Two New Undergraduate Research Projects on Medieval Manuscripts

This is a guest post from our colleague Professor Scott Gwara.

Undergraduates in Dr. Scott Gwara’s Honors College course Reading the Medieval Book exhibited proposed research projects at the Hollings Library Open House last Saturday.

Undergraduates Aaron Sanders and Carl Garris prepare the Open House exhibition.

For a project entitled “Medieval Identity Theft,” Carl Garris, Kirkland Gray, and Aaron Sanders have been examining an erased ownership inscription in USC’s Breslauer Bible. USC Libraries acquired this thirteenth-century manuscript in 2012. The students are collaborating with Dr. Gwara, Jeffrey Makala, Special Collections Librarian for Outreach and Instruction, and Dr. Alison Marsh, a faculty expert in USC’s History department. Preliminary efforts to read the Breslauer inscription have revealed the name of a donor “Brother Richard,” but the identity of Richard’s church and other places mentioned in the inscription remain a mystery.

An multispectral image of the Breslauer Bible inscription taken with the assistance of Michael B. Toth of the Archimedes Palimpsest imaging team (R. B. Toth Associates), and processed by Dr. Fenella France, Library of Congress.

The group theorizes, however, that a monastery once owned the Breslauer Bible. Books from monastic libraries are rare because the “dissolution” of the monasteries under King Henry VIII destroyed so many ancient manuscripts. For conclusive answers, Carl, Kirkland, and Aaron propose to use Stanford University’s synchrotron to produce an “iron map” of the ink residue left on the scraped parchment. The iron in medieval ink leaves traces readable by sensitive instruments. This same technology was used recently to decipher the Archimedes Palimpsest. Furthermore, by studying the letter-forms of medieval English handwriting and the Latin formulas commonly used for such inscriptions, the students will be equipped to interpret their “iron map.” Once the inscription is deciphered, work will be undertaken on Brother Richard’s historical context and the reason for his generous bequest.

Undergraduate Chemical Engineering major Adam Glenn is developing another scientific approach to medieval manuscripts in USC’s collection.

Chemical Engineering major Adam Glenn (center) with family members at the Open House.

His project, called “The Color of Prayer,” seeks to determine the chemical components of blue pigments in manuscripts from France, Germany, and Italy. If funded, Adam’s research will be carried out in Dr. Steve Morgan’s lab. Morgan is an internationally recognized Analytical Chemist working on dyes and pigments. Adam will also work with Dr. Gwara and Mr. Makala. Two primary sources of blue pigments were available in the late fifteenth-century: azurite, a copper ore, and lapis lazuli, a rare mineral imported from Afghanistan. Using multiple forensic techniques, miniature paintings in three selected manuscripts will be analyzed.

Working in Dr. Steve Morgan’s lab, Adam Glenn proposes to identify the chemical composition of blue pigments in this Italian manuscript and two others from the USC collection.

Adam expects to determine whether paint recipes for the color blue were consistent in the same period across Europe, and, if not, what reasons may have motivated artists to use expensive or economical materials. His work is modeled on research recently undertaken at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, England.

Manuscripts analyzed in these two projects were acquired for USC through the generosity of the B. H. Breslauer Foundation, New York.

 

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Gettysburg: History and Memory is now open

Our new exhibition, timed to coincide with the Battle’s 150th anniversary this summer, is titled “Gettysburg: History and Memory.” Here is the introductory text:

The Battle of Gettysburg resonates with us in ways that are somehow different
from our historical and emotional understanding of other aspects of the Civil
War. We remember Gettysburg differently from the other battles of the war. As
Americans, we have thought differently about it since the battle itself was fought.
Gettysburg was the largest engagement, not only of the Civil War, but ever seen
in the Western hemisphere. It was also, by far, the costliest battle of the war
with over 50,000 casualties. It is seen as a turning point – the “high tide” of the
Confederacy – when the remarkable successes of Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia
at Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville in the previous year were finally stopped
and began to be reversed. Gettysburg was the only battle to occur on Northern
soil. Confederate troops marched into the North and took food and supplies from
Pennsylvanians. They also seized free blacks, who they sent South into slavery. The
Gettysburg battlefield was dedicated four months after the battle, and President
Lincoln’s eloquence at the dedication ceremony stands as a monument of oratory.

As we mark its 150th anniversary this year, this exhibition takes as its focus the
3 days of combat in and around the town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, on July 1-3,
1863. It also explores the ways in which what happened there has been understood
and remembered, by its own participants and by subsequent generations. In these
cases, you will find military manuals, memoirs, maps, histories, newspapers, and
an extremely rare first edition of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. We are grateful
to Henry Fulmer, Graham Duncan, and the South Caroliniana Library for their
assistance and loan of several letters and manuscripts which add a particularly rich,
personal dimension to the materials on display here, and to Greg Wilsbacher and the
Moving Image Research Collections for the footage on view in the gallery.

This exhibition has as its core an exhibition on the Battle of Gettysburg created
in 2000 by Patrick Scott for USC’s First-Year Reading Experience. The majority of
items on display come from two major collections given to the Irvin Department in
the late 20th century: a collection formed by Civil War historian Francis A. Lord,
who taught at USC for many years; and a military history collection formed by
Robert S. Chamberlain.

It will be open in the Irvin Department gallery through the end of July. Exhibit tours and some additional events are planned for June and July.

-jm

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New Additions to the James Ellroy Papers

We are extremely proud to be the repository for the papers of novelist, screenwriter, and memoirist James Ellroy, the “demon dog” of American literature. The bulk of Ellroy’s papers came to us as a gift in the late 1990s, and he has been generously adding to the archive since. I’m happy to report a new arrival of two boxes of material which documents some of Ellroy’s writing projects and activities over the past year or so.

Box 1, as received!

 

Box 2, in its raw state

The day these boxes arrived, I had a research methods class scheduled to come into Rare Books and Special Collections later that afternoon. After peeking into the first box, I decided to save the second one until the afternoon so we could open it in class together and discover what it contained. We were able to talk briefly about how materials like this could be used for research, the steps librarians and archivists take to describe materials like this, and of course the thrill of encountering the unknown. Here’s some of what we found in that box:

The screenplay to “Rampart,” with extensive revisions in Ellroy’s hand

 

The opening page of the manuscript to an episode of “James Ellroy’s L.A.:City of Demons”, a six-part Discovery Channel series from last year.

The Ellroy Papers finding aid is available here, and we welcome researchers and questions about the collection.

-jm

Posted in American literature, Archival collections, James Ellroy | Tagged | Leave a comment