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‘The Lover’s Confession’: students research Confessio Amantis fragment

HelenBiggs23 April 2018

This post contributed by Calum Cockburn and Lauren Rozenberg.

On the 8th and 9th December 2017, UCL Special Collections hosted the third workshop in the Digital Editing and the Medieval Manuscript Fragment series (DEMMF), organised and taught jointly by UCL and Yale postgraduates students to twelve graduate students (the majority of whom are UCL-based).

The workshop began with a lecture on UCL’s manuscript fragment collection and a handling session held at the Institute of Education library led by Katy Makin (UCL Library Services). A huge variety of materials was on on display, including a leaf from a music manuscript, once thought to have been used as a binding for an Early Modern book; a thirteenth-century breviary with a charming inhabited initial; a Hebrew papyrus from the Book of Genesis; and a tiny piece of parchment with lines from Euripides’ Medea. Examining these materials, the participants were introduced to the unique and complex challenges literary scholars and digital editors face in creating literary editions from medieval manuscript fragments, fragments that often vary considerably in size and shape, in the legibility of their scripts and hands, in the nature of their decoration and layout, and the amount of damage they have sustained during their different lifetimes.

The students examining the the Confessio Amantis fragment.

The ultimate aim of this workshop was the collaborative transcription, encoding and publishing of a digital edition of a four-leaf fragment of the Confessio Amantis ‘the Lover’s Confession’ (MS FRAG / ANGL / 1), dated from the fifteenth-century and now housed in UCL Special Collections. This poem is a 33,000-line Middle English work by John Gower (d. 1408), a contemporary of Chaucer (d. 1400), whose compositions were particularly popular during the late medieval period. This text alone survives in 59 copies, one of the most copied manuscripts that survives to us, alongside the Canterbury Tales and Piers Plowman, written by William Langland (d. 1386). The Confessio uses the confession by an ageing love to the chaplain of Venus as the framework for a long series of shorter narrative poems, linked thematically by each of the ‘Seven Deadly Sins’. UCL’s fragment is unique in the collection in that its four leaves were given their own brand new binding at the turn of the twentieth century. It originates from Book V of the poem, concerning Avarice.

 

Two details from MS FRAG / ANGL / 1

To aid them in the creation of their edition of this text, the graduate students took part in a series of discussions and exercises concerning the palaeography and codicology of fragments, digital editing and TEI markup, the use of XML editing tools, most notably oXygen software, and project-based collaboration in the digital arena. Subsequent sessions across the two-day event focused on the teaching of common markup languages and the Text Encoding Initiative.
Subsequently, this expertise was used to mark-up and encode UCL Special Collections’ Confessio Amantis. The fragment itself reflects issues frequently encountered by digital editors of manuscripts and fragments. Most significantly, the fragment’s leaves are actually bound in the wrong order, an observation unrecorded in the manuscript catalogue itself.

Students and instructors examining the Confessio Amantis fragment and discussing its features.

The first folio ranges from lines 775 to 966 of Bk. V while the second one jumps to line 1735 continuing to 1926, before returning to lines 1159 to 1541 over the last two folios. Additionally, the fragment includes numerous small illuminated initials and marginal Latin glosses, separate from the main body of the text, and this raised questions across the weekend as to what the workshop participants should mark up and thus include in their edition itself. Such issues prompted the students to think about the nature of the text and the materiality of medieval manuscripts, and to consider fragments as objects rather than simply illustrated books.

Special Collections provided invaluable high definition images of the fragments. This helped students to prepare their own transcriptions of each manuscript page, and in addition better grasp the necessity for scholars of medieval manuscripts in the digital age. Digital reproductions can indeed alter our experience of the text in different and unforeseen ways. The finished digital edition of our own fragment will be published online at the end of this year, accompanying an edition of another item in Special Collections, a medical manuscript (MS / Lat / 7), transcribed and encoded during a similar workshop that took place during the summer.

The December workshop was made possible thanks to the support of UCL Doctoral School, the Octagon Small Grant Fund, the UCL English Department and Yale Beinecke Rare Book & Music Library. We’re especially grateful to Katy Makin (UCL Special Collections Archivist), for allowing us access to the fragment collection and assembling these materials on the day, and to Dr. Alex Lee (UCL SELCS), for all her palaeographic expertise and help in the transcription of the document itself.

The DEMMF workshop was coordinated by Dana Kovarik (UCL PGR English). The team of instructors included Ph.D. students from a number of different departments and institutions. From UCL’s Arts & Humanities and Social & Historical Sciences faculties: Calum Cockburn (UCL PGR English), Lauren Rozenberg (UCL PGR History of Art), Agata Zielinska (UCL PGR History). From Yale University: Gina Marie Hurley (Yale PGR Medieval Studies) and Mireille Pardon (Yale PGR) as well as Stephanie Azzarello from Cambridge University (Pembroke College, History of Art).

‘Excavations’ in the IOE’s School Histories Collection

NazlinBhimani8 November 2017

The Newsam Library at the Institute of Education has a large collection of  education institutional histories. These form a discrete collection and provide a rich source of information on individual schools, colleges and universities and their communities across Britain. The books and pamphlets mainly date from the early twentieth century up to the present day. Older materials, dating mainly from the nineteenth century, are held in the History of Education Collection in the closed stacks. This post focuses on the school histories which make up a significant part of the collection.

In anticipation of the half-day symposium on writing institutional histories, jointly organised by ICHRE (International Centre for Historical Research in Education) and FNLA (Friends of the Newsam Library and Archives), we present a guest blog by Dr. Barry Blades on his use of the IOE’s School Histories Collection to write his book, Roll of Honour.


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Blades, B., 2015. Roll of Honour: Schooling and the Great War 1914-1919. Pen & Sword Military, Barnsley, South Yorkshire.

The School Histories Collection  consists of hundreds of monographs of individual British schools, covering a range of institutions spanning the educational spectrum. The voluminous histories of elite public schools stand next to brief studies of charity schools for waifs and strays. Publications marking the centenaries of ancient grammar schools are shelved next to accounts of elementary schools which no longer exist or have been absorbed into other institutions. A school’s place in the hierarchy of schooling is generally mirrored by the status of the publishing house which was commissioned to tell its story. Many of these histories – the vast majority relating to English, Welsh and Scottish institutions – were written by alumni: former pupils, teachers (especially retired Deputy Headteachers) and governors determined to place on record the distinctive development and particular achievements of their alma mater.

 

It is easy for the outsider to criticise the esoteric, celebratory and partisan nature of these histories. The great majority were intended primarily for the school community itself. Few beyond the immediate community would identify the school in question from headline titles such as Where the Fat Black Canons Dined, Further Up Stephen’s Brae, or Hyacinths and Haricot Beans. Subtitles were generally more informative. These histories were aimed predominantly at a readership already familiar with the institution, namely the ‘Old Boys’ or the ‘Old Girls’. An institutional history might cover hundreds of years, but in most there will be at least one section for the alumnus which refers to their particular period of attendance and school life as they experienced it. Headteachers inevitably dominate the story. The tenures of these deified – and very occasionally demonised – individuals commonly provide a chronological structure to a story of growth and development. Teachers, and especially those with nicknames deriving from their idiosyncratic mannerisms or behaviour, are fondly remembered. Heroic deeds on the playing field and battlefield are fixed in print and validate memories of achievement and loss. Narrative triumphs over analysis.

Yet, what may at first appear to be the greatest weaknesses of published school histories is, for the historian investigating the history of education more generally, their greatest strength. The rich detail, the human stories and the relatively obscure anecdotage contained therein tell us so much about the ethos, culture and formative traditions of individual institutions. These ‘secondary’ sources thus become a form of ‘primary’ material when the researcher asks questions relating to continuity and change and similarity and difference in any given period or aspect of schooling. Many of the histories were, of course, constructed using primary sources, their authors making full use of the archive material still retained by many institutions. School logbooks, magazines, headteachers’ annual reports, governors’ minutes, the records of alumni organisations, and ephemera including school photographs and fixture lists are the real archival treasures upon which these broader accounts are based.

Roll of Honour, the first book in the Schooling and the Great War trilogy, includes material from over one hundred such histories and drew ideas and inspiration from many more. Wherever possible I used extracts which were evidently drawn directly from the institutional archives. Other material was subjected to the usual tests of authenticity, accuracy and reliability. School histories vary considerably in their coverage of national events. This was particularly noticeable when searching for references to the Great War of 1914 to 1919. A few histories cover the wartime years in detail. In others, there is little or no reference at all to the impact of the war on the daily life of the school or even to the conflict in general. In many, the wartime experiences of alumni take centre stage. Taken collectively, however, these histories formed a major component of my research; an evidence base which could be cross-referenced and triangulated with material from other archival collections, official publications, newspapers, contemporary autobiographies, printed secondary works and digital resources.

For the researcher who wants to find out more about how different institutions created, developed and maintained their distinct cultures and particular identities, then dig deep into the School Histories Collection. For the researcher who wants to discover how institutional imperatives tempered directives from national and local authorities, or how schools responded to national and local economic and social circumstances, then test your hypotheses in the School Histories Collection. For those of you who are historians of the school curriculum, or teachers and teaching methods, or pupil origins and destinations – or indeed any given period or particular aspect of British schooling – I can assure you that delving into the School Histories Collection will be most rewarding.

Barry Blades

UCL Rare-Books Club: John Evelyn’s Contribution to Restoration Bibliophily

HelenBiggs6 September 2017

What: UCL Rare-Books Club
When: 1.15-1.45pm, Tuesday 12 September
Where: UCL Special Collections Reading Room, South Junction

After a very successful launch event, we’re excited to bring you the second talk in our series of Rare-Books Club talks.

This will talk will take place on Tuesday 12 September, 1.15pm–1.45pm, in the UCL Special Collection Reading Room, South Junction (next to the UCL Shop!). Jacquie Glomski, UCL Honorary Senior Research Associate, will present a talk on John Evelyn’s Contribution to Restoration Bibliophily.

John Evelyn’s Instructions concerning Erecting of a Library (London, 1661) was a translation of Gabriel Naudé’s Advis pour dresser une bibliothèque (Paris, 1627, 1644), the most famous and influential early modern treatise on book collecting. Evelyn’s translation shows that he kept up with French trends and was concerned that English Restoration bibliophiles should not lag in their enthusiasm for establishing great libraries.

This is a chance not only to hear about Jacquie’s research, but also to see UCL Special Collection’s copy of this fascinating volume, which will be on display in the Reading Room.

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