Saturday, March 15, 2014

On Explosive Cats

The advent of gunpowder and explosives in Europe during the late Middle Ages was revolutionary, and armies experimented with various ways to make effective use of the new technology.

Sometimes these experiments were a little bizarre.

Check out his fascinating article on the many appearances of cat and bird "bombs" in antique manuscripts!

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Less than a week away!

When I woke up today, I realized that we will be at Stanford in less than a week! I’m quite excited to make a major step in our project, but I am also looking  forward to seeing Stanford. San Francisco is one of my favorite cities, but I never visited Stanford in Palo Alto while there. Assuming the climate in Palo Alto is similar to San Francisco’s, I’ll have to pack some decently warm clothes.  I have heard from my family that Stanford’s campus is beautiful; I went on the internet today to look at pictures, and must admit that I agree wholeheartedly. I can’t wait to see it in person. Universities are so distinctive, from Duke’s Gothic architecture to USC’s Horseshoe to Stanford’s Eucalyptus trees (which Dr. Gwara mentioned to me). 

Dr. Gwara also mentioned that we might get to see Stanford’s medieval manuscript collection. I read online that they have a pristine copy of Gregory the Great’s Dialogues as well as a beautifully illuminated early 16th century Life of St. Catherine of Siena. I really hope we get to see these fascinating documents.

Assuming we finish our project early, we might be able to visit a few sites around San Francisco. Out of curiosity, I googled “San Francisco Museums Medieval” and discovered an exhibit on medieval torture. A bit gruesome, but something which might be interesting to see if we have time. There is also the Presidio, which dates back to the Spanish settlement in the 18th century. 

I’m sure that Aaron probably has a few ideas for what we might be able to see (if we have time).  In other news semi-related to the project, Dan Jones’s book The Plantagenets, the royal house which ruled England during the period in which our Breslauer Bible was written; I’ve been surprised to discover the extent to which the various monarch’s quarreled with the church, notably how they confiscated some church property two centuries prior to the Protestant Reformation. That’s all I have to write for now; however, stay tuned for more posts over the weekend before we head to Stanford!


Sam Webb Receives the Model

Just a brief update today, but there will be more to follow over the course of this next week (it’s spring break so I’ll have a lot of time to work on the project). We received word back from Sam Webb, who has received the facsimile of the Breslauer Bible. He told us the following:

“One important piece to note is that the original equipment used to hold the Archimedes manuscript no longer exists. I've attached a picture of how the mockup may fit into some of the brackets that we do have available at present.

Note the following:

(A) the page of interest is isolated from the front and the pages behind as well
(B) the book itself is clamped between the metal frame and holder. You will probably want to bring some sort of foam or padding to protect the book I presume.
(C) it is not clear how exactly the front cover will be maintained in an open position.
(D) it would be useful to have several of the plastic straps to insure the pages do not bow in front of the beam.”

While we clearly have a few kinks to work out, we are well on our way to having a workable setup. It was very cool seeing the picture of our model in Stanford—I almost can’t believe we will be there in less than a week!

Staff Scientist Sam Webb

Here is Sam Webb's description from his own webpage:
"I am a beam line scientist at the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource (SSRL) in the Structural Molecular Biology (SMB) program. My current interests relate to developing the microscale imaging beam lines here at SSRL, and how these micro x-ray techniques can be applied to research projects in the biological, medical, environmental, and cultural heritage fields. I also work on developing software for data analysis of XAS and imaging data as well as data collection."

He seems like a highly intelligent and skilled scientist. I am sure it will be a pleasure to work with him while at Stanford.

That is all I have to write for today, but Aaron and I should be providing more posts over the course of this week!

- Carl

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

A Bit about the Breslauer Bible

The centerpiece of our project is, of course, the Breslauer Bible. This post takes a look at how the University of South Carolina acquired the valuable manuscript.

The Breslauer Bible was acquired by USC, under the supervision of Dr. Gwara, at Christie's in London on June 2, 2010, for $77,000. Here is a link to the original auction: 

Check out the video below to hear Dr. Gwara discuss the importance of the Breslauer Bible acquisition!


Dr. Gwara discusses the acquisition of the Breslauer Bible 

The hefty price tag was mitigated by aid from the B.H. Breslauer Foundation, hence the manuscript's name. In life, Dr. Bernard H. Breslauer was one of the most eminent antiquarian book collectors in the world, with an enormous collection of early European manuscripts. Before his death in 2004, he allowed for the creation of numerous endowments to aid universities like USC in acquiring rare books for their own collections. The foundation has also helped our university purchase two other manuscripts besides the Breslauer Bible.

Dr. B.H. Breslauer, whose endowment enabled USC to purchase the Breslauer Bible 

Early MS 85, A Cistercian Sermon Manual also purchased with the help of B.H. Breslauer Foundation 

Thanks to the generosity of the B.H. Breslauer Foundation, USC students can now enjoy the pristine beauty of one of the world's finest surviving English pocket-bibles, and USC's Irvin Department of Rare Books has been established as a serious collector of medieval manuscripts. 

- Aaron

Monday, March 10, 2014

On the Project's Background

In this post, we are going to take a look back at how our project began.

In April 2007, the University of South Carolina hosted Dr. Christopher de Hamel for a seminar entitled "Understanding the Medieval Book." Dr. de Hamel is a Fellow at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, and a world-renowned scholar of medieval manuscripts. Carl and I had the pleasure of reading his excellent History of Illuminated Manuscripts for Dr. Gwara's class last semester; a link to the book on Amazon can be found here:  

Dr. de Hamel at USC in April 2011; the manuscript on the slide is USC's Early MS 15 (“Beauvais Missal”) 

While at the seminar, Dr. de Hamel took a look at USC's recently acquired Breslauer Bible (the story of its acquisition will be the subject of a future blog post). While doing so, he noticed the erased Latin inscription on the bottom of the manuscript's first folio. This piqued his interest, and he and Dr. Gwara immediately attempted to decipher what the text said. The image below shows their initial reading of the text under normal lighting conditions. 

Dr. de Hamel and Dr. Gwara's initial notes attempting to decipher the erased inscription 

While the two scholars were not able to fully decipher the manuscript's inscription (which proved impossible even during later attempts using different lighting techniques), Dr. de Hamel was intrigued by the few words that they were able to read. Based on the mysterious phrase "Brother Richard," Dr. de Hamel raised the possibility that the manuscript had originally belonged to a monastic library, and remarked that if this had been discovered before its sale to USC, it probably would not have been granted an export license due to the rarity of such manuscripts in the United Kingdom. 

Through our trip to Stanford next week, we hope to finally solve the puzzle first raised by Dr. de Hamel, and determine the manuscripts provenance once and for all!