the use of the software. They chose to use OMEKA, an open source software. Katie discussed the problems they encountered, how they overcame them – and showed some of their impressive results.

The final speaker of the day was Michael Suarez, S.J., the director of the Rare Book School at the University of Virginia. His talk was a wide-ranging and inspiring call to special collections librarians to think about the value of the profession and the importance of our role in mediating the encounter with the material object; we need to animate the bones and make it live.

All in all, an excellent conference with a diverse group of stimulating speakers addressing an important theme. Many thanks to Pierre for organising it!

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