Post Exhibit Reflection

The final week (half week?) of school has arrived – my absolute final week of undergraduate studies is almost over and to be honest, time really does fly by. It definitely does not feel like four years have flown by.
Last week, we launched our medieval manuscript exhibit that our entire class has been working on the whole semester. It was such a success! The exhibit team did such an amazing job at creating everything, it honestly looks like a professional exhibit. The team leader of the exhibit team, Veronica, put her heart and soul into this exhibit and it really showed – it really is a fantastic exhibit. The exhibit is currently on display on the 4th floor of Paterson Hall at Carleton University, so if you’re by chance reading this or in Ottawa, go see it! If not, go check out our website Medieval Ottawa! The website team did an exemplary job adding in all the information on the medieval manuscripts that were chosen for the exhibit. On each manuscript there is even a sound clip that allows the viewer to hear what the manuscript sounds like in medieval Latin!
My job for the exhibit was the social media team (or the publicity team), along with my fellow team member, Paige. Our job was to basically give publicity for the exhibit by creating an Instagram where we posted “sneak peaks” of the medieval manuscripts we had chosen. We also created flyers and posters for the exhibit, which were placed around campus. Even though the project is technically over, I would like to keep up with the Instagram until our professor decides he wants to take it over or give it to his next class.
This exhibit process was an amazing experience; it was almost like receiving a behind-the-scenes look at how exhibits in museums are actually created. A lot of thought and editing goes into those tiny blurbs you see in museums! It was also a cool experience to deal with the social media aspect of it as well; for such a new account we quickly escalated to 168 followers and were receiving interactions from cities such as Paris, Rome, and New York! Our latest photo gathered as many 800 interactions, meaning around 800 people viewed the photo (now if only everything single one of those people had liked the photo!).
Nothing could have been as organized if it had not been kept in line by our project manager Trina – she did an amazing job as well! She has a knack for organization and she was luckily there to remind everyone of their duties – and to update our project board on Trello, to which I hope she has forgiven me for taking forever to update it.
This was a fantastic semester and I am sad that it is ending, but I feel so accomplished with everything that we have done as class. Everyone did such a great job!

Online Exhibition Readings

I hope everyone has enjoyed the mini break we’ve had, whether you got to soak up the sun in a warmer destination or if you were more like me and stuck in the snow with school work, either way I hope everyone is feeling slightly more relaxed after a week off. The readings this week were like a breath of fresh air for me; I am not a technical person, and the previous readings we’ve had have been on the “techy” side and I’ve found them difficult to read. This week’s readings, however, perfectly ties in to our final project that the class has been working on. Kathy Fox’s The Design Brief focuses on giving the reader on what to do and what not to do when beginning a large project. It offers the idea of what exactly to do, before the project even really begins, meaning “all the people involved with the project come together before the project goes outside the institution and decide the organizational ambitions of the project, along with its values and ethos”. The Design Brief will be the structure for our brainstorming in class Monday. The other readings are focused mainly on public history; which is more or less engaging the public with history, such as explained in Public History and Liberal Learning: Making the Case for the Undergraduate Practicum Experience by Elizabeth Belanger where she has her students engage directly with a community and their history. Andrew Dunning’s review of Jeffrey DeWitt’s on-running project for transcribing Petrus Plaoul Sentences and making them more widely accessible is very relatable to what our class did last semester with transcribing some of Carleton’s medieval manuscripts (not to his remarkable scale though). The work the Harry Ransom Center has done with attempting to transcribe or identify partial manuscripts was quite wonderful and relevant to our whole course – most of the manuscripts we worked on were only fragments.

Here are some questions to ponder over this weekend before our class:

  1. Do you think the Design Brief will help us with our project? Why or why not?
  2. What do you think are the strengths/weaknesses of a physical exhibit? An online exhibit?
  3. What are some of the obstacles of publishing work online to be seen and commented on? (see Andrew Dunning’s review and the work done by the Harry Ransom Center)

Enjoy the last two days of reading week!

Field Trip!

This week we got to go on a field trip to the Preservation Centre (National Archives and Library of Canada) in Gatineau, Quebec. It certainly was a good way to start off the week and not to mention, actually have a fun Monday! The building itself is in the middle-of-nowhere Gatineau, however the architecture of the building is pretty cool; the architect is from the Prairies so he integrated the Prairies lifestyle into the building. For example, the building inside contains things that look like oil rigs, kitchens that look like silos from the outside, and the office area on the top floor looks like a little Prairie town (barns, steel huts, silos, you name it!). The building and its architecture is already cool enough… and what they have inside is even better.

There are three levels of “vaults” which contain all the archives. I unfortunately did not take notes while on the tour, however I distinctly remember our tour guide mentioning that mostly everything they have (archives, photographs, paintings) was in the millions (if I recall correctly, there are 22 million books!). Here is their website with all the numbers and more information: https://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/about-us/events/Pages/2017/pcg-welcomes-you.aspx.

The amount of detail and thought that went into creating this building and its functions in order to protect the archives is mind blowing. The fire system is extremely advanced and it will detect where the fire is and only spray water on that specific area; the floors are even slightly tilted so that the water will run down to a pipe in the wall that will drain the water. The rooms also have to be kept at a certain temperature and humidity in order to preserve the items in the vaults. For example, most rooms were kept at a 18°C with 25%-35% humidity. There was one room, however, that contained negatives and nitrogen photos so that the room had to be kept at a freezing temperature of -18°C.

During the tour we were shown into some of the vaults (thankfully not the -18°C one), and my personal favourite was the vault that contained the paintings. I could not believe the amount of paintings nor how amazing they were! The oldest painting in their possession is from the 1690s. Another great thing is that most of their collection is digitized; here is the link to the search bar: http://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/lac-bac/search/all. We were also shown the digitization lab – where all the magic happens! The machines and scanners they have are unbelievable; there is always an influx of projects being done to digitize their collections. They even have a machine (robot?) that turns the pages of the book while taking pictures of every page.

This was truly a great experience and I am so glad that our professor organized it for us, it was great! I encourage anyone who likes/loves this kind of thing to book a tour at the Preservation Centre or even the one on Wellington Street in Ottawa – it is definitely worth the time!

This website/blog now also has an Instagram: medieval_book. We’ll be posting some pictures of the tour on our Instagram story this week so take a look if you want to see some cool stuff!

Inks and Pigments

As we near the end of term, our final Omeka catalogue entries are looming and the final pieces of our manuscripts are slowly being put together (figuratively of course). With this in mind, I came to the realization that my manuscript really has no provenance or origin that jumps up from the page in the form of a watermark or colophon. It was then brought to my attention in class that I will have to look at the ink and colours used in my manuscript – an incredibly taunting task to be performed, considering I am lacking in the history of pigments and inks. It was this that sparked the idea of this blog post; what do all these beautiful ink colours mean on these manuscripts and how did they come about.

I will not go into great detail over how the ink and pigments were made (as we have already learned about that), however as a quick recap: black ink was made from oak galls, and coloured inks were generally made from mineral pigments (red ochre, umber, yellow ochre).[1] Black ink made up the whole of the writing, with red ink (for which lead is the basis) for the rubric headings, though sometimes they appear in blue or green.[2] It is also noted that coloured inks were not only used for decorative purposes, but could be used to indicate a hierarchy of importance, such as saints’ names or feast days in a calendar.[3]

Upon further inspection of my manuscript throughout the semester, it is evident that it includes a lot of colour due to the miniature paintings that are located on the sides of each psalm. Along the edges of the text, and in the beginning initial of certain words, there is a metallic gold colour. The gold colour in most manuscripts is in fact not done with liquid pigment, it is actually made with “immensely thin sheets of beaten out metallic gold known as gold leaf”.[4] It was a tedious process that involved a brush that was used to apply gesso (plaster compound) so that the surface area of the page would be slightly raised, and then when dry it was smoothed and the gold leaf was applied with glue and sugar, to make it more adhesive.[5] Due to the skill, and money, needed to add gold leaf to manuscripts, it was usually something important that was being created, or someone with wealth (institution or patron) was commissioning such a piece to be made. Though, while my manuscript features lots of gold, there does not appear to be any raised surfaces where the gold is, which could indicate an older medieval manuscript if the gold initials were only painted on with a liquid gold suspension.[6]

While it is a difficult task to try to find out where my manuscript came from, doing further research definitely helps in trying to recognize certain aspects of medieval manuscripts that were done in certain periods. So, if you are ever stumped with trying to pin point the origin or provenance of your manuscript, look no further than the ink, pigments and style of writing!

Here are some further readings that offer way more detail into pigments and inks:

http://d-scholarship.pitt.edu/11954/1/a-baker-04-pigments.pdf

http://www.webexhibits.org/pigments/intro/medieval.html

http://exhibits.library.yale.edu/exhibits/show/making-the-english-ms/scribes-and-pigments

http://medievalwriting.50megs.com/tools/ink2.htm

 

Footnotes:

[1] Douma, Michael, curator. “Medieval Age (500-1400),” para. 2, Pigments Through the Ages, 2008, http://www.webexhibits.org/pigments/intro/medieval.html.

[2] Tillotson, Dianne, “Inks and Colourings (2),” para. 3, Medieval Writing, 2011,  http://medievalwriting.50megs.com/tools/ink2.htm

[3] Tillotson, Inks and Colourings (2), para 5.

[4] Tillotson, Inks and Colourings (2), para 11.

[5] Tillotson, Inks and Colourings (2), para 11.

[6] Tillotson, Inks and Colourings (2), para 14.

Getting Reading for Week 7: Abbreviations

*This week’s blog post is brought to you by Veronica and Lynsay*

This week we’re looking at abbreviations! Though many people today use abbreviations when sending messages over text, few might realize that shortening words isn’t actually a new practice. These readings will examine the use of abbreviations (and punctuation in the case of Intro to Manuscript Studies and Shady Characters) across various regions in Medieval Europe. The textbook introduced us to some new Latin words as well; distinctiones, positurae and a few other Latin phrases thrown around. Latin does not come naturally to me, so it tends to take longer for me to grasp the definition of certain Latin words. Here’s a quick reminder of those two words (because if I was reading this I would have had no clue what those were from the top of my head):

 Distinctiones: single points (punctus) that were placed at different heights to indicate different pauses while reading.

Positurae: a system that showed the reader how they should use their voice while reading (higher, lower, emphasis) using different punctus.

  • In what situations might abbreviations be preferable? What are the benefits and disadvantages for historians when looking at manuscripts that use abbreviations? What are the possible ways to overcome the challenge of understanding/transcribing abbreviations?
  • Much like the style of text abbreviations seems to vary across different regions. What might account for these differences? Why weren’t they just universal? Have you noticed during our time any differences in abbreviations across countries or regions?
  • Take a look at your own manuscript. Can you see any abbreviations or punctuation? Do they look like any of the examples provided in the textbook or are they their own alien punctuation?
  • Why do you think abbreviations were different depending on the region (Latin regions that is)? Why weren’t they just universal?
  • Not so much a question, but the third part of the Emoji article was published on October 14th, so I recommend taking a look: https://shadycharacters.co.uk/2018/10/emoji-part-3-go-west/

 

Expanding and comprehending abbreviations can be a frustrating process but it provides another piece of the puzzle when historians try to understand medieval manuscripts. The next step is trying to share what we know about abbreviations with the wider public in a way that does not come off as dry and boring. Also, we need to find a way to share what we know about abbreviations to help further academics with their transcriptions down the road. As you read think about ways we can share with others (both academics and the wider public) our understanding of medieval abbreviations.