Monday, February 16, 2009

Medieval water mill found in Greenwich

By Nick Collins
16 February 2009
Press Association National Newswire

The London Eye may tower over modern London, but the discovery of a medieval water mill in Greenwich shows it had an 800-year-old precedent.

The find, at Greenwich Wharf, is the earliest tide-powered mill to be discovered in London, and was an extraordinary feat of engineering when it was built in the late 12th century.

Archaeologists from the Museum of London discovered the foundations of the mill, which measured 10 meters by 12 metres at its base and had a wheel diameter of 5.2 metres, during preparations for a new housing development.

The discovery includes a large piece of intact wheel and an enormous trough made from a single oak beam. It was so well preserved in riverside peat deposits that carpenters' construction marks are still visible on the wood.

The structure has now been dismantled, and key sections have been moved to York Archaeological Trust for conservation work.

Simon Davis, contract manager for Museum of London Archaeology, said: "Tide mills may have been numerous along the Thames foreshore in the early medieval period. However, little evidence of mills in use in the early medieval period has been found on archaeological sites, so the discovery of a 12th century tide mill at Greenwich is very significant and exciting."

Imagining Jerusalem in the Medieval West

Imagining Jerusalem in the Medieval West

University College, Oxford
Monday & Tuesday, 16 & 17 March 2009
A two-day conference supported by the British Academy

Convened by Dr Lucy Donkin, University College, Oxford with the collaboration of Dr Hanna Vorholt, The Warburg Institute, London

This interdisciplinary conference examines the role of the imagination in the production and use of medieval maps and views of Jerusalem. Papers will discuss the representation of the city and its buildings in manuscripts and early printed books from the Jewish and Christian traditions, with an emphasis on city maps and ground plans of the Temple and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

The conference responds to widening engagement with medieval cartographic material and sustained interest in the concept of sacred space more generally, bringing together speakers from the fields of history, theology and literature as well as art history and the history of cartography. By focusing on a single location of unique importance, it offers an opportunity to reflect on the disciplinary assumptions that continue to inform our work, establishing common ground and facilitating the exchange of ideas.

Two sub-themes provide specific points of encounter: distance and incompleteness. Maps and views of Jerusalem were often made and used by those who could not go there in person. They drew on descriptions and dimensions as much as the actual cityscape, and were themselves copied and elaborated on. By arranging information spatially, they enhanced understanding of texts concerning Jerusalem. At the same time, they also fulfilled an interpretative function, presenting an essentially partial view of the city which highlighted certain aspects as significant while prompting the imagination to complete the picture.

The conference is accompanied by a display of manuscripts and printed books from the collections of the Bodleian Library, which will be on public view in the Library’s Exhibition Room between 23 February and 21 March.

Sacred Leaves Graduate Symposium

15 February 2009
US Fed News

The University of South Florida issued the following news release:

Religious writings through the ages reveal compelling and even startling ideas for today's believers and scholars, alike. An upcoming conference at the University of South Florida will delve into some of these ideas and show the similarities and differences between religions, the beauty and power of religious language, how religions borrowed from each other, the powerful role of women many hundreds of years ago and the important and permissible role of sexual and erotic themes in mystical literature.

While that's a tall order, USF Library's Third Annual Sacred Leaves Graduate Symposium running from Feb. 19 to 20, will deliver some of the nation's leading nationally and internationally recognized religious studies scholars exploring thought-provoking and sometimes controversial aspects of medieval religious development.

Under the heading "Comparative Mysticism of the Middle Ages, 1000-1600," this gathering of experts, scholars, students and interested individuals will cover a lot of territory. Topics range from Christian mystical texts, the Spanish Inquisition and women, Jewish mysticism, medieval holy men, mysticism and ethics, to Byzantine art, Sufi poetry's connection to French troubadour lyrics and more.

"The symposium is for everyone - from church-goers to the curious - who wants to understand how we all came to believe what we believe today," said Mark Greenberg, director, USF Special & Digital Collections and the Florida Studies Center. "There is a lot of fascinating knowledge to be shared and enjoyed."

The keynote address, sponsored by the USF Humanities Institute, will be delivered by distinguished religious scholar Michael Sells, John Henry Barrows Professor, University of Chicago Divinity School. His talk, "Mysticism, Longing and the Erotic in the Writings of 13th-Century Sufi Master Ibn al-Arabi," will take in mystical literature in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam and provide a glimpse into the thinking behind the conference. It takes place Feb. 19, at 7 p.m. in the Gibbons Alumni Center's Traditions Hall.

"Michael Sells has written extensively in this area and is an expert on the Qur'an as well as Islamic love poetry," said Greenberg. "He is going to look at the love poetry of Ibn al-`Arabi, both on its own terms and as an opening to the wider role of sexual and erotic themes within the mystical literature of the period. He presents several of the short poems with Ibn al-`Arabi's Translation of Desires both as examples of two trends of classical Arabic love poetry - the Bedouin and the courtly - and as a core element in unfolding Sufi understanding of mystical union."

Presented by The Special and Digital Collections Department of the Tampa Library, there are six sessions in all, two on Thursday afternoon and the remaining four all day Friday. For the full schedule, visit or call (813) 974-2731 for more information.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Using and Abusing the Past

On Friday, February 6th, The Agenda, a Canadian current-affairs show, had a roundtable discussion with five historians on the issue: What should we know about our past? Is there such a thing as too much history?

This video should be available for only a few days.

Catalogue of Digitized Medieval Manuscripts from UCLA

Google "Edward the Confessor" and you'll get page after page of links to biographies of this 11th-century English king, to Westminster Abbey, which he founded and where he is buried, and to the Magna Carta, which was partly inspired by laws enacted during his 24-year reign.

But a completely digitized manuscript of the oldest surviving Anglo-Norman history of the king does not turn up — at least on the first 20 search pages — even though Cambridge University painstakingly scanned the sumptuously illustrated manuscript in 2003.

That history, "The Life of King Edward the Confessor," probably written by a Benedictine monk named Matthew Paris sometime between 1250 and 1260, is not alone. Somewhere between 5,000 and 10,000 rare and precious medieval manuscripts have been scanned over the past decade into formats that could be studied over the Internet if only scholars knew they existed and knew where to find them.

"Searching for medieval manuscripts gets you millions of hits, most of which have nothing to do with manuscripts, and when they do, they usually feature only images of a single page rather than the entire book," said Matthew Fisher, an assistant professor of English at UCLA. "Since finding these great projects is so tough, they're functionally invisible."

Fisher set out two years ago to remedy the situation. With the assistance of two graduate students in English, a computer developer from UCLA's Center for Digital Humanities and Christopher Baswell, a former UCLA professor of English, Fisher decided to collect links to every manuscript from the eighth to the 15th century that had been fully digitized by any library, archive, institute or private owner anywhere in the world.

In December 2008, the group launched the initial results. The UCLA-based Catalogue of Digitized Medieval Manuscripts now links to nearly 1,000 manuscripts by 193 authors in 20 languages from 59 libraries around the world, allowing users to flit from England to France to Switzerland to the United States — to name the locations of just a few of the featured repositories — with the click of a mouse.

Highlights of the virtual holdings include:

The largest surviving collection of the works of Christine de Pizan, one of the first women in Europe to earn a living as a writer. The manuscript was commissioned by Queen Isabeau of France in 1414 and is now held by the British Library.
An Irish copy of the Gospel of John, bound in ivory and presented to Charlemagne sometime around 800, now in the library of the monastery of St. Gall in Switzerland.
The Junius manuscript, one of only four major manuscripts preserving poetry in Old English. Dated to around 1000, the book is now among the holdings of Oxford's Bodleian Library.

"Because these manuscripts are so old and fragile, libraries are digitizing them, but you can't find them," Fisher said. "We're completing the step of making them accessible to the world."

Employing a Web application designed by the Center for Digital Humanities, which promotes the use of computer technology in humanities research and instruction, the Catalogue of Digitized Medieval Manuscripts allows users to search for manuscripts according to their author, title, language and archiving institution.

In its first three weeks of operation, the site had almost 5,000 visitors from Australia, England, France, Italy, Germany, Spain, the Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland, Austria, Canada and all over the United States. In addition to librarians and academics, the site has been visited by hobbyists from such groups as the Society for Creative Anachronism.

"The chorus of response has been, 'Thank you,'" said Fisher, who joined UCLA's faculty in 2006. "'We needed this.'"

That's music to Fisher's ears. A member of a new generation of scholars who cut their teeth in the San Francisco Bay Area during the dot-com era, the Los Angeles native is motivated by a commitment to democratize access to some of the world's most exclusive repositories.

"The price of admission shouldn't be a plane ticket to a library in Europe or even Australia," he said. "These documents are part of the world's cultural patrimony. Everybody should have access."

So far, the effort has been funded by UCLA's Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies and the University of California's Humanities Research Institute, a multicampus center designed to promote collaborative and interdisciplinary humanities research. But Fisher hopes eventually to get outside funding to speed up the process. He also hopes that libraries will start taking notice of the effort and revamp their cataloging procedures to make it easier to ferret out and link to newly digitized manuscripts.

"Now that UCLA has delivered the solution, it's time to get everybody involved," Fisher said. Ultimately, he envisions including every medieval manuscript that has been digitized in its entirety. "We'll never replace the joy of sitting down with an 800-year-old book," he said, "but we will bring the wonder of these manuscripts to people who might never experience them otherwise."

To view the e-catalogue, visit

Friday, February 06, 2009

Different Visions: A Journal of New Perspectives on Medieval Art

30 January 2009
Arizona State University

With every decade that passes, the subject matter studied by medieval art historians recedes farther into the distant past. But that doesn't stop these scholars from discussing and writing about their passion. Nor does it stop them from publishing.

Corine Schleif, a professor of art history in the Herberger College School of Art, is the editor of the inaugural edition of a new online journal, Different Visions: A Journal of New Perspectives on Medieval Art.

The first edition, titled "Triangulating Our Vision," features Schleif's essay titled "Introduction or Conclusion: Are We Still Being Historical? Exposing the Ehenheim Epitaph Using History and Theory."

"This edition is dedicated to Madeline H. Caviness's triangulatory approach to medieval art," Schleif said. "It aims to rekindle discussions about methodology and the use of critical theory together with considerations of historical context."

So what does this mean to the average person who travels to Europe to gaze at the windows in the Chartres Cathedral, or view other religious works of art, such as Jan van Eyck's Ghent Altarpiece?

"The triangulatory approach stresses using not just theoretical insights and not just historical facts and dates, but both -- not one without the other," Schleif said. "It proposes opening up works of art from the Middle Ages not for their own sake but for audiences of today."

In other words, Schleif said, the approach "shows how works of art from the past can be used to discuss the issues that engage us today: e.g. religion, race, the invention of whiteness, the alignment of whiteness with good and darkness or blackness with evil."

An example is the use of whiteness in Medieval stained glass. In her article, "From the Self-Invention of the Whiteman in the Thirteenth Century to The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly," Caviness explains, "in the later Middle Ages, saints in paradise gleam as white as their garments. By then it had become the norm for glass-painters to use colorless glass instead of flesh tints. A virginal saint might be celebrated in enamels, with a pearly complexion and 'pure' white garment. At some stage, Christians appropriated something of this sanctity by depicting their kind as truly 'white.'"

Did those Medieval artists really mean to imply goodness through whiteness? "We can't go back in time to ask the artists what they meant," Schleif said. "We can only open the works of art through theory, for us today. Only we count."

In her article, Schleif explores the relationships depicted in the Ehenheim Epitaph, a panel measuring 113 by 102 centimeters, which has hung in the parish church of St. Lorenza in Nuremberg since it was painted following the death of vicar general Dr. Johannes von Ehenheim in 1438.

No archival records exist for this work, which shows Saint Lawrence, titular saint of the Nuremberg parish, Empress Cunegond and Emperor Henry II, saints of the Bamberg diocese, advocating for Ehenheim with Christ, portrayed on the right. In this painting, Christ alone stands untouched and untouchable, but clad only in a filmy loincloth.

The inaugural issue of "Different Visions" includes articles from a variety of perspectives and disciplines. "To promote the combined methods of theory and history, we invited well-known art historians, renowned scholars from related disciplines, and young scholars with fresh new ideas," Schleif said.

In helping establish the e-journal, Schleif has learned a great deal about publishing. "The e-journal has advantages and disadvantages," she said. "We can have many images, and it's not as expensive to reproduce them. But the image providers sometimes want to charge even more than for conventional books, and we have to remind them that these works are in the public domain and that non-interpretive photographs are not under copyright.

"The e-journal is free and accessible, and potentially, you can have feedback from other scholars. And, e-books are more work in some ways. More and more, scholars are required to take responsibility for editing and layout," Schleif said. "But considering the status of publishing today, perhaps this increasing responsibility is good for scholars since it allows us to get our work, and get it out faster. As medievalists, they're publishing less and less of our work."

To view "Different Visions: A Journal of New Perspectives on Medieval Art," go to

Sacred Beauty: Medieval and Renaissance Illuminated Manuscripts from the Collection of Robert J. Parsons

Nasher Museum of Art Presents Illuminated Manuscripts
29 January 2009
Duke University

An exhibition of Medieval and Renaissance illuminated manuscripts from France, Italy, the Netherlands and Spain will be presented by the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University. The exhibition, "Sacred Beauty: Medieval and Renaissance Illuminated Manuscripts from the Collection of Robert J. Parsons," features pages with miniature painted scenes of religious subjects. The exhibition is on view from Jan. 29 through May 10.

The manuscripts are "illuminated" with burnished gold leaf or gold in liquid form that contains ground gold powder applied with a pen or brush. The vellum pages were made from treated calfskin, and are vividly colored with tempera paints made from natural materials and precious gems ground into pigments. All come from religious books, most from the 15th and 16th centuries.

The collection was assembled by Robert J. Parsons (Ph.D. in English, '80), who began collecting while he was a student at Duke. The installation is accompanied by religious works of the 14th to 17th centuries from the Nasher Museum's permanent collection, including stained-glass windows, paintings, sculpture and a complete book of hours.

"These important centuries-old manuscript pages are of an extraordinary quality and make for a jewel box of an installation," said Kimerly Rorschach, Mary D.B.T. and James H. Semans Director of the Nasher Museum. "I hope visitors will enjoy making connections between the exquisite scenes in the manuscripts and popular works in our permanent collection."

The Nasher Museum of Art is located at 2001 Campus Drive at Anderson Street on the Duke campus. The museum is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday; 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Thursday; and noon to 5 p.m. on Sunday. The museum is closed Mondays.

Admission is $5 for adults, $4 for seniors and members of the Duke Alumni Association, $3 for non-Duke students with identification and free for children 16 and younger. Admission is free to all on Thursday nights. Admission is free to Duke students, faculty and staff with Duke Cards. Admission is also free to Nasher Museum members and Durham city residents who present a valid identification with proof of residency.

Additional information is available at Support for the exhibition comes from the Center for Medieval & Renaissance Studies at Duke and Duke Divinity School.