Entries Tagged as 'british library'

The British Library Journal is Now Online

NEWS: The British Library Journal (eBLJ) is Now Online.

A few months ago, the British Library drew your attention to the Electronic British Library Journal, which publishes scholarly research into the history of the BL and its collections (Medieval News and Views). The eBLJ (for short) is the successor to the British Library Journal, which appeared between 1975 and 1999. We are delighted to report that articles from the British Library Journal are now available online, bringing the combined back catalogue of the British Library Library and eBLJ into one simple location.

A full listing of British Library Journal articles from 1975 onwards is found here. Below you will find hyperlinks to those contributions relating to ancient, medieval and early modern manuscripts. The topics covered include Magna Carta, Codex Sinaiticus, the Bedford Hours, the Cotton Genesis, Christine de Pizan, and the Sforza Hours; while a quick glance at the list of contributors – among them Janet Backhouse, Christopher de Hamel, Thomas Kren, Nigel Morgan and Colin Tite – emphasizes the journal’s scholarly reputation.

The library continues to welcome contributions to the Electronic British Library Journal, and will also endeavour to publicise the fruits of that research in the Medieval and Earlier Manuscripts Blog.

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The Pleasure of Discovery

CALL FOR PAPERS: The Pleasure of Discovery, Session at the Leeds International Medieval Congress 2013.

It’s Call-for-Papers week at the British Library’s Medieval and Earlier Manuscripts department! We are pleased to announce that the BL will be inviting contributions for several sponsored sessions at the IMC in Leeds 2013.  The Congress will take place from 1-4 July 2013, and will focus on the theme of ‘Pleasure’ (for more information on the 2013 Congress, please click here).

In keeping with this ‘Pleasure’ theme, we would like to invite papers in the following two categories:

1. Books of Pleasure / The Pleasure of Books:
The book was a source of pleasure throughout the Middle Ages, from Augustine’s ‘book of the heart’ to Richard de Bury’s Philobiblon. The very nature of pleasure—what it entailed and whence it derived—was not uniform, and artists, authors and readers all expressed their pleasure in a variety of forms. This session seeks papers that address the pleasure given (and taken) from books. Topics to be addressed might include (but are not limited to) any of the following:
- visual or narrative depictions of leisure and pleasure / the iconography of pleasure
- the complexities and contradictions of writing about or illustrating pleasure
- explorations of the pleasure of books: creating, illuminating, owning, or reading

2. The Pleasure of Discovery: Recent Research and New Perspectives on British Library Manuscripts:
The Manuscripts Reading Room in the British Library is often privileged to witness new discoveries and the birth of fresh perspectives on objects in our collections. The pleasure in the moment of discovery and the urge to shout ‘Eureka!’ is, however, often muted out of respect for fellow researchers and the necessity of keeping quiet in a place of work. In the spirit of this conference theme, we invite papers that give full expression to the pleasures of discovery.

We are particularly interested in any recent research, new assessments, or (as yet) unpublished discoveries within the medieval manuscripts in the British Library’s collections and encourage participants to re-live their initial jubilation in the moment of discovery.

Papers accepted for inclusion in the British Library’s sponsored sessions may be submitted for peer-review for special publication in the Electronic British Library Journal (the eBLJ). The British Library will also make available any extant manuscript photography for participants for use in their presentations.

Please email your abstract of about 100 words (per 20 minute paper) no later than 17 September 2012 to Sarah J Biggs. Please feel free to contact the BL with any questions.

Bursaries are available from the IMC to help defray the cost of accommodation and registration.

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Illuminated Manuscripts and Their Users

CALL FOR PAPERS: Illuminated Manuscripts and Their Users, Durham University, Wednesday, 6 June 2012 (beginning at 14.00) (click here).

The first session will focus on the use of digital resources in manuscript research, with a presentation by Dr Joanna Fronska (The British Library), Behind the scenes process of digitisation, followed by a roundtable discussion of the use and value of online digital resources.

The second session will consist of short panel presentations/discussion on illuminated manuscripts in the Royal collection, addressing one of the following questions:
* How were the illuminated manuscripts in the royal library used and received by their owners?
* What are the characteristics of illustrated manuscripts collected by English monarchs?
* How did monastic manuscripts enter the royal collection, or what was their function within the library?
* How representative is what survives of the royal library, and why is there a relative lack of liturgical or private devotional books in the royal collection?

The content of the presentations will be circulated before the workshop to enable participants to formulate questions/responses in advance.

If you would like to be considered as a presenter, please submit a 500-word essay to Professor Richard Gameson. Deadline: 25 May 2012.

Learn more about the Royal Workshop.

The Psalter of Henry VI is Now Online

NEWS: The Psalter of Henry VI is Now Online.

Regular readers of the British Library blog will know that the British Library currently has a number of projects underway to make fully digitised medieval manuscripts available on the Digitised Manuscripts website – including the long-running Greek manuscript project, Harley Science, and our most recent undertaking, which will include a number of manuscripts from the Royal exhibition.

Alongside these projects is an ongoing effort to upload some of the British Library’s manuscript treasures, such as the Lindisfarne Gospels, the Old English Hexateuch, and the Æthelstan Psalter. Today we are pleased to announce the latest addition to this group – the Psalter of Henry VI (Cotton MS Domitian A. XVII), a beautifully illuminated 15th century Parisian manuscript.

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Unicorn Cookbook Found at the British Library

NEWS: Unicorn Cookbook Found at the British Library.

A long-lost medieval cookbook, containing recipes for hedgehogs, blackbirds and even unicorns, has been discovered at the British Library. Professor Brian Trump of the British Medieval Cookbook Project described the find as near-miraculous. “We’ve been hunting for this book for years. The moment I first set my eyes on it was spine-tingling.”

Experts believe that the cookbook was compiled by Geoffrey Fule, who worked in the kitchens of Philippa of Hainault, Queen of England (1328-1369). Geoffrey had a reputation for blending unusual flavours – one scholar has called him “the Heston Blumenthal of his day” – and everything points to his hand being behind the compilation.

After recipes for herring, tripe and codswallop (fish stew, a popular dish in the Middle Ages) comes that beginning “Taketh one unicorne”. The recipe calls for the beast to be marinaded in cloves and garlic, and then roasted on a griddle. The cookbook’s compiler, doubtless Geoffrey Fule himself, added pictures in its margins, depicting the unicorn being prepared and then served. Sarah J Biggs, a British Library expert on medieval decoration, commented that “the images are extraordinary, almost exactly as we’d expect them to be, if not better”.

The recipe for cooking blackbirds is believed to be the origin of the traditional English nursery rhyme “Sing a song of sixpence / A pocket full of rye / Four-and-twenty blackbirds / Baked in a pie.” Professor Trump added that he was tempted to try some of the recipes, but suspected that sourcing ingredients would be challenging. “Unfortunately, they don’t stock unicorn in my local branch of Tesco.”

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The British Library Online Catalogues

WEBSITES: Regular users of the British Library will know that two online manuscripts catalogues are currently in operation. The new system has the catchy title SOCAM (Search Our Catalogue: Archives and Manuscripts), and now contains all the catalogue descriptions previously available online, plus those for manuscripts catalogued since 2009. This is to encourage you to start using SOCAM as soon as possible, because the old system, MOLCAT (Manuscripts Online Catalogue), will be switched off in autumn 2012.

SOCAM has many advantages over the old system, for both users and cataloguers. In particular, it has an enhanced search facility, hopefully making it easier for users to locate what they’re looking for — no mean feat when you consider that most medieval manuscripts lack title-pages and sometimes any indication of date or place of origin. From the cataloguers’ perspective, there are now clear guidelines across the British Library as to which information should be recorded. Historically, different departments — the India Office, Asian and African Studies, Photographs and so forth — had different cataloguing standards, which have now been amalgamated for the benefit of our users.

Followers of the BL MSS blog may recall that cataloguing manuscripts isn’t a modern phenomenon. In a post published in October 2011 (Beauty in the eye of the beholder), we drew your attention to a late 12th or early 13th century catalogue compiled for the Benedictine monks of Rochester Cathedral. Then as now, the need to know what was to be found in a given library, and what each manuscript contains, is paramount.

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Six-month Volunteership at the British Library

Thanks to the generosity of the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation, the British Library is this year again able to offer a six-month volunteership for an American doctoral student to participate in the project team of the Medieval and Earlier Manuscripts section of the History and Classics Department.

The student will be involved in all aspects of the work of the Medieval and Earlier Manuscripts section, including responding to enquiries, providing talks for students and patrons, selecting and presenting manuscripts for display in our exhibition gallery, and cataloguing, and thereby gaining insight into various curatorial duties and aspects of collection care.  During the volunteership at the Library, the student will enjoy privileged access to printed and manuscript research material, and will work alongside specialists with wide-ranging and varied expertise.  The student’s primary focus would be on supplementing the online Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts, by researching and adding descriptions of medieval manuscripts or illuminated incunabula, including the selection of pages to be photographed and reproduced.

The position is designed to provide an opportunity for the student to develop research skills and expertise in medieval and Renaissance art and history, and presenting manuscripts to a range of audiences.  This opportunity will contribute significantly to the ongoing work of the Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts and the Medieval and Earlier section.

Qualifications: The programme is only open to US citizens who are engaged actively in research towards, or have recently completed, a PhD in a subject area relevant to the study of pre-1600 illuminated manuscripts or incunabula.

Terms: The term of the placement is for a period of six months.  The placement is voluntary and therefore unpaid.  However, the successful applicant will be reimbursed in respect of actual expenses in the performance of his or her duties, such as direct travel expenses to London and commuting expenses to the British Library, accommodation, and immediate living expenses such as food (but not clothing), subject to a maximum of £8,000.  The volunteer will be responsible for making his or her own travel and accommodation arrangements.

If the applicant does not hold the right to work in the United Kingdom, the Library will sponsor the volunteer for a visa using the UK Border Agency’s points-based system under Tier 5 Charity Workers.  The successful candidate will be required to submit the relevant application form to the local processing centre.  The processing fee will be reimbursed by the Library.  No placement may commence until the appropriate right to work documents have been obtained and verified.

How to apply: Please send an application letter detailing the months you would be able to be in London, a résumé, and two reference letters to Dr Kathleen Doyle, Curator of Illuminated Manuscripts, The British Library, by email, or by post to 96 Euston Road, London NW1 2DB.  All applicants will be notified of the results by the end of April 2012.  A telephone interview may be held.

Deadline: 30 March 2012.

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The British Library ‘Harley Science Project’

The British Library has embarked on a project to digitise some of its most prestigious medieval and early modern scientific manuscripts. Generously funded by William and Judith Bollinger, the project will supply complete coverage of selected items from the Harley collection, augmented by revised catalogue records for the books in question.

Medieval and early modern manuscripts are vital for transmitting ancient scientific thought to the modern world. The texts they contain document the roots of modern scientific enquiry, based on observation, experimentation and the testing of hypotheses.

The Harley collection is particularly rich in such material. One of the foundation collections of the British Library, it contains more than 7,000 manuscripts and 14,000 charters, collected by Robert Harley, 1st Earl of Oxford and Mortimer (d. 1724), and his son Edward Harley (d. 1741). Edward Harley bequeathed the library to his widow, Henrietta, née Cavendish Holles (d. 1755), during her lifetime, and thereafter to their daughter, Margaret Cavendish Bentinck, Duchess of Portland (d. 1785). In 1753, the manuscripts were sold by the Countess and the Duchess to the British nation for £10,000 under the Act of Parliament that also established the British Museum.

The conservation, digitisation and cataloguing phases of this project are already underway. The manuscripts selected range in date from the 9th century to the 17th century, and are written in a variety of western European languages (including Latin, Old and Middle English, Dutch, French, German, Irish, Italian and Spanish). They embrace many aspects of early scientific knowledge, such as astronomy, the computus, mathematics, medicine and veterinary science.

It is anticipated that the Harley Science Project will provide full digital coverage and descriptions of some 150 manuscripts in the Harley collection. Not only to improve access to one of the British Library’s world-class collections, but to facilitate research and teaching devoted to those manuscripts.

The images and descriptions will be made available in due course via the Digitised Manuscripts site. Regular updates will be provided here as the project progresses.

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Hebrew Illuminated Manuscripts Online

Last year we told you about the British Library’s project to catalogue Hebrew illuminated manuscripts. Here is an update with a list of the books in question.

The British Library holds one of the world’s most important collections of Hebrew manuscripts, of which about 300 have some decoration. All of the illuminated manuscripts and those with significant decoration are part of the Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts. Their inclusion was made possible through grants from the American Trust for the British Library in memory of William T. Golden, the Harold Hyam Wingate Foundation, Roger and Julie Baskes, and an anonymous donor.

These Hebrew illuminated manuscripts range in date from the 10th to the 18th century, and their geographical division is just as wide, encompassing Europe, Northern Africa and the East. Most of them contain religious works, such as biblical and liturgical texts, but there are also a number of legal, philosophical and scientific books.

From the 13th century, Jewish books were examined by Christian censors in order to eliminate passages that were considered blasphemous. The first official list of prohibited Hebrew books (Index autorum et librorum prohibitorum) was published in 1559, but the expurgation or destruction of certain Hebrew books had started much earlier.

Official revisers, usually converted Jews, were appointed to revise Hebrew books and implement the restrictions. Many of the Hebrew items in the Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts were present in Italy at some point and include evidence that they were examined by censors.

Here is a list of Hebrew manuscripts in the British Library’s Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts.

The Lombard Herbal is Now a Facsimile

FACSIMILE: The British Library is a treasure trove of stunning manuscripts, not all of which are in the actual Royal exhibition. One of these books is an Italian herbal, made around the year 1440 (Sloane MS 4016), which contains several delightful images. The manuscript is a luxurious production, and you may like to know that a full-colour facsimile of it is available.

* Shelf mark: Sloane MS 4016
* Date: 1440
* Provenance: Italy (Lombardy)
* Size: 380 x 260 mm
* 218 pages, all illuminated
* Bound in embossed, dark green leather
* Full-colour commentary volume

In the Middle Ages, medicine was undoubtedly the scientific realm influenced most by the many cultural elements that contributed to shaping society. Its Greek foundations were added to by Latin, Byzantine, Arabic and Mozarabic contributions and others from further afield that were transmitted by cultures bordering on the western world.

As a result, each medicinal plant had as many names as the cultures using it to make remedies. But the variety of names used for a single plant in different cultures sometimes led to confusion. To avoid this risk, dictionaries were produced and botanical albums too, featuring pictures of the plants and other simples used in everyday therapeutic practices together with the various names they were called by the different peoples that comprised medieval society.

Codex Sloane 4016, currently in the collections at the British Library is one such book enabling the different names of these plants to be linked to the plants themselves. This helped avoid confusion and the disastrous consequences of giving a patient a simple other than the one prescribed by the physician.

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The ‘Athelstan Psalter’ is online

The British Library has the world’s largest holdings of Anglo-Saxon manuscripts. Images of one of these early books, the Athelstan Psalter, have now been added to Digitised Manuscripts, to join those already available of the Lindisfarne Gospels and Old English Hexateuch.

The so-called Athelstan Psalter (British Library MS Cotton Galba A XVIII) has an intriguing history. Written in North-East Francia in the 9th century, it had been taken to England by the 10th century, where it reputedly passed through the hands of Athelstan, king of Wessex and England (r. 924-939). At a much later stage, this Psalter was owned by Sir Robert Cotton (d. 1631), who added a frontispiece to the manuscript, formed of cuttings of the Breviary of Margaret of York, duchess of Burgundy, and what may have been a Book of Hours.

In October 1731, the Psalter suffered damage in a fire at Ashburnham House in Westminster, in which a handful of other manuscripts were completely destroyed. As you can see, the outer edges of its pages have been charred, and the parchment has warped in the heat of the fire.

The Athelstan Psalter is on display in our exhibition Royal Manuscripts: The Genius of Illumination until 13 March 2012. Of course, it’s only possible to have two pages visible to the public at any one time. Having the digital images available on Digitised Manuscripts means that, for the first time in its 1,200-year history, the Psalter’s pages can now be viewed in their entirety without having to handle the fragile manuscript.

You can read more about the Athelstan Psalter in the catalogue which accompanies Royal Manuscripts: The Genius of Illumination. In his catalogue-entry, Professor Richard Gameson (University of Durham) analyses the evidence for the Psalter’s association with King Athelstan, concluding that there are some signs to connect this manuscript with Winchester and with Athelstan’s court.

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The Royal Conference: A Retrospective

On 12-13 December the British Library hosted the Royal manuscripts’ conference in conjunction with our exhibition, Royal Manuscripts: The Genius of Illumination. Seventeen speakers gathered from the UK, continental Europe and America to shed new light on the Royal collection, and particularly on the manuscripts on display.

We are delighted with the conference’s success, and the feedback we have received has been overwhelmingly positive. Over 150 people were in attendance for two days of fascinating insights into the Royal manuscripts. Subjects ranged from some of the best known manuscripts in the exhibition—including the Shrewsbury Book (Royal 15 E. vi) and the itinerary of Matthew Paris (Royal 14 C. vii)—to some of the Royal collection’s less familiar treasures, like a humanist book containing hieroglyphic emblems (Royal 12 C. iii) and an (unusually) unillustrated but heavily annotated bestiary (Royal 2 C. xii). The evening talks given by Michael Wood and John Goodall were erudite and entertaining highlights for those attending the conference, as was the exhibition itself.

On Monday morning, Professor Anthony Edwards and Professor Matthew Fisher focused on the output and authorial interventions of two respective scribes of Royal manuscripts: the sixteenth-century poet William Forrest, whose poems survive in three Royal manuscripts (Royal 17 A. xxi, Royal 17 D. iii and Royal 18 C. xiii), and the so-called Harley Scribe, who was involved in copying some of the many texts within an intriguing multilingual English book (Royal 12 C. xii). A work of one of medieval England’s most famous scribes and authors, Matthew Paris, was the subject of the next paper, by Professor Dorothy Kim. In the second session, Kim and Erin K. Donovan both considered how two vastly different Royal manuscripts, the latter (Royal 15 E. i) destined for Edward IV, visualise the East.

In the afternoon, Dr Alixe Bovey and Dr Olivier de Laborderie examined representations of royalty in the Smithfield Decretals (Royal 10 E. iv) and the two roll chronicles of English kings featured in the exhibition (Royal 14 B. v and Royal 14 B. vi), respectively. The afternoon concluded with a session dedicated to the Shrewsbury book. The speakers—Dr Marigold Norbye, Sara Torres and Jade Bailey—then took part in a lively panel discussion in which they discussed the different angles from which that fascinating manuscript might be explored.

Tuesday morning’s first session was dedicated to the reading of words and images in manuscripts. Dr Maud Pérez-Simon and Professor Anne D. Hedeman each examined a Royal manuscript whose oft-illuminated contents—the Roman d’Alexandre in prose (Royal 20 B. xx) and the Grandes chroniques (Royal 16 G. vi), respectively—are paired with unique and fascinating miniatures. They were followed by Dr Thomas Kren and Lieve de Kesel, whose papers paired manuscripts (including Royal 16 F. ii and Royal 19 C. viii) in a fruitful dialogue uncovering new insights into the style of their production.

In the afternoon, Dr Ilya Dines and Professor Lucy Freeman Sandler considered how word and image, respectively, shed new light on the readers of two Royal books, the annotated bestiary and the splendid Welles Apocalypse (Royal 15 D. ii). In the final session, Dr Joanna Frońska and Dr Sonja Drimmer gave papers dedicated to two books—a book of astrological treatises and political prophecies (Arundel 66) and the book illustrating and defining hieroglypics—whose somewhat unusual or esoteric contents were intended for a royal audience.

Funding for the exhibition and conference was provided by a grant from the Arts and Humanities Research Council. Student bursaries were generously supported by AMARC.

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