Unlocking a mystery

Special collection helps scholars understand the medieval book

For the past eight years, people from around the world have gathered at the University of South Carolina’s Hollings Library to experience the wonder of medieval manuscripts, and this year is no different. The ninth annual Medieval Manuscripts Symposium will take place April 1-2. “Understanding the Medieval Book,” is a two-day seminar dedicated to learning about the care, keeping and understanding of medieval manuscripts.

“This is an incredible event that showcases our teaching collection of medieval manuscripts,” says Elizabeth Sudduth, associate dean for special collections. “The symposium is a great way for people with an interest in medieval manuscripts to work with these rare materials in our collection.”

University Libraries‘ Irvin Department of Rare Books and Special Collections is home to 137 medieval manuscripts. The diverse collection comprises a cultural treasury and provides significant value to the university and the state. Through the university’s leadership in research, teaching and outreach, students and scholars worldwide can unlock the mysteries and knowledge of these historical documents. To South Carolina residents, the collection is a historical archive of endless fascination; to university faculty, a teaching tool; to scholars and students, a source of information and research documentation.

The 25 symposium attendees, including professors, students, historians, book dealers, book conservators and collectors, will have the opportunity to interact hands-on with the collection which includes some of the oldest manuscripts in the world, such as the Breslauer Bible (ca. 1240), the oldest codex, or complete book, which was added to University Libraries’ collection in 2012.

“People who attend the event learn how to approach reading a manuscript for the first time. It’s as if they are meeting a new potential friend,” says English professor Scott Gwara, who teaches classes on medieval manuscripts and manuscript culture at South Carolina. “They get to observe and discover how the book has changed over time — the binding, the punctuation, the artwork and any damage. The manuscripts are infinitely researchable.” 

The symposium includes a free public lecture Monday (April 1) at 4:30 p.m. in the Hollings Library program room by Christopher de Hamel, former Donnelley Fellow Librarian at Corpus Christi College in Cambridge. De Hamel, who oversaw one of the most important international collections of early manuscripts, will speak on his award-winning book, “Meetings with Remarkable Manuscripts,” which details his personal experience with the world’s most celebrated medieval manuscripts.

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