More Than Meets the Eye

As we dive deeper into the vast world of manuscript studies, it is becoming clear that this project has even more facets than we could have initially imagined. Last Friday, our team was able to take a close look at a few manuscripts at Harvard University’s Houghton Library as well as learn about Northeastern’s Digital Repository System, the interface that we will be hosting our findings on. After meeting with Bill Stoneman, Harvard’s Curator of Early Books and Manuscripts, it seemed to me that the question going forward is not just “What can we learn from this manuscript?” but rather “Where do we even start?” Having a fairly blind eye when it comes to archival work, I am quickly realizing that the value of these ancient books is far greater than simply the meaning of the words printed on their pages. Something Bill Stoneman said that resonated with me was that no observation should be considered too trivial to make note of, as even the most basic piece of information could lead to more significant research paths and conclusions. For example, a missing page could be indicative of more than just frequent use, perhaps suggesting that the book had been rebound or altered at some point. A recurring prayer or saint mentioned throughout the text could give clues as to who the book was originally created for, and what their intentions for purchasing it were. As we know so little about the text that we have been given to research, it will be crucial to pay attention to every minute detail in order to glean as much information as we can in our allotted time frame. Additionally, this meeting provided us with information about a number of online resources for accessing digital manuscripts, which will be invaluable in terms of preliminary research about early books in general as well as comparing and contextualizing our own manuscript when the time comes. After learning about the inner workings of the Digital Repository System, which seemed to be very user-friendly and intuitive, I am excited to finally begin working with the physical manuscript in the coming weeks. Though there is still so much to learn and just the transcription alone will be a considerable challenge, I can’t wait to start unlocking the secrets of this text and hopefully spark a conversation about this manuscript that will continue long after our research has been concluded.


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