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  • Symposium

Picking Up the Pieces

8th Annual Lawrence J. Schoenberg Symposium on Manuscript Studies in the Digital Age

This year's theme, "Picking up the Pieces," considers the notions and consequences of fragmentation and reconstitution.

This event has already occurred

November 12-14, 2015
Kislak Center, 6th Floor Van Pelt-Dietrich Library
Open to the Public
Vellum bifolium containing portions of Psalms 79, 80, and 84, with initials in red

In partnership with the Rare Book Department of the Free Library of Philadelphia, the Schoenberg Institute of Manuscript Studies (SIMS) at the University of Pennsylvania Libraries is pleased to announce the 8th Annual Lawrence J. Schoenberg Symposium on Manuscript Studies in the Digital Age. This year's theme, "Picking up the Pieces," considers the notions and consequences of fragmentation and reconstitution. When books are broken up, collections dispersed, or a society's intellectual heritage is fragmented by time, nature, and human interventions, the act of piecing together the remains can lead to surprising insights about how and why books--the artifacts of our intellectual heritage--were produced, collected, and saved in the first place. Our aim is to examine various facets of the fragmentation of books, collections, and cultural heritages in literal, metaphorical, and philosophical terms. The topic also allows us to consider how the processes of both physical and virtual reconstitution inform our understanding of these artifacts and our relationship to them.

The program begins Thursday evening, November 12, at the Free Library of Philadelphia, Parkway Central Library, with our keynote speaker Nicholas Pickwoad, Director of Ligatus, a research center of the University of the Arts London with projects in historical libraries and archives, and a leading authority on the conservation and history of bookbindings. The symposium continues, November 13-14, at the Kislak Center of Special Collections, Rare Books, and Manuscripts at the University of Pennsylvania Libraries, with papers and workshops that delve into various aspects of fragmentation and reconstitution. The symposium will end with a roundtable discussion led William Noel, Director of SIMS, and Brian C. Rose, James B. Pritchard Professor of Archaeology, Professor of Classical Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, on the historical, social, and political consequences of fragmentation and reconstitution in the cultural heritage sector.

Accordion List

  • Debra Cashion, Vatican Film Library, St. Louis University
  • Lisa Fagin Davis, Medieval Academy of America
  • Anne-Marie Eze, Independent Scholar
  • Nadezhda Kavrus-Hoffman, Independent Scholar
  • Suzanne Kerekes, University of Pennsylvania
  • Grigory Kessel, Philipps University Marburg
  • William Noel, SIMS, University of Pennsylvania Libraries
  • Dagmar Riedel, Columbia University
  • Brian C. Rose, University of Pennsylvania & Penn Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology
  • Marina Rustow, Princeton University
  • Stefan Schorch, Martin-Luther-Universitaet Halle-Wittenberg
  • Dominique Stutzmann, Institut de recherche et d'histoire des textes-CNRS

Five workshops will offer hands-on exploration of problems and issues related to fragments, fragmentation, and reconstitution. They are:

  • Demonstration of the New Schoenberg Database of Manuscripts, led by Lynn Ransom and Doug Emery, SIMS, University of Pennsylvania Libraries
  • Collation: A Tool for Virtual Reconstruction, led by Dot Porter, SIMS, University of Pennsylvania Libraries
  • Digital Unwrapping: Homer, Herculaneum, and the Scroll from Ein Gedi, led by Brent Seales, University of Kentucky
  • Unnatural Selection: Estimating the Number of Broken Books, their Contents, and Surviving Folios from manuscriptlink Data, led by Scott Gwara, University of South Carolina
  • Fragmentarium - A worldwide network to bring medieval manuscript fragments online. The technical and institutional challenges, led by Christoph Flüeler, University of Fribourg & e-codices

Event Series



Accordion Column of Lists

Dominique Stutzmann, Institut de recherche et d'histoire des textes-CNRS

The research project “Saint-Bertin” is funded by EquipEx Biblissima and aims at picking up the pieces from and on a scattered library. The abbey of Saint-Bertin (Saint-Omer, France), its scriptorium and library are indeed famous for the manuscript production in late Carolingian times as well as for having provided some rare works to scholars of the early Modern period. Yet the progressive elaboration of a vast library, its successive reorganizations and uses are unknown. In order to get a better understanding of the cultural life of this important center, we have to collect diverse traces and witnesses, all partial and very much dispersed.

Not only we digitize and give access to the ca. 700 extant manuscripts in the Bibliothèque virtuelle des manuscrits médiévaux (, but we also gather and scholarly edit the sources and former inventories, distinguish multiple layers and codicological units in extant volumes, identify additional manuscripts with the same origin or provenance, and enhance the metadata by direct cataloguing.

From re-uniting dispersed fragments to unifying in one unique catalogue and one format (TEI) the available metadata from several cataloguing endeavors, overcoming the diversity and recreating the broken past is at the core of this research.

Marina Rustow, Princeton University

The Cairo Geniza is a cache of more than 300,000 folio pages found in a medieval Egyptian synagogue. Its contents are now scattered among 50 libraries and 16 private collections on three continents; single pages can be separated by a few class marks or an entire ocean. The manuscripts are currently being gathered together online thanks to the Friedberg Genizah Project ( and other digitization projects, but a problem remains: how to match up the disiecta membra to produce whole pages? In this talk, I will present three techniques for finding joins—one automated, one artisanal, and the third a hybrid method. I will also define some problems related to the intermingling of literary, multi-page manuscripts with single-page documents.

Lynn Ransom and Doug Emery, University of Pennsylvania Libraries

Thanks to support from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Schoenberg Database of Manuscripts is currently under development to become an open-access, user-built, community-driven research tool for the history of manuscript transmission from production to the present. As before, the New SDBM gathers and preserves data from auction and sales catalogues, inventories, catalogues from institutional and private collections, and other printed sources, but it will soon allow users to contribute data, including one's own personal observations of a manuscript or group of manuscripts, and to engage with other users to facilitate research and conversations about both the history of manuscript transmission and the data gathered in the process of recording this history. This demonstration will showcase the new functionality of the database, which will become available to the public in 2016.

Dot Porter, SIMS, University of Pennsylvania Libraries

Over the past two years, a group of us at SIMS and elsewhere have been developing a system for visualizing the physical collation of medieval manuscripts. At the moment, this consists of three things:

  • Figures that illustrate the make-up of quires: number of leaves, whether leaves are missing or added, etc.
  • Generation of collation formulas.
  • Using digital images of manuscript pages to give an idea of how a quire would look, were it disbound: showing how folios that are disjunct in a bound manuscript relate to one another when the manuscript is unbound.

This workshop will walk the audience through the process of creating a physical collation model, and processing that model. The Collation Modeler is an online form through which scholars can build a virtual model of a manuscript's collation - indicating numbers of quires and the constitution of those quires (the alpha version of the Collation Modeler is at, and an updated version will be posted prior to the workshop). Once the model is generated, it can be processed in a variety of ways, including to generate collation formulae, or to create a virtual representation of the manuscript (see examples posted at

Grigory Kessel, Philipps University Marburg

Sometime in the 11th century, a Syriac copy of the Rum Orthodox liturgical book Parakletike was made using another Syriac manuscript that once contained Galen’s treatise On Simple Drugs. The medical manuscript was dismantled, the text thoroughly wiped off, and each bifolum was cut into two separate sheets that were consequently folded and gathered into quires of eight folios each. A long and unclear history divides the production of the liturgical manuscript in Syria, its transfer to the St Catherine’s Monastery on Sinai and its eventual appearance on the European antiquities market in the 1920s. A recent campaign, initiated by the new owner of the manuscript, has subjected the undertext to multispectral imaging and thereby attracted the attention of the scholarly community. Thanks to the collaborative efforts of a small team of researchers it became possible to make the first identifications of the undertext and thereby to reveal its potential importance. Another direction of palimpsest’s study dealt with finding of its missing leaves and also reached successful results. The paper will introduce the palimpsest and its importance and by way of presenting the results of the special quest for the missing folios it will demonstrate a distinctive significance of those folios for the reconstruction of manuscript’s history.

Nadezhda Kavrus-Hoffman, Independent Scholar

While compiling my Catalogue of Medieval and Renaissance Greek Manuscripts in the Collections of the USA, I have often examined fragments and incomplete manuscripts. A fruitful method of identifying a parent or sibling manuscript is recognition of handwriting. This method has helped me not only to reconnect not only small fragments with their original manuscripts, but also to reunite manuscripts produced as sets—for example, the Four Gospels and the Acts and Epistles. The identification of scribes’ hands, together with codicological analysis, enabled me to recognize manuscripts produced in the same scriptorium and now dispersed in various locations. The worldwide digitization of manuscripts greatly facilitates the unification of fragmented and dispersed manuscripts and makes possible the virtual reconstruction of a manuscript, scriptorium, or library.

Stefan Schorch, Martin-Luther-Universitaet Halle-Wittenberg

Among its different parts, Manuscript Codex 1649 of the University of Pennsylvania, Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Philadelphia, includes several leaves of Samaritan provenance, obviously gathered into the present volume when it was (re-?)bound. These leaves contain three different Samaritan texts: a 17th century copy of an exegetico-theological treatise in Arabic and Samaritan Hebrew, dating from the 13th century, the copy of a Samaritan prayer in Arabic, apparently composed in the 12th century, and the fragment of a Samaritan-Hebrew chronicle, copied in the late 19th or 20th century. The paper will explore the contribution of these pages for our understanding of the manuscript culture and the literary history of the Samaritans.

Brent Seales, University of Kentucky

Progress over the past fifteen years in the digitization and analysis of text found in cultural objects (inscriptions, manuscripts, scrolls) has led this year to a new and astonishing discovery. This paper will tell the story of emerging methods for imaging and analysis culminating in a personal account of the discovery, the people involved, and the technical approaches used. The digitization of damaged objects supports a new era of collaboration and exploration that has enabled compelling new discoveries and solutions to long-standing problems.

Accordion Column of Lists

Dagmar Riedel, Columbia University

"I come from a modern country, where we have everything that money can buy."
     Hiram B. Otis in Oscar Wilde, "The Canterville Ghost” (1887)

There are considerable collections of manuscripts in Arabic script at institutions in the US and Canada. Since these collections are accessible to scholars, it is salient that, in general, they receive little attention in teaching and research. On the one hand, few manuscripts in American collections are listed in the bio-bibliographical reference works by Carl Brockelmann (1868–1956), Georg Graf (1875–1955), and C. A. Storey (1888–1967). Their poor showing reflects the catch-22 that unpublished collections are invisible to scholarship. Even though American private collectors, as well as universities, museums, and public libraries, had been actively acquiring manuscripts in Arabic scripts at least since the second half of the nineteenth century, it took some time until private and institutional collectors first managed to catalog their new possessions and then to arrange for the publication of printed finding aids. On the other hand, research in Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies is driven by textual scholarship, which focuses on seminal works by renowned authors, so that the scholarly value of a manuscript collection is usually perceived to be the number of particularly old or otherwise rare manuscript witnesses for canonical authors and their works. Even though American collections include a fair number of exceptional manuscripts,they appear as rather undistinguished, if their holdings are compared to the fabulous riches of Islamic manuscript collections in Turkey, Iran, and India. Consequently, American and European scholars maintain research networks in Turkey, the Middle East, Africa, and Asia, as it seems counterintuitive to search for Islamic manuscripts in the US or Canada.

Against this backdrop I argue that the American collections of manuscripts in Arabic script are an untapped resource for research on book production and the book trade in Muslim societies in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. American collections were largely formed during the last phase of the Islamic manuscript tradition. Individuals and institutions started libraries from scratch, when the professional production of manuscripts slowly ceased to be commercially viable in Muslim societies; luckily some Americans had the means to buy by the box, and not just piecemeal by the codex. This bulk acquisition strategy created Islamic manuscript collections that provided snapshots of the manuscript trade in Muslim societies about a century after the adaptation of printing technology to large-scale commercial book production in the early nineteenth century.

Susanne Ryuyin Kerekes, University of Pennsylvania

American collections of Thai (or Siamese) manuscripts were first acquired in the mid-19th century. Missionaries, medics, civil servants, and, later, affluent American travelers of the early 20th century, are among the few who have helped to curate Thai manuscript collections held in the United States, bringing with them those manuscripts deemed “exotic”, or “representative” of Thai cultural heritage. Since these individuals (and even institutional curators themselves) had/have no knowledge of the Thai language, many manuscripts were selected merely for their illuminations and/or aesthetic. Today, thanks to the work of roughly a dozen Thai manuscript experts, these manuscripts are finally being indentified properly, some translated, and even digitized. This talk will present a survey of the 600+ Thai manuscripts held in U.S. collections, and outline the various genres of these manuscripts. Finally, this talk will highlight a selection of manuscripts that may possibly belong to a larger (global) collection, as well as share the preliminary findings of an attempt to reconfigure an early collection of Thai manuscripts (including a Christian proselytizing text) sent by one famous missionary family.

Scott Gwara, University of South Carolina

The digital project called manuscriptlink, a joint venture between the University of South Carolina and The Ohio State University, deploys digital surrogates of dispersed medieval and Renaissance manuscript fragments to restore their disjunct parent manuscripts online as virtual codices. Feasibility studies undertaken for the project reveal useful information about the nature of the collections owned by participating institutions, including the number of fragments, their proportionate origins, dates, contents, states of preservation, etc., and the estimated total number of parent codices they represent. Analyses of documented archives reveals estimations about fragment holdings in North America. Finally, a diachronic survey of the manuscript marketplace over thirty years discloses the amount and variety of manuscript fragments, highlighting differences between presumably private holdings and those of American institutions contributing to manuscriptlink. At least notionally, it is possible to define an aggregated American collection of manuscript fragments.

Anne-Marie Eze, Independent Scholar

In 1903 the American art historian Charles Eliot Norton strategically placed his collection of Venetian manuscripts with the art collector Isabella Stewart Gardner to safe-guard them “from destruction by fire”. Rendered obsolete by the collapse of the Republic of Venice in 1797, in the following century these patrician and civic heirlooms were mutilated for their illuminated frontispieces and commodified as paintings for the art market. As a temple to Venetian art and architecture in Boston, Gardner’s recently opened museum was the perfect safe-haven for Norton’s collection. There they remained with their miniatures, texts and bindings intact, valued as a corpus of Venetian painting spanning three centuries and multiple genres. This paper presents a hitherto unknown episode of the conscious preservation of illuminated manuscripts by two prominent American collectors at the turn of the twentieth century.

Debra Cashion, Center for Digital Humanities, St. Louis University

This paper presents a digital humanities project that enables the virtual reconstruction of pre-modern manuscript books that at some time in their history were taken apart, "broken" into pieces, and dispersed. The test-case manuscript for the project is the Llangattock Breviary, a lavishly decorated manuscript made in the fifteenth century for Leonello d’Este, of the celebrated d’Este family of Renaissance Ferrara. Deriving its nickname from a later owner, John Allan Rolls, the 1st Baron Llangattock, the Breviary was sold at Christie's, London in 1958. At the Christie’s sale the manuscript comprised 513 folia still bound as a book, but after purchase it was broken apart by Goodspeeds of Boston, who sold many of the detached leaves on the American market. Through researching online databases, bookseller websites, Flickr, and auction house websites, and old sales catalogs, I have identified 64 leaves, distinctly identified by the content of their liturgical texts, arranged them to follow the order of still preserved Breviary of Ercole d’Este, Leonello’s brother.

Images and metadata collected in this project will serve as the basis for the new project "Broken Books," to become a digital resource that builds on the concept of community-sourced contributions to enable other scholars to contribute images and metadata to the project. Using Shared Canvas technology, developer Bryan Haberberger in Digital Humanities at Saint Louis University has built a IIIF/Shared Canvas environment that allows images of the Llangattock leaves to be uploaded, described, and arranged. Users will be able to add cataloging metadata to individual images or to a whole leaf, according to different levels of cataloging expertise. The Broken Books tool is designed to support the project administrator’s goal of textually arranging and virtually reconstructing a disbound and dispersed manuscript, and I hope to use it to restore the luxurious Llangattock Breviary and digitally recapture a glimpse of its pedigreed history.

Lisa Fagin Davis, Medieval Academy of America

The Beauvais Missal is one of the best-known victims of mid-twentieth-century American biblioclasm, serving as a perfect example of just how great a loss is incurred when a codex is dismembered and its leaves scattered. It also serves as a hopeful case study of the possibilities offered by recent developments in imaging and metadata standards, platforms, and interoperability. The manuscript was written in or near Beauvais, France, in the last quarter of the thirteenth century and was used early on at the cathedral there, as evidenced by an inscription on a lost leaf, transcribed in a 1926 Sotheby’s auction catalogue. It was recently discovered that the manuscript was purchased from Sotheby’s by none other than American industrialist William Randolph Hearst, who owned it until 1942 when he sold it through Gimbel Brothers to New York dealer Philip Duschnes, who cut it up and began selling leaves less than one month later. He passed the remnants on to Otto Ege, who scattered it through his usual means. This paper will introduce the incipient digital reconstruction of the ninety-three known leaves of the Beauvais Missal and present initial findings based on an analysis of the extant portion of the manuscript.

Christoph Flüeler, University of Fribourg & e-codices

The Fragmentarium project intends to put the internet to use as a central workspace for digital research on medieval fragments. In the next three years, it will carry out 12-15 case studies, two doctoral thesis, and build a new web application that will allow libraries, researchers, collectors, and students to work in a virtual laboratory in order to upload, catalog, transcribe, and assemble medieval manuscript fragments. The aim of Fragmentarium is not only to make an input for the often neglected fragment collections in bigger and smaller collections, but also to create a new, interoperable and community-driven platform that fits as good as possible in the workflow, cataloging practice and IT-structure of fifteen major manuscript libraries in Europe and America.

The symposium is made possible with the generous support of the Dean's Office of the University of Pennsylvania's School of Arts and Sciences.