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!
I’m Lexi Bond, and I’m an undergraduate student at Northeastern University. I just completed my third year here, I’m an English major, and I’m so excited to be working on this never-explored, entirely mysterious Prayer Book. Along with undergrad students Anna Smith and Laura Packard, as well as Professor Erika Boeckeler of the Northeastern English Department, I plan to take what I see “a voyage in miniature” into this extraordinary book.
A book is a world. And this book is a world that’s totally unexplored. No one knows where this book came from–and I don’t know how that happens, but I’m glad that it did, because that qualifies this manuscript as a bona fide mystery, and that, above all else, makes it pretty exciting.
My hope for this project is that we’ll take a voyage into this text; I really do believe that there is no object of study too small, and pretty much everything in the world contains a world of information to be learned. This book is one of those things, and kind of a big one, depending on what your scale is. It feels big to me. There’s a lot to be learned, both through direct contact with this preserved text, as well as through all the processes of digitization, transformation, and representation. There’s so many directions to go in with an artifact this detailed, well-preserved, and virtually unknown; the paths that we can take on our voyage into the micro-but-also-macro frontier of this manuscript are endless. There’s words, there’s illustration, there’s calligraphy, there’s illumination, there’s music, and, most importantly to me, there’s human spirit, all preserved for us in this text. I’m excited to get started on soaking up as much knowledge from both this text as well as from the processes that will make up this experience, and to chronicle that experience here–let’s start the voyage!
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!