Nicolas Barker

M-80: Western Manuscripts & Documents, 1500-2000

8-12 June 2009


1) How useful were the pre-course readings?


1: All were interesting, although I'm not sure how one of them applied to the course. 2: The pre-course readings were very useful, well selected and clearly written. 3: Yes—they gave me a good idea of the types of handwriting and documents I'd be working with. May have been a little redundancy. 4: Useful since the details of letterforms are not covered thoroughly in class. 5: I found the pre-course readings helpful, as they allowed background information and insight to the course work. 6: Not strictly necessary to get through the week, but useful and helpful readings. I'm glad I read them. 7: More useful for after the class than before. 8: Very useful—in fact, I would say that they are necessary to the enjoyment of the class. I was very glad that I brought Jean Preston's English Handwriting, 1400-1650 with me. 9: Very. Particularly the Michelle Brown and the Nicolete Gray. The volume that isolated the variants of letterforms in a given document was very helpful. Some of the articles in NB's anthology were excellent. 10: Many of the readings are paleography reference works which provided good reading practice before the course began and will likely prove useful later on as well. 11: The pre-course readings gave me a general idea of the broad range of Western manuscripts and documents. Whalley's The Pen's Excellencie was especially helpful in identifying the changing forms of letters of the alphabet. 12: Useful in terms of content, context, &.—there was a good degree of overlap among Brown/Preston/Petti/Whalley, which was great for cementing facts—but a lot of the material covered was (of necessity) pre-1500, and we didn't refer to the material in class very much at all. N.B.—the Barker volume made for good reading but seemed like an outline.


2) Were the course syllabus and other materials distributed in class appropriate and useful (or will they be so in the future, after you return home)?


1: Yes. 2: The syllabus was satisfactory, though slightly brief. 3: These weren't used in class but should be helpful as a reenforcement of what we learned. The schedule was not strictly adhered to. 4: Yes—but would like to have had a bibliography of writing manuals and of secondary sources. 5: The course syllabus was a great guideline. The handout will be helpful to refer to later on in my own studies. 6: The syllabus was not current and didn't reflect the trip to the Poe exhibition. 7: Yes. 8: I really have not looked very carefully through the spiral notebook distributed in class—I actually find this very odd and would have liked to use it more in class. 9: Yes. Especially the many documents (MSS from RBS collection) that were passed around. A very valuable resource. 10: Syllabus was slightly out of date. 11: I will be referring to the booklet to help date the documents based on the handwriting (within a range of possible dates, as explained by NB). 12: Course pack is expressly designated an "aide memoire," so presumably will come in use in future. Course syllabus did not accurately reflect session-by-session goings-on, and could have been revised prior to the course in order to do so.


3) What aspects of the course content were of the greatest interest or relevance for your purposes? Was the intellectual level of the course appropriate?


1: The general overviews. Yes. 2: Learning what resources to investigate for more information was very useful. 3: Actually working with a selected document, after examining a dozen or two. 4: NB's knowledge and enthusiasm. Having documents to examine. 5: I enjoyed the exposure to the different types of documents, and the integration of the material of the lectures was equally well received. 6: I especially enjoyed the chance to work individually with documents and to consult with NB one-on-one. 7: Looking at a variety of original documents. The intellectual level was appropriate. 8: I now know where to find the resources to help me transcribe the documents I need for my project, and I have some practice reading secretary hand. In general, the historical overview was not particularly relevant to my work, but I'm glad to know it. 9: I was especially interested in materials and hands from the 16th and 17th centuries. Yes. 10: This course offers a very broad view of handwritten western documents—watching NB analyze the rare manuscripts examples was an efficient way to learn a sort of methodology when confronted with similar documents. 11: I feel more confident now, after seeing many early documents, that I will be able to parse out the words to better describe and catalog 16th- and early 17th-century documents. As an American historian, I did feel inadequate in my European and British history for the context of the documents, but several of my classmates are not European scholars either; so the intellectual level was well balanced. 12: Pre-1700 material (script to print, early writing manuals, Gothic/Italic/secretary hands). Intellectually challenging primary material helped make the individual project sections of the course interesting and relevant for me.


4) If your course left its classroom to visit Special Collections (SC) or to make other field trips away from your classroom, was the time devoted to this purpose well spent?


1: Again, enjoyable experiences, but I felt it would have been a better use of our class time to make the trips on our own time. 2: The visit to Monticello was interesting. Particularly the discussion with Jeff Looney [Editor-in-Chief of the Retirement series] about the editorial process for the Jefferson Papers. 3: Yes—a nice break from being in the classroom all day. 4: Yes, nice visit to Monticello. 5: Our field trip was well placed within the week and allowed for additional perspectives to manuscripts in America. The tour of the Poe exhibit at Special Collections was also very interesting and added to our visual experience. 6: I very much enjoyed the Poe exhibition and the trip to Monticello, but the timing of the Poe trip wasn't well worked out and time was wasted afterwards. 7: Looking at the manuscripts at Monticello was interesting and relevant. The tour of the Poe exhibit was time wasted because RBS had already arranged a general tour and the class tour added nothing new or particularly relevant to the course material. 8: I enjoyed the visit to the Poe exhibit—I do think we spent more than enough time there. Same goes for Monticello—perhaps I would not feel this way if there was an opportunity to work on the manuscripts on our own time (but the room was always locked!) 9: Yes. 10: Monticello and Jefferson Library were well worth seeing and another reminder of the complex world that once created the documents we now study—sort of an exercise in contextualization and time well spent in and of itself. 11: I visited Special Collections in the Tuesday lunchtime tour and loved seeing the new facilities and my old friends. The class got an individualized tour of the Poe exhibit where we examined his writing on display. We also visited Monticello and the Thomas Jefferson Foundation offices and had a talk by the editor of the Jefferson Retirement Series papers and the collections curator. The Monticello tour especially gave us a flavor for the context of Jefferson's writing. We even got a tour of the Dome Room, where most folks don't get to go. 12: Monticello visit with collections and editorial specialists was time well spent. Very enjoyable and informative. House tour, although fun, was a bonus item that wasn't entirely necessary. Poe exhibit was interesting, but would rather have had NB lecture on manuscripts than a general exhibit tour.


5) What did you like best about the course?


2: The hands-on attention from a highly knowledgeable, and kind, senior bookman was the best and most useful component. 3: NB's wit, his stories, his knowledge. 4: NB—see three. 5: NB's varied knowledge and delivery of material to a diverse group—I never felt too overwhelmed. 6: Working with documents, getting to know NB, listening to his charming stories. 7: The immense knowledge of the lecturer on the subject; the handling of original documents. 8: I most liked the time when we were able to look at the documents we had chosen for the week and were given time to ask NB questions one-on-one. I also enjoyed the segment about literary documents—we each had a copy of the book in front of us, and I learned a lot as NB went through each one. 9: NB has a vast wealth of knowledge of the subject and is a fine storyteller. Having the manuscripts to examine—the collection is an incredible asset. Very much valued the individual projects and the time allotted for them. 10: NB's stories and analysis of manuscripts were very engaging. 11: I liked the immersion in various kinds of handwriting, trying to read 1600s script, and hearing NB talk about the history of handwriting. 12: Contact with different kinds of manuscripts and documents (and writing manuals) from 1500-1900. The RBS collection can boast an astonishing variety of original (non-facsimile) documents in everyday people's handwriting—invaluable for those like me whose work requires transcription and translation of older documents!


6) How could the course have been improved?


1: I wish we could have individually transcribed a greater variety of hands. I did learn the technique, though. 2: Having someone co-lecture (not needed for the labs) would be useful so that a greater variety of presentation styles would be heard. 3: Less down time, perhaps using an overhead projector to examine documents rather than passing them around and waiting until everyone had seen it/them. Also—not having us so far from Alderman and Lower Tibet. 4: Bibliography and perhaps a structured overview of letterforms, either in class or in a handout, or both. 5: The course could benefit from a restructure of material handling. Perhaps allowing copies of manuscripts or free time to study them after class. 6: Time was wasted in the first half of the week pulling documents and passing them out. Sometimes we sat silently waiting for documents for up to 20 minutes. Distribute and organize materials ahead of time, during breaks. 7: More time devoted to the practice of reading scripts. 8: Better organization! The class worked best when we can all see the document under discussion at the same time—too often NB was holding up a document and explaining it while lots of other documents were circulating. I found this overwhelming. 9: I have an unrealizable fantasy of an elaborate timeline of letterforms. 10: Perhaps an hour of two on the fundamentals of paleography would have been well spent. 11: The packet could include transcripts of the examples to help in comparing. Having a Spanish-English dictionary in the classroom for Spanish documents would have been a great help. NB could have been a little clearer about what he wanted us to do with our documents. Some people did library research on who, what, when, and the context; others of us tried transcribing but didn't delve into the context. 12: 1. NB could have spent more time before class and between class sessions prepping for and gathering what we were to look at in a given session/day. Much time wasted looking for mss/materials. 2. I would have appreciated a bit more attention paid to unique/characteristic letterforms, which would assist with identification/transcription in future. 3. Is there a way for all students to see a given manuscript at once—projector, photocopies—instead of lecture and passing around (which leads to a blur and forgetting) or passing around and lecture and passing around again (which can be monotonous)? 4. Once students have picked individual manuscripts, make copies for student to take away, if desired, to do research during the week? 5. Provide lists of manuscripts sorted by language/date/country to facilitate easier selection of individual projects?


7) We are always concerned about the physical well-being both of the RBS teaching collections and of materials owned by UVa's Special Collections. If relevant, what suggestions do you have for the improved classroom handling of such materials used in your course this week?


2: I don't have any suggestions. 3: I think they were handled with care. Perhaps high-quality photocopies? 5: It may be helpful to have some examples on the overhead or in a presentation format. While not always the best way to truly see documents it would allow for everyone to focus on an object while NB discussed the item. 6: No—some students had water near the documents, but RBS staff intervened to prevent possible mishaps. 9: Hard to say; I think given the need to handle and circulate the original manuscript we viewed, it was done as gently as possible. 10: None I can think of—it is great that the school affords us such great access to these documents. 11: The classroom handling was perfect. 12: This iteration of the course had three staff members enrolled, which means manuscripts and other materials could be pulled and put away promptly by those who know the collections best. This kind of attention is both necessary and useful to all concerned! Please keep student contact with manuscript storage to a minimum and make requisite announcement regarding water/pens, &. at the beginning of the week to lay down ground rules!


8) If you attended the Sunday and/or other evening lectures, were they worth attending?


1: Could have been more original. 2: Yes. They were extremely good. 3: Yes. 4: Yes—both very interesting lectures. 5: I attended most of the extra activities and found them well attended and relevant to our course work. Equally the networking opportunity was outstanding. 6: Yes. I enjoyed hearing Stephen Enniss's reflections on his position at the Folger and its changing role in the current economy. 8: Yes! SE was delightful. 9: Yes. 10: Yes—days do tend to be long though. 11: I was interested to hear TB's last Sunday night talk to get the final history of his tenure at RBS. The Monday lecture topic sounded interesting, but I was too hungry to wait until after the lecture to get dinner so I skipped the lecture. Perhaps schedule the lecture for after dinner in the future. 12: Did not attend Sunday. Monday lecture well worth it.


9) Did you get your money's worth? Any final or summary thoughts, or advice for other persons considering taking this course in a future year?


1: On the whole. I think there should have been more focus on the course and less on the socializing, although I understand the importance of the latter. 2: Yes. Practice reading and writing the hands you are interested in before you arrive. 3: Yes. Enjoy it! 4: Yes, read the literature to see an overview of the variety of scripts to be covered. 5: Yes; I am totally satisfied and will return as well as spread the good word! 6: Yes, although if you had asked this question on Wednesday morning I might not have said so. The course improved as NB became a bit more organized and we got into our individual projects. 7: Yes. 8: Bring photocopies of specific documents that you are working on! 9: Absolutely, though my institution paid. I think RBS classes have been a very sound investment; they've benefitted me enormously. 10: Yes, absolutely. 11: I definitely got my money's worth in this course. I would suggest bringing photocopies of letter forms to consult while transcribing documents. 12: A class worth taking for the breadth of materials and length of time it covers. A good general introduction to different genres of handwriting and their uses. If you have particular interest (time period, region, hand), bring them with you and seek out appropriate primary materials to work with as soon as afforded the chance; there is a small individual "project" and it may help to think in advance about the kinds of things you'd like to see/learn.


Number of respondents: 12





Institution gave me leave: 55%

I took vacation time: 0%

N/A: self-employed, retired, or had summers off: 42%



Institution paid tuition: 58%

I paid tuition myself: 17%

N/A: self-employed, retired, or scholarship: 25%



Instution paid housing: 42%

I paid for my own housing: 17%

N/A: stayed with friends or lived at home: 5%



Institution paid travel: 42%

I paid my own travel: 33%

N/A: lived nearby: 25%


There were 3 rare book librarians (25%), 2 archivist/manuscript librarians (17%), 2 teacher/professors (17%), 3 full-time students (25%), 1 special collections librarian (8%), and 1 other, not specified (8%).