Symposium to look at ancient pages
Half a century ago, American book collector Otto Ege cut apart 50 medieval Bibles and manuscripts and sold 40 boxed sets of various pages to universities and collectors around the world.
June 13-14, the U of S will host an international conference, Remaking the Book, to discuss how to create an Ege Medieval Manuscript Database, with the goal of eventually reconstructing some of these books digitally.
English Prof. Peter Stoicheff, along with several English department graduate and undergraduate students and Special Collections librarians, have tracked down the sets of pages held in a number of collections.
The original manuscripts are from the 12th to 16th centuries.
The sets “are significant for many reasons,” says Stoicheff. “They predate the printing press. They show the evolution of the page ... there are smudges, mistakes, slanted lines. People are always impressed by the human labour and devotion that has gone into them.” The pages were handwritten on parchment before paper existed in Europe. The texture of animal skin shows on the parchment and a hint of musty leather wafts from the pages.
“I show these to my students every year,” says Stoicheff, “and they study them in absolute silence. They’re amazed to experience something so very old.”
Ege’s destruction of the books was questioned by his contemporaries. He defended himself by saying, “Surely to allow a thousand people ‘to have and to hold’ an original manuscript leaf, and to get the thrill and understanding that comes only from actual and frequent contact with these art heritages, is justification enough for the scattering of fragments.”
U of S Librarian David Appelt purchased one of the sets. It then sat in Special Collections for 50 years, not actively studied until Stoicheff and colleague Andrew Taylor came upon them in 2000. Since then, Stoicheff and his group have been pursuing answers to a slew of questions: How were they made? Where are the rest of them? What do the illuminations represent? What do they say?
Stoicheff has tracked down other institutions in Canada, the U.S. and Italy that purchased the boxes. Columbia University, Berkeley and Yale will collaborate with the U of S on digitally reconstructing the books.
The U of S manuscripts will be on exhibit at the Snelgrove Gallery from June 6-23 and public talks on them will be held June 13-14.