Monday, July 11th, 2016...9:00 am

Undergraduates at Houghton, Part I: Consolidating Works on Manuscripts

Jump to Comments

This coming fall will see the opening of Beyond Words: Illuminated Manuscripts in Boston Collections, an exhibition of medieval and Renaissance books from local institutions.  The Houghton Library will loan the vast majority of the manuscripts on display, and the library will also act as one of three venues for the exhibition.  Preparations are not limited to the objects themselves, but also include the compiling of bibliographic resources.  Bibliographies for each manuscript feature articles that scholars, researchers, and cataloguers have produced after having cited, described, or partially reproduced Houghton’s manuscripts.


Books and articles that reference a particular manuscript are listed in a formal bibliography, but they are also being entered onto the bibliography website Zotero.  Users can search a manuscript’s tag (e.g., “Lat 269” for Houghton’s MS Lat 269) to view all of the references containing mentions, descriptions, or analyses of that object.  There is a note for each Houghton manuscript within a book’s Zotero entry, listing the relevant page numbers with a description of how the manuscript is used in the text.  These notes enable readers to quickly find the important sections in a book or article and determine whether it is relevant to their own research.  In addition to being compiled on Zotero, the sources are also added to the library’s files.  Each manuscript has its own file of references and related materials, and the contents have been collected over time by multiple people.

Although these resources do not substitute for the physical materials that will be on display, their significance lies in the study and contextualization of the manuscripts (specifically their contents, structures, and histories).  The bibliographies for these manuscripts draw together several sources, each with its own purpose and methodology, to provide a broad picture for future readers and researchers.


Catholic Church. Pontifical: manuscript, [ca. 1380-ca. 1425]. MS Typ 1 f. 1

A fine example is MS Typ 1, a Houghton manuscript that has been identified as the Pontifical of Andrea Calderini.  MS Typ 1 has been mentioned across a variety of texts, appearing in contemporary articles written in English, Italian, and French.  Furthermore, the manuscript is described in at least one auction catalogue, library catalogue, and exhibition catalogue.  The decoration is often remarked upon; some scholars analyze the illuminated contents, while others attempt to discern the different artists’ hands.  Certain folios are described and deconstructed in detail, but each book or article serves a different purpose.  While an auction catalogue may briefly summarize the prominent features and provenance, a scholarly article may establish new claims about the manuscript.  The sources provide information about content and structure, as well as historical context.  They cover more breadth together than individually, and future researchers benefit from having the sources listed in a single bibliography.

As part of my summer internship at Houghton, I have been updating the Zotero bibliographies for a number of these manuscripts.  Manuscripts are not the sole medium of focus, for my work here has also involved printed books from specific places and times.  You can read more about the other projects I am working on in two upcoming blog entries.

Alicia Bowling is a rising senior at Smith College and a summer intern in Early Books and Manuscripts.

Comments are closed.