Books of Hours

The seminar is over, I’ve had my celebratory glass of beer with some new friends, and I’m back to my room for the evening. I’m going to read another chapter or two of Possession: A Romance, find some food, and write a couple more posts for today’s Day of DH.

This afternoon, the seminar focused on Books of Hours. Now, BofHs are not things that I have cared much about. For one thing, there are bunches of them. Some are really nice, some aren’t, some are only remaining in fragments, some are complete, but really, how can something so ubiquitous possibly be interesting? Well, Tim Graham found a way to make them interesting. We talked through the “typical” organization of texts in a BofH, which looks like this:

  • Calendar
  • Gospel Sequences: four gospel texts, one from each: beginning of St. John’s Gospel; Annunciation from Luke; Matthew birth of Christ and Wise Men; Mark’s narration of the last appearance of the resurrected Christ to disciples, and his ascension. Typically include illustrations of each evangelist.
  • Two prayers addressed to Mary: Obsecro te; O intemerata
  • Hours of the Virgin
  • Hours of the Cross – no text for Lauds
  • Hours of the Holy Spirit – no text for Lauds
  • Seven Penitential Psalms – all said to have been composed by David after he sinned. Included to invoke forgiveness for your own sins.
  • Litany – list of names of saints, name of each saint followed by “pray for us” Order of saints included in a litany is not random. Begins with Trinity, then Mary, then archangels and angels, then apostles, then continues to go down hierarchy (martyrs, confessors, virgins)
  • Office of the Dead – prayers for Vespers, Matins, and Lauds the day before/morning a body is to be interred
  • Suffrages of the saints – prayers addressed to individual saints requesting assistance.

The order, apparently, isn’t fixed, but this is a common order. As Dr. Graham was talking through the details of each section and showing examples in slides, I searched MESA to find some examples and compared them to his examples. We actually have some nice Books of Hours at Penn, and I settled on Ms. Codex 1056 since, from a quick look at the contents, it seemed to include most of the sections listed by Dr. Graham.

There is nothing, I think, like seeing something you’ve seen before but finally feeling as though you understand it. I had a similar experience yesterday, when we were looking at pocket Bibles (and during the lecture I was comparing Dr. Graham’s notes with Penn’s own Ms. Codex 236, which I’ve seen presented, and in my own hand, in a few different contexts). But I finally feel as though I have some understanding of what Books of Hours were for, how they functioned, what the different parts of the books mean, and (perhaps most importantly) what they meant for the people who owned them. Particularly those Books of Hours that were owned by women (and we can tell those books that were written for women, as they use feminine endings in the prayers). And so when I say that “Dr. Graham made Books of Hours interesting”, what I really mean is that he explained them in simple enough terms for me to understand something about them, and I discovered that they were interesting after all.

And now I’m curious and I want to know more. How was it decided for any individual BofH what sections were to be included and in what order? Is there relevance to those decisions? And within the texts themselves, how much variance is there from one text to another? And – does it matter? I note that one of Penn’s Books of Hours (Ms. Codex 1566) is wee tiny and only appears to include the Hours of the Virgin, the Penitential Psalms, the Litany, and the Office of the Dead. Is it because it’s so small? Would these be the most basic-of-basic for BofH? Ms. Codex 1056 (referenced above) includes two additional texts in French. How common are these texts, and why include them?

And I’m reminded (again) of a few things. One, that often my lack of interest in things is due, not to those things not being interesting, but to my own lack of knowledge. Once I know a little, I begin to see how much more there is possible to know. And two, that every manuscript is different. All these Books of Hours, these dang Books of Hours, with (approximately) the same texts and (approximately) the same series of illustrations in (approximately) the same order, just one might be dull, two might be slightly interesting, but taken as a whole, seeing how each individual copy, and the variances among all the copies, add up to a whole that might, just might, add up to something larger than the sum of its parts. (I have a similar feeling about the Kalendarium project mentioned in an earlier post today – a single calendar might tell us something about that calendar, and possibly about the manuscript it’s attached to, but many hundreds of calendars together might inform Calendars as a whole)

And maybe this brings us back around to the theme of today – the Day of Digital Humanities. Scholarly work in manuscript studies – in calendars, and Books of Hours, and physical collation (my own current research focus, about which I’ll be presenting at Kalamazoo and DH2014) – is absolutely nothing new. Scholarship has been done on all this, and books written. But digital technologies enable us to access data, the same information we’ve been studying for generations, but more of it and in new ways. Just remember why – what is this for, this work I’m doing? I’m doing it because I want to know about manuscripts, and I want to help other people know about manuscripts, too. And although I believe that computers have so much to offer – compiling data, crunching it, visualizing it – the past couple of days has been a refreshing reminder that without a strong and serious understanding of manuscripts (whatever aspect of manuscripts or a manuscript I’m focused on), the technical stuff just doesn’t matter that much.

Overhead cameras are fabulous

The room we’re in in the Hollings Library at South Carolina has a WolfVision digital overhead. Dr. Graham has been using it to show manuscripts from the USC collection on the big monitor, so we can all see them.

Tim Graham showing a manuscript on the WolfVision.
Tim Graham showing a manuscript on the WolfVision.

We have a similar set-up in the Vitale II Media Lab at the Kislak Center – a WolfVision camera installed in the ceiling of the lab. We also use this to display manuscripts on large monitors, and it’s also set up with USB export so we can share the display through Skype or Google Hangout. It’s pretty wonderful.

Mary Tasillo leads a bookbinding workshop for English 034 Cultures of the Book.


Looking at a calendar.
Looking at a calendar.

We just spend just over an hour going over the details of medieval calendars. I was privileged to be part of a 2-day meeting, just a couple of weeks ago, to discuss a project to build a tool for crowdsourcing identification of elements in medieval calendars,* but it’s great to have a lower-level and detailed overview of all the various bits of information that come together in a medieval calendar.

  • Days are determined in reference to Kalends, Nones, and Ides, and numbered leading up to those days. For example, if the Ides falls on the 13th of the month, the 12th of that month is referred to as “II Ides”, the 11th as “III Ides” etc. This means that dates falling later in a month are numbered leading up to the first day of the following month. So, January 31 is referred to as “II Kalends February” (the second day before the Kalends of February)
  • Saints and feast days are noted for each day. Saints may be identified by rank (bishop, martyr, virgin, etc.), and the days may be weighted by color of ink used, indication that extra readings are to be done that day, etc.
  • Saints mentioned in calendars can help localize calendars. For example, we looked at an Anglo-Saxon manuscript that includes St. Swithun (from Winchester), St. Grimbaldus (also Winchester), and another Saint (whose name I didn’t note) from Wessex (the area of England where Winchester is located). So, all indications are that the calendar was intended for use in Winchester. Saints can also help us date calendars, at least set the earliest dates calendars could have been written (if a calendar includes a saint who died in 1135, you can bet the calendar itself must be dated sometime after that date)

The part of the calendar that I found most interesting is notes on how many hours of day and night there are for each month (I know these aren’t ubiquitous in calendars, until this morning I hadn’t noticed that information before, and a quick glance through some calendars I found through MESA  don’t show any). I wonder if it would be possible to help localize calendars using that information – the theory being that calendars for northern use would have longer nights during the winter and longer days during the summer. I asked Dr. Graham, and he isn’t aware of any work being done on that.

An interesting morning so far, learning information that is directly relevant to digital humanities projects I’m involved with.

*That meeting isn’t mine to discuss, but the project is moving forward and it is going to be AWESOME.

Starting The Day

As I wrote in my introductory post yesterday, for Day of DH I’m attending a seminar at the University of South Carolina, Understanding the Medieval Book. As a digital humanist who focuses primarily on developing technologies that help scholars to understand manuscripts, it’s vital that I understand them too. Which is why I’m here, in Columbia SC, on this rather dull and wet morning.

Outside the Riverside Inn, 7:55am.
Outside the Riverside Inn, 7:55am.

If you want to learn about medieval manuscripts, you can’t get much better than spending a day with Timothy Graham. Tim is the Director of the Medieval Studies Institute at the University of New Mexico, and the author (with Raymond Clemens) of Introduction to Manuscript Studies, which is THE book to read if you want to know more about these types of books. In addition to being knowledgable about every aspect of manuscripts, Tim is an amazing teacher, and he’s also a genuinely all-around nice guy.

Today is day two of the seminar. On day one, Tim led us step-by-step through the stages of creating a manuscript: slaughtering the animals, preparing the skin, all the steps of creating parchment, NOT cutting the parchment (because apparently there’s no indication of how that was actually done), forming quires. Today we’ll talk about binding.

I did learn some neat tricks about how to deal with figuring collation on tightly-bound manuscripts (I have real trouble finding where one quire ends and another begins unless the binding is loose enough to show daylight). If you can’t see daylight between quires, you can pay attention to 1) sewing in the center of quires (count from one sewing to another sewing and divide by two – which will either give you the number of sheets per quire, or if the number is odd, it will tell you the quires are not the same length or that pages have been added or removed between them); 2) stubs for added pages, 3) weirdness in the orientation of hair/flesh sides of the parchment. Awesome.

Hair/flesh? It makes sense that parchment has a hair side (the side that was on the outside of the living animal) and a flesh side (the side that was on the inside of a living animal). It is more or less easy to tell hair from flesh (hair side tends to have visible hair follicles, and be darker, while flesh side tends to be softer and a lighter color), and manuscript makers were mindful of how the hair and flesh sides of the parchment related to one another in a manuscript. Throughout the middle ages, and across Western Europe, hair was made to face hair, and flesh to face flesh – EXCEPT in early Insular manuscripts (e.g. manuscripts from modern-day England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland). Although by the late 10th century Insular manuscripts also followed the h|h f|f practice. So, if you are paging through a 12th century French manuscript and you find a hair-side page facing a flesh-side page, you probably know that something is up.

Today, we are talking about bindings, calendars, and Books of Hours. One of my current projects focuses on visualizing manuscript collation, and another project we are just undertaking at Penn involves medieval calendars (in collaboration with folks at Antwerp, Stanford, Nijmegen, and the Morgan Library). So today’s lectures should be especially relevant to what I do at SIMS.

Understanding the Medieval Book

Today and tomorrow I’m attending Understanding the Medieval Book, a seminar with Dr. Timothy Graham from the University of New Mexico. Tim is a world-renowned manuscripts scholar, and was also the professor who first taught me paleography and codicology during my graduate studies at the Medieval Institute at Western Michigan University. The seminar is being held in the Hollings Library at the University of South Carolina.

Entrance to the Hollings Library at the University of South Carolina.

My position at Penn, Curator of Digital Research Services in the Schoenberg Institute for Manuscript Studies in the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts, University of Pennsylvania Libraries, focuses on using technology to tell us more about manuscripts than we can know by examining manuscripts in person. A tall order, I know. But, it makes sense that in order to do my job, I need to have a strong understanding of manuscripts as physical objects. Hence, my attendance at today’s seminar.

Over the next two days, we’ll have four three-hour sessions:

  • Materials and Techniques – what medieval manuscripts were made from, and how.
  • Bible and Bible Manuscripts
  • Medieval Calendars
  • Books of Hours – looking carefully at what exactly is the structure of the Book of Hours. What do they have in them, and why?

The first two sessions will be today, the last two tomorrow. So at the end of tomorrow, I should have something to say about the relevance of these sessions to my work in Digital Humanities.

Preparing for the day.

Just another Day of DH 2014 site

Skip to toolbar