Claire Bolton, ‘Fallen’ type letters
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History of Libraries Summer School – Lincoln College, 13-15 July 2016
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The first Lincoln Summer School in the History of libraries was a spectacular success, thanks to a very strong programme, the generosity of knowledge and time of the many Oxford colleagues involved in the teaching and presentations, the professionalism and friendliness of Lincoln College staff, and a perfectly balanced selection of attendees.
The programme focused on the application of the digital humanities to the transmission, preservation, and dispersal of the European written heritage between the 15th and 16th centuries. Oxford scholars and digital projects lead the way in the fields of the transmission of written heritage, the history of libraries, and in the development of cutting-edge digital tools, funded by important institutions and in collaboration with research libraries in Europe and the United States.
The Summer School involved a series of five visits (Merton, Weston, Lincoln, Bodleian, All Souls), ten lectures, and eleven hours of workshops on primary sources and specialist databases.
Visits started with the medieval library of Merton College, led by Julia Walworth, Research Fellow and Librarian of the college, who also exhibited their earliest borrowing list. We then moved to the Visiting Scholars Centre of the new Weston Library, where Irene Ceccherini (Lyell-Bodleian Research Fellow in Manuscript Studies and Dilts Research Fellow, Lincoln College) presented manuscript material from the Bodleian’s Canonici collection, James Willoughby (Research Fellow at New College) manuscripts from English medieval libraries, Alan Coates and Francesca Galligan (Rare Books Dept. Bodleian Library) incunabula, sixteenth-century printed material, and the Bodleian’s rich documentary sources for the reconstruction of its collections – acquisitions registers from 1602, the purchase ledger of Albert Ehrman, whose outstanding Broxbourne Collection was donated to the library in 1978.
The school then moved to Lincoln College, where Richard Sharpe (Professor of Diplomatic, University of Oxford) offered an illuminating lecture on the development of medieval libraries in Great Britain, followed by James Willoughby on the digital resources created to investigate them. As Professor Sharpe’s opening remarks reminded us, “when studying the survival of medieval libraries in Great Britain we have to learn how to deal with fragments”. The chief tool is Medieval Libraries of Great Britain, digital version MLGB3 which brings together two standard research tools for medieval libraries: Neil Ker’s Medieval Libraries of Great Britain and the British Academy series, Corpus of British Medieval Library Catalogues. MLGB3 is a comprehensive project that reconstructs the contents of medieval institutional libraries by uniting two categories of evidence for the medieval provision of books: first, the extant library catalogues and booklists and other documentary sources; and second, the surviving books themselves that bear evidence on which a judgement of provenance can be made. A key component is the List of Identifications, the cumulative index of identified authors and works, which contains more than 30,000 entries for provenanced copies of about 7,500 texts, and it is still growing.
The day moved on to fifteenth-century printed books, incunabula, with a lecture by Cristina Dondi on the database
which is specifically designed to record and search the material evidence of 15th-century printed books: ownership, decoration, binding, manuscript annotations, stamps, prices, etc. Locating and dating any of these elements enables the movement of books across Europe and the US to be tracked throughout the centuries, from place of production to the books’ present locations; (see also Imprint September 2015 issue).
The Group moved to Lincoln College Library, where Fiona Piddock, the College Librarian, introduced the history of the remarkable building, and Sarah Cusk and Rahel Fronda (Western and Hebrew Antiquarian Cataloguers, Lincoln College) presented some of the many treasures from the Senior Library. Back in the Oakeshott Room, Professor Henry Woudhuysen, Lincoln’s Rector, offered a wide-ranging lecture on the continuation of production and use of English manuscripts after the invention of printing.
The first intense day of the Summer School ended with a lovely dinner at St Edmund’s Hall, where we were received by Nigel Palmer, emeritus Professor of Medieval German Literature and an advisor to the 15cBOOKTRADE Project, who also showed us the College’s Senior Library and gardens after dinner.
On the second day Richard Ovenden, Bodley’s Librarian, gave us a lecture in the Weston Lecture Theatre on the history of the Bodleian Library and on the ongoing plan to write a new history of it, but taking the distance from the traditional insiders’ approach, trying instead to focus on different approaches, including the intellectual output resulting from the use of the library. Richard also took the time to show the school around Duke Humfrey’s library, the Divinity School, and Convocation House.
Back at Lincoln, Prof. Sharpe offered a magisterial excursus on the transmission of texts during the patristic and medieval times, which was followed on by Dondi’s lecture on the transmission of texts in print and the database TEXT-inc .
which, continuing the pioneering text descriptions of the Bodleian catalogue of incunabula, Bod-inc, is designed to host and make searchable the corpus of texts printed in the 15th century, including secondary works and paratext.
In the afternoon, Matilde Malaspina, member of the 15cBOOKTRADE and DPhil student at Lincoln under the supervision of Dr Dondi, introduced the work on image-matching technology applied to fifteenth-century illustration.
Then the workshop sessions on 15cBOOKTRADE databases started, with a group working on the image annotation software (led by Matilde Malaspina), another on Text-inc (led by Alessandra Panzanelli Fratoni), and three groups on MEI (led by Geri Della Rocca de Candal, Sabrina Minuzzi, and Cristina Dondi): some attendees had brought provenance material from incunabula in their libraries, such as the Wellcome Library in London, the University of Warsaw, the Scientific Library of the Polish Academy of Arts and Sciences and the Polish Academy of Sciences, the National and University Library of Ljubljana, the Correr and Cini libraries of Venice; the others trained using information that we received from a private collector, John Gordan. The impressive collection created by his grandfather Howard Lehman Goodhart in the 1940s was in part donated to Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania (some 1013 editions), in part is still kept in the family. John Gordan provided the 15cBOOKTRADE with a digital reproduction of the 1940s typewritten catalogue which we started to input into MEI. The most immediate result of this work is a collaboration with Bryn Mawr, whose librarian, Eric Pomeroy, got in touch to provide further information and images of the provenance evidence inside the books.
The second day of the school ended with a visit to All Souls College led by the College Librarian, Gaye Morgan, and a tour de force lecture on the production and distribution of the European academic book in print by Ian Maclean, emeritus Professor of Renaissance Studies, which touched upon many extraordinary volumes set up in an exhibition and illustrated in a leaflet especially printed for the Summer School visit.
The beautiful Summer evening dinner was spent along the river Cherwell, at the Cherwell Boathouse.
The final day of the school concentrated on more training time spent on the databases, with the objective of having everybody working confidently on the new resources so that they can continue on after the school. In the afternoon there were short presentations by some of the participants involved in other, relevant, projects or about their library:
Vicky Gerontopulou presented the work on Greek heritage collections of the Onassis Foundantion. Fryderyk Rozen presented an assessment of the cataloguing of incunabula in Poland. Silvia Manzi presented her PhD research on censorship in Italy and the use of the vernacular. Laura Carnelos on her PATRIMONTiT project funded by a Marie Curie grant to study the historical and cultural context surrounding the survival, in the British Library, of rare Italian sixteenth-century popular editions which are not preserved today in any Italian library. Sonja Svoljšak on the reconstruction of the scientific library collection of Žiga Zois‘ (1747-1819), now in the National and University Library of Ljubljana. Paulina Pludra-Żuk on tracking the manuscript production and circulation in Poland of the Aurora by Peter Riga, a 12th-century versed Bible.
The day and the school concluded with the video presentation of scientific visualisation applied to the circulation of books over time and space, 15cV: https://vimeo.com/172076861
The purpose of the video, created by Simon Walton of the Oxford e-Research centre, is to present to a larger audience the life of incunabula, from the time they are printed in the late fifteenth century, to the time they enter the libraries where they are today; the formation and dispersal of libraries; and the circulation of texts.
There are very clear temporal and spatial coordinates attached to the life cycle of a book which can be visualised: when and where it was printed, and where it is today. What the 15cBOOKTRADE uniquely offers on top of these is the difficult part, what happens in between, during the 500 years in which books were distributed, often away from their printing place, used, annotated, and collected by people of different professions, status, and gender, in different countries at different times.
25 people attended the Summer School, from nine different countries: Austria (1), Greece (1), Ireland (1), Italy (8), Poland (3), Slovenia (1), Spain (1), the United Kingdom (6), the United States (3). A balanced combination of specialist librarians and scholars, young and senior, interested in the medieval and the early modern period, in manuscripts and in printed books. However decidedly more women (21) than men (4).
Among the 13 specialist librarians were Sonja Svoljšak, Rare Books Department of the National and University Library of Ljubljana; Agnieszka Fabiańska, MSS Department of the University of Warsaw Library; Fryderyk Rozen, Department of Early Printed Books of the National Library of Poland; Dorothy Fouracre, of the London Royal College Surgeons Library, the recipient of the grant offered by the Library & Information History Group of the Chartered Institute of Library and information Professionals (=CILIP); Elaine Harrington, from the Special Collections Department of Cork University Library (UCC); Chiara De Vecchis, from the Library of the Senate, Rome; Cristiana Iommi, from the Biblioteca comunale Spezioli of Fermo (The Marche); Ilenia Maschietto, from the Library of Fondazione Cini of Venice; Claudia Funke, from Chapel Hill, North Carolina and from September Associate Director of Collections at the Huntington Library of San Marino California; Elma Brenner, of the Wellcome Library of London; Will Hale, Rare Books Deptartment, Cambridge University Library; Vicky Gerontopulou of the Onassis Foundantion in Athens; Monica Viero, from the Library of Museo Correr of Venice.
Among the 12 scholars were Lilian Armstrong, Emerita Professor of the History of Art, Wellesley College, and an advisor to the 15cBOOKTRADE project; Alisa Beer, PhD student in the History Department at Fordham University (New York); Laura Carnelos, Marie Curie Fellow at CERL (London); Hannah Ryley, PhD student in the English Department in Oxford, Worcester College; Paulina Pludra-Żuk, PhD student in Medieval History at the University of Warsaw and a staff member at the Institute for the History of Science (Polish Academy of Sciences); Eugenia Croce, from Taranto (Italy) pursuing a career in librarianship; Silvia Manzi, PhD student in History at the University of Teramo (Italy); Claudia Catalano, PhD student in Librarianship at the University of Rome La Sapienza; Thomas Kohlwein, MA student in media technology and comparative literature at the University of Vienna; Sian Witherden, PhD student in the English Department in Oxford, Balliol College; Desiree Arbo, PhD student in Classics and Ancient History at the University of Warwick; Andrea Puentes-Blanco, Phd in Early Modern History at the University of Barcelona, part of a project funded by the Spanish National Research Council on books of Hispanic poliphony (1450-1650).
Hannah and Sian have already decided to continue their work in MEI to enhance their opportunity of employment in the world of digital humanities.
A questionnaire was circulated after the School, enquiring about the overall experience, their view of the balance between visits, lectures, and workshops; Oxford and Lincoln College as a location; the quality of the visits, the speakers, and the digital tools; the topics; the overall organisation; and their impression of fellow colleagues; what they found most useful, was there anything that we should consider doing differently, or that we should add. Responses, which could be filled anonymously, were all overwhelmingly positive (“It was stimulating, excellent, and interesting”, “very well organised, interesting and useful”, “I enjoyed it very much! It was a wonderful experience and nice time”, “its perfect balance of visits/lectures/workshops, the appropriate (comfortable, efficient and also beautiful!) location, the kindness of the staff, the excellent quality of the visits, speakers, digital tools and of the overall organisation. Meeting fellow colleagues has been a stimulating and pleasant opportunity”, “Good balance of workshops, lectures, and visits, so that although it was intense, there was enough variation (and coffee) to keep us going. Great location in Lincoln College”, “I’ve been very involved in the workshops, especially on the last two days, and I have strongly appreciated the methodological approach to the history of libraries, combining the knowledge of the context and the experience of powerful digital resources”, “all the colleagues came from very different backgrounds, which was an invaluable richness”); with more than one attending only wishing it had lasted longer.
The website of the Summer School is still available on
From the organisers’ point of view, the Summer School was a successful pilot for our plan to set up an advanced Masters Course in the understanding, use, and care of pre-modern manuscripts, archives, and printed books.
Our aim is to train the next generation of British and international librarians in the care of special collections, use of advanced digital resources, close collaboration with the research world, and a generation of scholars in any discipline which deals with books not shy of handling and working with primary sources.