When I first came to Northeastern University a few years ago as an Assistant Professor of English, I was asked to do a presentation on Book History in conjunction with an art exhibit. So I contacted the archivist at the time to learn what early books the library held. She brought a few piles of books out and apologized for the paucity of the holdings.
And then she held a final little book out to me, shaking her head, saying, “I don’t know what this one is. I found it on the shelves uncatalogued.”
Thus begins the contemporary story of this never-before studied little gem of a manuscript that we have affectionately dubbed “The Dragon Prayer Book.” If your library only has one manuscript, this is a great one to have! It has the best of all worlds: It’s workaday enough to give you a sense that someone –probably many someones of the Dominican persuasion—regularly used and cherished it, and yet at the same time it’s not merely utilitarian with no decorative elements. It has many decorated initials, including a single historiated one -an adorable first initial with the eponymous dragon. It contains snippets of music throughout. It has tabs. It has clasps. It is pocket-sized yet also thick. We are so excited by the many more potential discoveries yet to be made about this unique object!
In Spring 2016, I encouraged three students in my Introduction to Literary Studies class to apply for several undergraduate research grants through which we could undertake a study of the manuscript and bring its hidden secrets to light via a showcase website. Fortuitously, our work is augmented and prompted by the confluence of several new resources and initiatives. First, Northeastern University has recently launched the cutting-edge Digital Repository, a resource designed to securely preserve and maintain long-term digital resources important to our school’s research and educational missions. Second, the Digital Scholarship Group put a call out for proposals to aid in the development of online tools for publicly displaying materials within the Repository. And finally, the The Dragon Prayer Book will make its first public appearance this Fall as part of an NEH-funded exhibit, “Pages from the Past: Illuminated Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts in Boston-area Collections.” Happily, we received all of the funding we applied for Digital Scholarship Group!) and we are set to begin learning.
This blog tells the story of our process and discovery. Stay tuned for our revelations about The Dragon Prayer Book in both its parchment and digital forms!