This past fall, two members of Columbia’s faculty and three librarians came together to co-teach a new interdisciplinary seminar on medieval manuscripts as part of Columbia’s vibrant Medieval & Renaissance Studies Program. The class, “Introduction to Medieval Manuscript Studies,” emerged after a series of conversations between Columbia’s medievalists about the need to provide students–from undergraduates to doctoral students–a hands-on opportunity to work with medieval manuscripts in Columbia’s collection while honing hard skills related to the production, use, and preservation of those manuscripts.
Susan Boynton, Professor of Historical Musicology in Columbia’s Music Department, led an instructional team that included Christopher Baswell, Ann Whitney Olin Professor of English at Barnard and Columbia; Alexis Hagedorn, Head of Conservation in the Columbia University Libraries; Emily Runde, Curator of Medieval and Renaissance Collections at Columbia’s Rare Book & Manuscript Library; and Jeffrey Wayno, Collection Services Librarian at The Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary.
Over the course of the fall semester, fourteen marvelous students from Columbia, Union Theological Seminary, Jewish Theological Seminary, and New York University tackled topics ranging from codicology and manuscript production, to Latin and vernacular paleography (the study of medieval scripts), diplomatics (the study of medieval documents), and the complex study of liturgical manuscripts. Each student produced a final research project on at least one manuscript from Columbia’s Rare Book & Manuscript Library or The Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary. In many cases, these projects not only provided students with an opportunity to learn and hone key skills, but also provided the Columbia Libraries with sophisticated, up-to-date analysis of manuscripts that have often flown under the scholarly radar.
All of the instructors agree that the class was a smashing success, and we very much hope to offer it again soon, possibly on an annual basis. -JW