Posts with the tag: rare books

The Archivist’s Nook: Conservation in Rare Books

St. Jerome with lion, Epistolae, ca. 1400 (MS 168) Learn more about why Jerome is often pictured with a lion here.

Beginning last year, Special Collections staff began a process of reviewing Catholic University’s Rare Books collection for works facing conservation issues. With over 65,000 works in the collection, we had to focus on the most immediate concerns. Of particular interest was the manuscripts collection, which holds over 200 one-of-a-kind handwritten texts from the medieval to the early modern period, ranging from alchemy treatises to choral books.

After working alongside graduate students and faculty from the Department of Greek and Latin, our staff selected four initial works to send offsite for conservation with local vendor Quarto. The four we chose exhibited serious binding and textual issues that threatened not only the long-term survival of the works but also severely limited their safe access by patrons.

Our goal in Special Collections is to provide both our external and campus patrons with access to the works they need to research and study. And thus, our number one goal in conserving these manuscripts was to render them stable for both eventual digitization and in-person access, without damaging the text or any original materials in the binding.

We would like to keep the campus community informed about the progress of this long-term project, so whenever we finish with a batch of books, we will post a blog on the highlights of the returned works. And so without further ado, we present the four most recently conserved works for your consideration:

1. De emandatione pectoris [and various other works], ca. 1450 (MS 114)

This work from the mid-fifteenth century contains theological and spiritual works from a number of late antique and medieval authors, ranging from Caesarius of Arles to Leonardo Bruni.

MS 114 – before (left) and after (right) conservation.

Comparing the before conservation photos (left column) with the after conservation (right column) reveals a subtle, but important, difference. This late medieval text was rebound sometime in the 18th century, with a leather covering that was beginning to experience red rot (a common degradation in vegetable-treated leather). The leather cover was cracked and loose, most notably along the spine. This cracking made it difficult to access the text without further damaging the leather covering and binding around the spine.

To resolve the issues limiting access, the conservators repaired and reaffixed the damaged part of the spine. They also used treatments to clean the textblock (the stacks of pages inside the covers and binding) of the manuscript and slow the process of decay of the leather binding.

2. St. Jerome, Epistolae, ca. 1400 (MS 168)

This northern Italian manuscript of Jerome’s letters is a beautiful work with a gorgeous miniature (a small illustration) on its opening text page (as pictured above). Sadly, accessing the work was difficult without its stabilizing boards attached.

MS 168 – Top and left center photo show the manuscript prior to conservation, with the bottom and right center image after.

Medieval and early modern books are usually bound with wooden boards over the front and back pages, offering stabilization and protection to the textblock contained between them. The boards, which are bound together with the textblock, are then covered with leather. These wooden boards can experience rotting or damage, but in this case, the binding had loosened, causing the boards to become completely detached from the textblock and spine. This made accessing the text difficult without adding damaging pressure onto the first few pages of the text.

In the collage on the right, you can see what the manuscript looked like a year ago, including how the front and back cover boards were completely loose.  On the bottom and right center photos, you can see the work Quarto did to restore the binding. The conservators rebound the boards to the textblock and added chemical solutions to stabilize the cover’s leather.

3. Johannes Canonicus, Quaestiones supra octo libros physicorum, 1364 (MS 169)

This may have been the most challenging of the works sent offsite. A manuscript reflecting on Aristotle’s Physics, the entire binding and cover boards of the work were warped, pest damaged, and decayed to such a degree that it was virtually impossible to safely open the manuscript. But this was a popularly requested manuscript from researchers!

MS 169 – Top photos are before conservation, with the bottom two after.

To complicate matters, the cover boards appear to be original to the text, dating from the 14th century. However, the spine is coated and bound in a much later (19th century) paper binding, including bits of newsprint. This paper binding had rapidly deteriorated and was marked with evidence of past insect infestation. The binding was effectively non-existent, with the work and its textblock loose. Even attempting to open the book was difficult and caused damage to the text. Serious work was needed to stabilize it for continued use.

You can see the end result of Quarto’s work above. Keeping the original boards and binding was nigh-impossible, so the conservators created replica boards and alum-tawed calf cover (a calf leather prepared with a liquid solution to create a white appearance) — mimicking the style and weight of the original — with new binding.

MS 169 – String and paper binding shown on top, with original board on bottom.

But fear not! We do not toss out book materials in rare books! These pieces can tell us so much about the original production of a work or later restoration, rebindings, or conservation work. So the original boards, spine, and threads have all been kept and added to our collections. Patrons wishing to access the collections may see these pieces, alongside the restored manuscript.

4. German prayer book, 1440-80 (MS 178)

Our final work is a fifteenth-century prayer book from Germany. A small, but bulky text, this work presented an interesting challenge. Not only was the front board missing and the original binding exposed, but several pages were loose throughout the text. The back board was still present and attached, with the original leather partially covering it (but cracking and brittle). With cracking leather and an exposed textblock, handling this work was precarious.

MS 178 – Left column of images are before conservation, with the right after.

In the left column, you can see the manuscript prior to conservation. On the right is the manuscript after conservation. The goal was to stabilize the textblock for access and preserve the original binding, board, and leather. In order to do so, Quarto crafted a facsimile board for the cover, worked to stabilize the surviving leather, and reattach the loose pages. Without modifying or removing the original binding threads, the conservation team attached the new board to the front and developed a paper chemise (a case in which a book is stored) to offer an extra layer of protection to the text and binding. This chemise is easily removable (as seen in the photos) and will allow patrons to study the original binding, board, and leather. When not needed for viewing, the chemise can be slipped back on to protect these original components.

While there are many details that this post did not cover with respect to conservation efforts — especially when it comes to cleaning the textblock’s pages — we welcome all patrons to send us questions about the conservation process or these manuscripts.

As we work on our conservation efforts, we will continue to update the community. In the meantime, if you have any questions about accessing the above manuscripts or any materials in Rare Books or Special Collections, please contact us at: lib-rarebooks@cua.edu

Our digitized manuscripts may also be viewed at this link.

The Archivist’s Nook: Curating the Catechism

This week’s post is guest-authored by Mikkaela Bailey is a PhD student at CUA studying medieval history with special interests in women’s history, public history, and digital humanities. You can find her on Twitter: @mikkaela_bailey

Curation is a long, detailed conversation between individuals, offices, texts, and objects, as students from Catholic University’s History and Public Life class learned this semester.

It’s easy to evaluate an exhibit and poke holes in the choices made by its organizers. It’s far more difficult than I imagined to craft an exhibit.

With most of the logistics arranged long in advance by our professor for the class History and Public Life, Dr. Maria Mazzenga, our job as a class was focused on assembling and advertising the physical exhibit itself.

The first thing we had to do was break up the objects into thematic categories so we could decide what should be included in our display. Then, we had to plan how to best demonstrate the common themes between them and also establish continuity in the display. After that, we had to craft captions and marketing materials that communicated why our visitors should care about our work and choose to come see it.

We used minimal materials to set up the exhibit. Aside from the items featured, we added captions and some text as well as stands for the books and weights to keep the books open for display.

One of the ideas about organizing the books rested on the idea that the Eucharist is a central and essential element of the catechism and one’s first Communion is an important life event. Since our audience is likely to be heavily Catholic, there is resonance with their own experiences in the exhibit here. This thematic approach connected well with the objects in the exhibit, and inspiration flowed from that idea as we assembled catechisms aimed at children and teens in the same display case. One thematic element of change over time was the implementation of more children’s catechetical education as the age for first Communion shifted from around 13 to around 7 years of age.

The caption writing process was difficult, and you can see unique touches from the students who collaborated on them. We divided them between ourselves, working in groups of two or three to write them.

But, there were still two more cases to fill and many more objects to consider. In the first case, which we actually finished last, we installed the oldest books, including a Latin catechism from 1566. These 16th and 18th century books were connected by the vernacular languages in which they were printed. Printing educational materials in the vernacular was a very important emphasis of the Tridentine Catechisms, so grouping these non-English catechisms gave emphasis to the importance of the catechism worldwide, outside our own framework, and outside the Latin-based world of the church.

The central case features several interesting pieces, but it also provides context for the cases flanking it. This is where we chose to place the bulk of our textual engagement through questions we are asking the audience and a QR code linked to the digital exhibit.

A sneak peek at the finished display cases that will be on exhibit for the next few weeks!

At the end of this process, I am so thankful for teammates who were engaged from the beginning and expressed great passion for this project. I shudder to think of undertaking something like this alone! In fact, looking at the finished product, I feel as though no idea I had for the display was totally my own and I think almost every decision made was by committee. From the marketing materials to the captions and display case arrangements, this exhibit was completely collaborative and has benefitted from open communication and easy acceptance of constructive criticism. In public history, I think all of these qualities are essential for a successful, cohesive exhibit. This experience has been the highlight of my first semester as a PhD student at CUA!

This is an “insider’s perspective” of what it was like to arrange the items in the case while my co-curators directed me from outside the case. We had a challenging time arranging many of the items and it took a lot of collaboration to put it together.

The Archivist’s Nook: A Paradox of Uniformity – Catechisms in Rare Books and Special Collections

The Rare Books Collection at The Catholic University of America contains many treasures among its 70,000 volumes, ranging from medieval documents to first editions of twentieth century authors. Among these are nearly 300 Catholic catechetical texts: written works containing summaries of the beliefs of the Catholic faith compiled as teaching tools.

“A Catechism for Pastors by Decree of the Council of Trent in 1566,” also known as “The Catechism of the Council of Trent,” or the “Tridentine Catechism,” was first published in 1566. This is Rare Books and Special Collections’ oldest catechism.

In one sense, these texts, which span from 1566 to the 1980s, are remarkably similar. The Catholic catechism has contained the same several parts for nearly 500 years: The Apostles Creed, The Lord’s Prayer, discussion of the seven sacraments (Baptism, Reconciliation, the Eucharist, Confirmation, Marriage, Holy Orders, Extreme Unction), and the Lord’s Prayer. But there were slight tweaks to the catechism over time. For example, as Berard Marthaler points outs, a “medieval fascination with numbers” caused theologian Hugh St. Victor to organize doctrine into units of seven as a mnemonic device. Hence, catechetical teaching of the time featured doctrine organized into units of seven: the seven capital sins, seven petitions to in the Lord’s Prayer, seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, seven Beatitudes, and seven virtues.[1]

“Catholic Anecdotes; or, the Catechism in Examples” (New York: 1873) by Mrs. J. Sadlier, also known as Mary Anne Sadlier. Two of the Sadlier family, Denis and James, migrated to the U.S. from Ireland in the 1830s and began publishing Catholic inspirational works. Mary Anne, (also an Irish Immigrant) and James married, and Mary Anne went on to publish more than 60 works related to Catholic devotional life. This volume is comprised of various stories underscoring devotion to Catholicism, but it also contains catechetical material, and is an example of how the basic teachings were sometimes merged with supporting texts.

By the Tridentine Era, so called for the Council of Trent that took place 1545-1563, a basic formula for the catechism was issued by the Council. This was partly due to the rise of Protestantism in Europe in the sixteenth century, but also due to a desire to teach the fundamentals of the faith on a regular basis using a uniform text. The Tridentine Catechism issued by the Council of Trent in 1566 contained the basics of the modern catechism: Apostles Creed, seven sacraments, Ten Commandments, and the Lord’s Prayer.

 

 

 

 

 

This “Illustrated Catechism” published by the Confraternity of the Christian Doctrine in 1944 aimed at educating younger children in Catholic teaching.

The uniform content of most of the catechisms produced after 1566, however, did not mean they would all look exactly the same. Coinciding with the rise of the printing press in Europe, the catechism could be reproduced in multiple languages, and with a variety of designs.

By the twentieth century, Pius X (Pope from 1903-1914) turned his attention to improving catechetical instruction once again, and emphasized greater uniformity in such instruction, and instruction in the sacraments at younger ages. Certainly, this would be more feasible as literacy spread throughout the Christian world, and as small, portable catechisms became easier to produce. The catechisms, uniform as they are in general content, reflect the cultures and trends from which they emerged.

This image from The Visualized Catechism published by the Trinity Guild in 1947 uses a more unusual style of graphic illustration—stick people—but again, it covers the same basic material.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The catechisms can be viewed by appointment; email: lib-rarebooks@cua.edu or call 202-319-5065.

 

 

 

[1] Berard Marthaler, Catechesis: “A Semantic Evolution”? Liturgical Ministry 18 (Winter 2009), 1-10, 4.

The Archivist’s Nook: Protecting the Faithful – Knights of Malta at Catholic University

Popular image of the Knights Hospitallers as valiant warriors, courtesy of YouTube, 2019.

The Knights of Malta were among the earliest military or chivalric orders, founded as the Knights Hospitallers[1] in Jerusalem in the 11th century to care for and protect pilgrims in the Christian Holy Land. After the fall of the Crusader States in 1291, the Knights were in Cyprus, then on the Isle of Rhodes, which they stubbornly defended until ejected by the Turks in 1522.  Strategically located near Sicily, the island of Malta was given in 1530 to the Knights by Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. They were based there until driven out by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1798.  The British expelled the French and ruled Malta until granting independence in 1964. The Knights were fragmented after the French expulsion with a complicated constitutional history. Centered in Rome in the twenty-first century they are widely recognized as a sovereign entity in international law, maintaining diplomatic relations with over 100 countries and with a permanent observer mission at the United Nations. The Order has over 13,000 members and employs over 40,000 medical personnel assisted by over 80,000 volunteers worldwide, regardless of distinction, to assist sick, homeless, and otherwise distressed persons.

Goussancourt, Mathieu de. Le martyrologe des Chevaliers de S. lean de Hiervsalem, dits de Malte. Contenant levrs eloges, armes, blasons, preuves de chevalerie,and descente genealogique de la pluspart des maisons illustres de l 1Europe. Avec la svitte des grands-maistres, cardinaux •••Et le catalogue de toutes les commanderies du mesme Ordre ••• Paris, Simeon Piget, 1654. A book devoted to fallen Knights. Catholic University Malta Collection.

Foster W. Stearns (1881-1956) was a native of Massachusetts and graduate of Amherst College, Harvard University, and Boston College. He was a librarian at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and State Librarian for Massachusetts prior to military service in World War I. Thereafter, he worked for the U.S. State Department until 1924 when he returned to librarianship at Holy Cross College, Worcester, Massachusetts. He served as a Republican in the U.S. House of Representatives, 1939-1944, was also a Privy Chamberlain of Sword and Cape to Pope Pius XI, and a Knight of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta. His collection, donated to Catholic University in 1955, covers over 800 years of history from the founding of the Order in Jerusalem in the 12th century, containing two hundred eighty one items described in a 1955 catalog by Rev. Oliver Kapsner, O.S.B.[2] Materials include Order statues and early papal privileges, member lists, chronologies, and histories of the Order as well as of Rhodes and Malta. As an addendum to the Stearns Collection, Catholic University added nearly one hundred additional items, such as maps and periodicals, via gift and purchase.

The Carol Saliba Family Collection was gifted to CUA in 1999 by Dr. N. Alex Saliba of Louisville, Kentucky, a retired physician born in Malta. He inherited this collection of letters and documents from his father, Carol, a longtime Commander of the St. John Ambulance Brigade of Malta (an English branch of the Order). The Saliba Collection consists of one hundred forty two manuscripts, including autograph[3] letters and documents, both originals and copies, primarily from the sixteenth to nineteenth centuries. The material has a focus on the Order’s internal affairs as well as their involvement in European politics, especially the Napoleonic era when they lost Malta and were unable to elect a Grand Master. Included are Maltese stamps and coins, memorabilia of Carol’s service in the Ambulance Brigade, and a seventeenth century water color of the flag and coat of arms of the Order.

Re-engraving of the map originally published by Nicolás de Fer;  printed post 1732, when Mattaeus Seutter became imperial geographer under Emperor Charles VI. Catholic University Malta Collection.

Most of the Foster Stearns collection is cataloged and both collections were the focus of the 2015-2016 collaborative digitization project with the Malta Study Center at the Hill Museum and Manuscript Library at St. John’s University in Collegeville, Minnesota. Access to original Malta and Order materials at The Catholic University of America is by appointment only, please contact lib-rarebooks@cua.edu. For more on CUA Rare Books in general please see the earlier blog post by my colleague, Shane MacDonald.

[1] Officially the Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of Saint John of Jerusalem, of Rhodes and of Malta (Latin: Supremus Militaris Ordo Hospitalarius Sancti Ioannis Hierosolymitani Rhodiensis et Melitensis), commonly known as the Order of Malta.

[2] Oliver L. Kapsner, O.S.B. A Catalog of the Foster Streans Collection on the Sovereign Military Order of St. John of Jerusalem, Called, of Malta. Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Library, 1955.

[3] In this case, meaning original, handwritten documents.

 

The Archivist’s Nook: Introducing Students to Rare Books

Stacks of the Clementine Library. I would best describe its scent as warm and toasty.

Think back to the last book you read. How old was it? Were the pages brittle or waxy, thick or thin? How did the cover and pages feel in your hands? Was there a smell to the book – freshly printed or a musty odor? Did the book catch the eye with its cover, type, or images? Did it make a sound when opened – a crisp snap of a never-before-opened spine or the dull groan of well-worn binding? Was picking up this book an experience of all the senses?

While we certainly do not taste our books, there is no way to avoid having an otherwise full sensory experience when entering Rare Books and Special Collections. Contained within its stacks are 70,000 volumes, spanning 10 centuries. The collection includes a wide range of materials from medieval legal texts and early modern musical pieces to twentieth century textbooks and first edition novels. The aroma and sights immediately catch one’s attention, and the feel and sound of each book as you open it offers a reminder of its age.

This past academic year, the Archives staff has been assisting in Rare Books. In addition to answering reference questions and exploring the materials contained within its stacks, we have hosted three classes in the space. Each class came from a distinct program and reviewed different materials with varying learning goals in mind. Much as we are whenever a class comes to handle archival documents for the first time, we were excited to provide the students with their potential first experience of accessing rare books.

Tafsīr wāsiʻ ʻalá al-taʻlīm al-Masīhī (Translation of a Catechism for Confession and Communion), 1770.

In the fall, we hosted students from the School of Theology and Religious Studies as part of a “History and Theory of Catechetics” course. During their visit, the students were able to work with dozens of catechisms spanning several continents, numerous languages, and six centuries. Tapping into the collections of sixteenth-century folios and assorted Catholic theological and lay devotional publications, we were able to create an evolutionary display of catechisms from the fifteenth century to the present. Among the highlights were an Arabic catechism from 1770, a Navajo catechism from 1937, and a series of pocket catechisms from the nineteenth century. Supplementing this collection with materials from the Archives, we were able to bring the students from the Council of Trent to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

As the new semester began in the cold of January, our staff prepared to host another visiting class, this time from the School of Philosophy. Entitled “Before Printing: The Establishment and Transmission of Ancient and Medieval Texts,” the course’s professor wished to expose her students to the physicality of the manuscripts they would study over the coming months. From our medieval manuscript and incunabula collections, we provided several Thomistic philosophical and theological treatises. Through a partnership with the Semitics/ICOR Library, the class was also able to review Arabic philosophical texts. While the students would primarily continue to work with facsimiles and digital copies of manuscripts this semester, having that initial opportunity for a full sensory experience is key to both contextualizing the sources and eliciting excitement.

Lectionarium, ca. 1200 (MS 158). Some of the volumes have intricate bindings and clasps, added by much later owners. This particular binding is seen in numerous manuscripts in our collections.

My own first exposure to manuscripts was in Rare Books at Catholic University. Working with a medieval copy of Gratian’s Decretum as part of a class project helped me appreciate the beauty and wonder of these texts, and solidified my excitement for curation and historical research. I would never have guessed I would be helping provide access to these same materials years later!

Finally, our most recent academic visitors came as part of a Greek and Latin course, “Latin Paleography.” In addition to two codicology workshops held in Rare Books, the students will each work closely with a medieval manuscript in our collections to create a catalog entry. The manuscripts held by the University are thus providing valuable tools for the students to better understand the materiality and scribal norms of the medieval written word.

In addition to its strengths in Catholic history, Rare Books contains several unique collections, including a Malta collection, the Clementine Library, the Connolly Irish Collection, the Richard N. Foley Modern English Collection, its American Catholic Pamphlets and Parish Histories Collection, and much more.

Book of Hours, ca. 1460 (MS. 136b)

Fundamentally, the collection’s value to the Catholic University community and broader scholarly world lies in its ability to provide students and scholars with opportunities to connect with the history of the written word as well as the contexts and ideas provided by each text. Plus, as the class visits illustrate, it is a wonderful source of collaboration for its sister special collections on campus!

For more information on Rare Books, see: https://libraries.catholic.edu/special-collections/rare-books/index.html

Questions may be addressed to: lib-rarebooks@cua.edu

Unigenitus cataloging project update

Three hundred early eighteenth-century French and Latin titles from the Albani collection, many of them the only exemplars in the United States, are now cataloged and available to researchers in Rare Books and Special Collections (214 Mullen). A sampling of their content may be found at the RBSC blog:   http://ascendonica.blogspot.com/