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.