Over the past few weeks, several exciting developments have allowed us to take significant steps forward in our research. Having received the manuscript from the Northeast Document Conservation Center (NEDCC), we are now able to access the book both physically and digitally. With the help of reference books such as Michelle Brown’s “Understanding Illuminated Manuscripts,” I feel that I am becoming more and more comfortable with the process of studying and identifying different elements of the manuscript.
Recently, I have become particularly interested in medieval methods of bookbinding and the techniques that the makers of our manuscript used to assemble its pages. I am hoping that identifying such methods will shed light on various contextual elements of the manuscript, such as how much it may have cost, how it was intended to be used, and who it may have been created for. Though my initial conjectures about its format were made based on photographs, I am planning to visit the text in person in the very near future so that I can get a closer look at its physical elements.
Now that we have digital access to the text, the opportunity to transcribe its pages had increased significantly. Though familiarizing myself with this process is proving to be a bit of an uphill battle, simply having the pages available has allowed me to practice and slowly grow more comfortable with deciphering latin text. Overall, this is a very exciting phase in our manuscript journey, and I can’t wait to see what we will discover.
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.
I am Anna Smith, and I am currently studying graphic and information design and English at Northeastern University. Having just completed my freshman year, I am thrilled to have the opportunity to research as fascinating an artifact as the Prayer Book so early in my academic career. I cannot wait to discover what lies within the manuscript’s ancient pages, and I hope that our findings and preservation efforts jumpstart a long and fruitful journey towards understanding this intriguing text.
The practice of studying and preserving artifacts such as the Prayer Book is invaluable in the Digital Age. As we veer toward digitally-accessible media, it is easy to overlook physical relics, though they have influenced our modern world in profound ways that we may not even realize.
With this project, I hope to not only uncover information about the historical context of the Prayer Book, but to understand how these findings fit into a modern study of English and even graphic and information design. Even at a glance, this book shows that the visual representation of information was important to writers even before the term”graphic design” existed. Just as a white billboard adorned only with 24 point Times New Roman font is unlikely to turn any heads, a collection of prayers and music scrawled on stray sheets of parchment would likely have been cast aside centuries ago. The ornate illuminations and illustrations and even the practical yet aesthetic design of the book itself provide insight into the artistic techniques of the time and show that graphic design has been relevant for ages.
In many ways, the Prayer Book is the ultimate piece of medieval multimedia. From prayers to music to art, this compact artifact contains a wealth of information, all waiting to be discovered by those who dare to venture forth into its pages. With that in mind, I can’t wait to begin the process of unlocking these mysteries and preserving them for years to come!