Hello to the Folger

27 04 2011

Glossing over my nightmarish flights from Ithaca to DC via La Guardia, we arrive in Washington DC on Saturday afternoon, bang in the middle of a thunderstorm. The pathetic fallacy is not sustained for long though, or maybe it is, as the sun comes out the next day and stays out until I leave. Hurrah! I even wore my sunglasses.

On Monday I had a free day, so I spent it in the Folger Shakespeare Library reading room:

As you can see from my artful annotations, there were three real Fuseli paintings on the wall opposite me. The old reading room is even more impressive, a facsimile Elizabethan hall with wood panelling and stained glass and tapestries and fresh flowers on the table. (If any readers have ever been to Edinburgh University, it has more than a touch of the Teviots about it, but thankfully without the Union Committee…)





Goodbye to Cornell

27 04 2011

I felt quite bereft to leave the Olin Library, after spending the best part of three days in there. Marilyn Migiel and her colleagues looked after me so well that it has been a most cruel awakening to have to feed and entertain myself again now that I’ve left them.

L'Inferno di Topolino

Here is Professor Migiel in front of the poster for the Kroch Library’s current exhibition, Animal Legends: From the Trojan Horse to Godzilla. The banner nods to the library’s historic Dante collection (erm, perhaps), with an image taken from a 1949 Italian adaptation of the Commedia which appeared in the monthly comic Topolino. More details here. And if nothing else, I recommend you check out the Unimal in the online exhibition.

And here I am, for posterity, on my way out of the Kroch Special Collections. I hope I come back soon.

Why has he written the title on the back cover?





Information Design in Dante’s Commedia

27 04 2011

After another glorious lunch on Cornell (this time with Professors Migiel and Kathleen Long, righteous pre-modernists both), it was back to the library for my Dante workshop.

It was just like Orbital at Glastonbury

With the picture of Deansgate behind me to inspire me, I talked a bit about the historic links between the Rylands and Fiske Dante collections, before doing a not-very-whistle-stop tour of the development of the Dante editions (2 hours and counting…). I began with the 1472 Foligno editio princeps, zipped through my old favourites the 1477 Venice and Landino (but missed out the Nidobeato for time), then showed some milestones in the visual tradition, with the 1487 Brescia, one of the 1493 Venice editions; a quick detour into the smaller book with the 1502 Aldine and 1506 Giunta, then back out again with more illustrations in the form of the 1512 Stagnino and 1544 Marcolini editions.

I had an extraordinarily distinguished audience of Italian pre-modernists: Professors Marilyn Migiel, John Najemy, Bill Kennedy, and Professor Emerita Carol Kaske. Also present were Visiting Fellow AmyRose McCue Gill, and PhD student Joel Pastor, plus a visiting scholar from Toronto whose name I unfortunately didn’t get. (If you ever read this, do contact me so I can update the post!)

I really hope we get to do this again sometime, and that this is only the first of many further collaborations between the collections.





From the Vaults

27 04 2011

I was overtaken by events after the last post, so am now belatedly updating my American diary somewhat after the fact (i.e., from the UK). So, where were we?

On the Friday morning, I met with Patrick Stevens, the curator of the Fiske Dante collection, to look at the books for my afternoon workshop. The Dante collection is stupendous, so I decided to request nine of my favourite editions, and here they are:

That timeless composition: the trolleyfull of Dantes. Plus bag.

We worked ourselves into quite the bibliomaniacal frenzy, which is perhaps not surprising, given the quality of the books. Unlike the Rylands editions, the Cornell ones have much more in the way of readers’ annotations, and in one case even some children’s drawings in them. I think this is probably a function of the two collections’ respective histories: while our copies tend to have been acquired via Mrs Rylands’s purchase of the collections of the early-nineteenth-century bibliomanes, who valued pristine copies, Willard Fiske bought many of his in Italy and from a wider variety of booksellers. There’s so much work to be done on these long-gone readers’ marks on these books, so that might give me a good excuse to come back sometime in the future.

It was fantastic to be able to compare the Cornell Dantes with the Manchester ones. The Cornell Landino is heavily cropped, so much so that at first I thought it was one of the later 1490s printings; but when I called up our digitized edition on Luna I could see that it was still the same edition. The registration of the copper-plate prints was quite different to ours, but it turns out that they are facsimile leaves, inserted later.

As a special treat, Patrick took me into the stacks, which were as amazing as they always are. I saw a sixteenth-century Vita Nuova manuscript, and a manuscript of the Corbaccio, bound in a parchment leaf from an earlier music manuscript, as well as Ezra Cornell’s magnificent safe, and a large model of the Globe theatre. (I do love the objects you find in Special Collections; when I worked at the Brotherton, it was rumoured that there was a large man-trap somewhere on the premises…).

On the way out, we even met the legendary John Najemy, who is looking into the ownership history of the Fiske copy of the 1472 editio princeps of the Commedia. It was a most memorable morning, so thank you, Patrick!

Patrick J. Stevens





Dante at Cornell

14 04 2011

Even before the Rylands Dante collection, there was the Fiske Dante Collection, a world-renowned library put together by the Cornell University Librarian Daniel Willard Fiske in the last decade of the nineteenth century. I’ve known about this incredible resource for years, but this is my first time visiting in person. The Fiske Dante collection is held in the Kroch Special Collections library, in the Olin Library, which is a glorious modernist edifice full of light and space and millions of books and the smell of freshly made coffee (i.e., pretty much academic heaven).

Tomorrow I’m doing a workshop with some of the early printed editions of the Commedia held in the Fiske collections, with the curator, Patrick Stevens. In the meantime, you can find out more about Fiske himself and his Dante collection here.

And here is a picture of the Olin library, taken when I got here yesterday. (You can just about see it through the mist and rain.)

Officially wetter than Manchester





Manchester Dante on tour: Cornell

14 04 2011

I’m currently in the United States on a teaching reconnaissance mission, spending my winnings from my 2010 University Teaching Excellence Award. I’m hoping to develop my research-led teaching practice, and so during this trip I’ll be exploring how other institutions approach the teaching of medieval Italian and book history. This week, I’m visiting Cornell University and then, next week, I’ll be at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington DC with another colleague from Manchester, Dr Jerome De Groot.

Dr De Groot is another 2010 University Teaching Award winner, who was recognized for his innovative work using social media and digital resources in his teaching of early modern studies. He’s also the prime mover behind the Folger ‘Teaching the History of the Book’ workshop at the Folger, and has secured an absolutely stellar line-up for the day.

During my stay at Cornell, I’m being hosted (in some style) by Professor Marilyn Migiel of the Department of Romance Studies. Professor Migiel is best known for her feminist criticism of Boccaccio, especially her award-winning book A Rhetoric of the Decameron, and so it’s a real pleasure and a privilege to be able to join her for a few days here.

Later today I’m giving a paper in the Department of Romance Studies at Cornell, entitled ‘Medieval Italy à la française: English editions of Boccaccio’s Decameron in the nineteenth century’. And look! Here I am on the departmental noticeboard:

(I am the pink poster and also the yellow one at top left.)





Collection close-up: Henry VIII’s Divine Comedy

16 01 2011

On Thursday I did a short close-up session for the public on one of our Dante editions. The book in question is reputed to have belonged to Henry VIII, and whether it actually did or not, it’s still notable amongst our Dante editions as having a provenance history which can be traced back to London in the early sixteenth century.

Continuing our seemingly endless series of photos from the seminar room, here I am showing off the amazing frontispiece woodcuts:

I also took some of our other old friends out for an airing: the smaller volume further down the table is the Strozzi codex, and of course, no session is complete without the mighty Landino.

The session was really well attended, and the participants kept me on my toes with lots of difficult questions. (Luckily, the curatorial staff were on hand to help me out…) Unfortunately, it was all too short, but I’ll be running another one on Saturday 29th January at 12-12.45pm in the Rylands. Tickets are £3, and details are here.





Manchester Dante in the press

6 12 2010

The launch event for the Manchester Digital Dante Project was mentioned in this month’s issue of Unilife. We’re on page 5, in the middle of the right-hand column. I’ll try to put some photos up from the launch itself soon.





Project Launch Event

2 11 2010

We will be holding a launch event for the Manchester Digital Dante Project on Friday 19th November 2010, to be held from 2-5pm in the Seminar Room of the John Rylands Library on Deansgate. The event is directed towards students, academics, and library staff, and will showcase how the project can be used for research-led teaching and learning activities within this university and beyond. It’s also an opportunity for me to say thank you to everyone who’s worked on it – the research assistants and all the library staff, both front of house and backstage – and who’ve made this project not only possible, but fabulous.

Speakers will include Rachel Beckett, Head of Special Collections (JRUL), Carol Burrows, Head of Imaging (JRUL), Professor Brian Richardson (University of Leeds), Professor Simon Gilson (University of Warwick), and Professor Steve Milner (Italian, Manchester). (And me.) Some of our current and former students will also talk about their own research projects on the Dante holdings, and we’ll demo the digital surrogates and their interoperability with other online resources. See you there!





Close-up at the Rylands

2 11 2010

Last week John Hodgson and I did a close-up session for some of our second year students in Italian. We are perfecting our double act: a whistle-stop tour through the forms and features of manuscript and early printed books, a quick detour into Dante-land, the obligatory pass through the Landino, and an unprecedented trip off-piste (for me, at least) into the world of Machiavelli and Castiglione editions.

It was quite the most hilarious hands-on session I’ve ever done, probably due to the fantastic student contributions (something which is admittedly not coming across very well in this picture.)