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Paleography and Codicology: A Seminar on Medieval Manuscript Studies, University of New Mexico, Institute for Medieval Studies June 9 – July 3, 2008


Rhonda L. McDaniel, Middle Tennessee State University

When Timothy Graham first mentioned his plan to offer his successful seminar on Medieval Manuscript Studies (first offered in 2006) again in 2008, I immediately knew that I wanted to participate. I had dabbled in manuscript studies and done minor editing projects for various courses while a doctoral candidate but had not had the opportunity to pursue that interest. This Paleography and Codicology seminar presented an occasion to expand the range of knowledge I could use in teaching courses at my own university and also develop the skills I would need for any possible editing projects I might attempt in the future. (My participation in the seminar was generously funded by the Department of English and a Faculty Development Grant from Middle Tennessee State University.)

Participation in the seminar is decided on a competitive basis, and all applicants are required to submit a cover letter outlining their research interests, a curriculum vitae, and a letter of recommendation from a professor familiar with the applicant's proficiencies and scholarship. This process is designed more for current graduate students than for faculty, but as a faculty member I asked a colleague to write on my behalf in lieu of a professor. Those selected to participate in the seminar represented a considerable diversity of fields of study and universities:

  • Sean Albert (English, University of Arizona)
  • Nicolino Applauso (Romance Languages, University of Oregon)
  • Mary Blanchard (Medieval Studies, Western Michigan University)
  • Lyle Dechant (Art History, University of Oregon)
  • Elizabeth Dickenson (History, University of Texas)
  • James Dory-Garduño (Law, University of New Mexico)
  • Rebecca Jacobs-Pollez (History, University of Missouri)
  • Rhonda McDaniel (English, Middle Tennessee State University)
  • Israel McMullin (Classical Studies, University of New Mexico)
  • Katherine Meyers (History, University of New Mexico)
  • Annalisa Moretti (Medieval Studies, Western Michigan University)
  • Katherine Thompson Newell (History, University of New Mexico)
  • William Sherrill (Musicology, University of Texas)
  • Mark Singer (History, University of Missouri)
  • Douglas VanBenthuysen (English, University of New Mexico)
  • Shawn Weeks (History, University of New Mexico)
  • Peninah Wolpo (History, University of New Mexico)

This diversity of interests enriched the seminar as participants offered insights from their own specialties or asked questions pertinent to their own areas of study. Whether the manuscript under consideration was intended for liturgical use, instruction of the laity, authentication of land grants, biblical commentary, monastic or lay devotions, or to track festival days, illustrate perceptions of the physical world, record legal or conciliar determinations, or preserve literary works, each participant in the seminar had the opportunity to contribute his or her specialized knowledge to the discussion and to expand that knowledge in the process.

Covering a wide variety of book forms (such as Gospel books, Great Bibles, and Books of Hours), we learned how manuscripts were made, from the flaying of an animal's hide and the concoction of inks to the binding and decoration of the completed book. We studied and transcribed all of the major (and some of the minor) scripts used in western Europe throughout the Middle Ages. Substantial daily transcription exercises, both in class and as homework, gave us the opportunity to wrestle not only with the variations in letter forms that occurred as scripts evolved but also with abbreviations and different systems of punctuation. In addition we had group projects that focused on the codicological analysis of a facsimile codex of the Valladolid Beatus and production of an edition from two manuscript witnesses of a brief portion of Bede's Life of St. Cuthbert. This demanding regular practice within the compressed time of four weeks gave us a much keener appreciation of the differences between scripts and the challenges of editing. It also rapidly built up our ability to recognize and expand a repertoire of abbreviations without constant reference to guides.

Though the transcription homework and the significant amount of reading assigned for each day occupied the days devoted to class meetings and part of the weekends, our time was not all work and no play. We still had ample time to explore Albuquerque and the surrounding areas; weekends gave seminar participants the chance to visit Old Town Albuquerque, nearby national monuments and parks, museums, and other areas of cultural interest. Many of us from beyond the Albuquerque area stayed together in university housing on campus, which made it convenient to organize group trips to sites such as Bandolier National Monument, Petroglyph National Monument, and the Sandia Tramway. Tim and Marian Graham hosted a barbeque at their house for all of those attending the seminar and their families; later during the seminar Doug VanBenthuysen and his family provided a stunning shish kebab feast for all as well. We also took in an Albuquerque Isotopes baseball game (the Isotopes won) and a celebratory luncheon at Scalos Italian Restaurant at the end of the seminar.

All in all, participating in the seminar was a very intense, rich, and rewarding experience on many levels and I would strongly encourage any who might be interested in medieval manuscript studies—graduate students and faculty alike—to take advantage of the opportunity to attend future seminars. Dr. Graham plans to conduct the seminar every two years, so make plans now for 2010.

(Photographs below are courtesy of Rhonda McDaniel)

Seminar Director Timothy C. Graham discusses the components of Books of Hours

Seminar Director Timothy C. Graham discusses the components of Books of Hours.

Seminar members take the final examination on features of palaeography and codicology

Seminar members take the final examination on features of palaeography and codicology.

Palaeographers relax at a party at Doug VanBenthuysen's home

Palaeographers relax at a party at Doug VanBenthuysen's home.

Seminar members explore cliff dwellings at Bandolier National Monument

Seminar members explore cliff dwellings at Bandolier National Monument (Top row: Katherine Newell, Shawn Weeks, Sean Albert, Mary Blanchard. Bottom row: Mark Singer).