2021–22 RBS-UVA Fellows

The RBS-UVA Fellowship provides undergraduate and graduate students at the University of Virginia with scholarships to attend RBS courses that substantially inform year-long projects (viz., a Distinguished Major’s thesis, an article, a dissertation chapter, an exhibition) that they submit to RBS upon completion. The 2021–22 cohort of RBS-UVA Fellows includes:

  • Rosario Cornejo – Ph.D. student, McIntire Department of Art
  • Loren Lee – Ph.D. student, Department of English
  • Sydney Montgomery – B.A. student, McIntire Department of Art
    **Recipient of the 2021–22 Dawn and Stuart Houston Prize for Most Outstanding Project**
  • Eleanore Neumann – Ph.D. student, McIntire Department of Art
  • William Nichols – Ph.D. student, Department of Classics
  • Rachel Retica – Ph.D. student, Department of English
  • Chloe Wells – Ph.D. student, McIntire Department of Art

Rosario Cornejo
Ph.D. student, McIntire Department of Art


Loren Lee
Ph.D. student, Department of French
A Matrix of Skins: Reading Christian Materialism in the Manuscripts of Version T of La Vie de sainte Marie l’Égyptienne

Raymond Clemens’s RBS course, The Book in the Manuscript Era, was my first serious foray into the field of manuscript studies, and although the course was offered online in the summer of 2021, Clemens conveyed his expertise and enthusiasm for the subject in such a way that I felt both determined to make manuscript studies a core part of my research and more equipped to do so. The project I am developing as a result of this RBS course considers how readers of La Vie de sainte Marie l’Égyptienne—a later medieval vernacular hagiography of the penitent saint and Desert Mother Mary the Egyptian—may have experienced a particularly heightened appreciation of the text’s message by interacting directly with the manuscript objects containing this saint’s life. My work draws on Sarah Kay’s Animal Skins and the Reading Self in Medieval Latin and French Bestiaries (2017), which argues that bestiaries position the reader in skin-to-skin contact with the animal kingdom, thereby destabilizing the reader’s understanding of the human/non-human divide. I suggest that readers of this hagiography may have felt a similar contact with the flesh of this saint through interaction with the parchment page. The French tradition of this hagiography was so immensely popular in the period that it remains extant in roughly a dozen versions across more than 40 manuscript copies. Equipped with the skills and knowledge I have acquired so far at RBS, I hope to produce a dissertation that will spark new insights into this understudied text and contribute to the genre of medieval hagiography.


Sydney Montgomery
Recipient of the 2021–22 Dawn and Stuart Houston Prize for Most Outstanding Project
Ph.D. student, McIntire Department of Art
Vision, Flesh, and Blood: Animating the Materiality and Making of Medieval Manuscripts from a Disabled Perspective

This year, my thesis project was to finish a series of three short animated films titled “Vision,” “Flesh,” and “Blood” for an exhibition in Ruffin Gallery. Each film imagines a step of the medieval manuscript-making process through a different condition of the body, highlighting the sensory and emotional experience of creating devotional texts in a monastic setting. The films also make use of digital facsimiles, exploring the creative possibilities of re-contextualizing these images in an animated format as well as imagining histories of disabled artists. Raymond Clemens’s course, The Book in the Manuscript Era, gave me the background I needed in order to go beyond reenacting the medieval manuscript-making process and really delve into the themes through animation. A large focus of the course was on the materials used in manuscripts, from pigments to writing tools and surfaces. The examples we went through thoroughly in class provided a large visual library to draw upon as I planned the last two films. Getting to make iron-gall ink and learn to write with a quill pen as part of the class was an exciting experience that helped to inform the films’ soundscape and also acted as a reference for some of the animations.

Links to animated films:

Vision: https://vimeo.com/557437509
Flesh: https://vimeo.com/655530507
Blood: https://vimeo.com/697916584

A virtual version of Sydney Montgomery’s exhibition:


Eleanore Neumann
Ph.D. student, McIntire Department of Art
Publishing the Natural History of Brazil and Chile

I completed two short courses at the Rare Book School: Descriptive Bibliography: The Fundamentals with David R. Whitesell, and Textual Connected Histories: Books and Reading in the Early Modern European World with Roger Chartier and John H. Pollack. While I had planned for my studies at RBS to inform one chapter of my dissertation, I restructured the entire project following completion of my coursework and the remainder of my archival research in the United Kingdom. The third chapter of my dissertation, “Maria Graham (1785-1842) and the Gendered Landscape in Britain,” now focuses on the publication of her natural history fieldwork in the wake of the 1822 Valparaíso earthquake rather than treating the botanical and geological research she undertook in Brazil and Chile separately. In her publications, Graham asserted her authority as an eyewitness through inventive word-image relationships, which, I argue, professionalized her status as an artist, author, and naturalist.

Introduction to the Principles of Bibliographical Description provided me with the methodology to examine and describe the printed books at the heart of each chapter systematically. The original chapter focused on Graham’s Journal of a Residence in Chile, a copy of which I examined in Special Collections. After writing a description in conversation with David Whitesell, we uncovered variations in the format, type of paper, and placement of the illustrations that I will further investigate when I have access to additional copies in London this summer. Textual Connected Histories provided me with the larger framework to better understand the global circulation and consumption of knowledge through text and illustrations. I incorporated these new perspectives into a paper that I presented on a section of the chapter at the Association for Eighteenth Century Studies Conference. The final version of the chapter will be finished by summer 2022.


William Nichols
Ph.D. student, Department of Classics
The Metamorphoses of a Text: The Three Lives of a Manuscript Fragment of Ovid’s Metamorphoses

My project was on the medieval manuscript fragments of the Rosenthal collection housed in UVA Special Collections. All of the items in this collection are individual leaves, many of them taken from the bindings of printed texts. Bernard Rosenthal sold it to UVA with the intention of making it a kind of laboratory for paleography, but I found it even more helpful for research and practice with fragmentology. The Rare Book School course I completed, Fragmentology, was taught by Lisa Fagin Davis. Fragmentology is the study of manuscript fragments inasmuch as they are fragments, which gives us the chance to look at a single leaf torn out of a manuscript centuries ago and reconstruct not only its origin, but where and how it was used since then. In particular, I looked at one manuscript fragment of Ovid containing part of the Metamorphoses. The purpose of the project was to reconstruct, as much as possible, the entire past of the manuscript, from its origins in an Italian manuscript of the fourteenth century, to its use as binding waste in an early printed book, to its removal by an Italian bookseller and subsequent purchase by Rosenthal sometime between 1953 and 1970. Fragmentology is key to most of my argumentation about the provenance of the book after it was removed from its original setting, so it is the methodological basis for my entire project.


Rachel Retica
Ph.D. student, Department of English
Poetry “Withoutyn Breake”: Images of Mary and Elizabeth I

I began this project in a seminar paper this fall, where I learned that one of the fascinating things about Marian imagery in early modern England was its fluidity: it ranged from minor, nearly formulaic tags to expansive, careful formulations. These allusions to classical goddesses, flowers, and her untouched perfection might appear equally in some of the period’s most famous poetry, or in the pamphlets, scraps, and speeches that we no longer read. In order to research the spread of this repertoire, in short, it was necessary to turn to the unpublished materials, letters, and miscellanies that Professor Wolfe’s RBS course, The Handwriting & Culture of Early Modern English Manuscripts put on the table . . . One of the goals of my study is to look at this repertoire to consider it, not as a body of imagery that moved in its entirety into Renaissance poetry, but instead one that was carefully worked and re-engineered—and, therefore, a particularly dynamic place to think about the self-conscious ways that the period’s writers considered their language in and out of literary settings. That means looking through manuscripts—poems, letters, miscellanies—in addition to print editions of more well-known pieces. There is still room to ask, after these scholars have unearthed the religious and political exigencies of this imagery, if there are reasons for the persistence of Marian imagery somewhere in the craft of poetry itself. Was Mary still the figure of invention and artistry that she was in medieval times? Is the image of Mary/Elizabeth a (perhaps intensified and concentrated) version of how metaphor usually works in certain kinds of poetry? Or is it a unique image that stands out from other kinds of metaphor? With the learning from my RBS class, I was able to begin the dive into handwritten manuscripts that hold so much of this body of imagery, and which coursed through so many different kinds of texts. I look forward to continuing this work in the future!


Chloe Wells
Ph.D. student, McIntire Department of Art
Beyond Pictorialism: Early 20th Century Photography and the Fine Arts

I am grateful for the opportunity to have taken The Photographic Book since 1843 last summer for the way it has informed my current dissertation research, which is closely related to my current exhibition, “Beyond Pictorialism: Early 20th Century Photography and the Fine Arts” at the Fralin Museum of Art.

At the start of the twentieth century, photography served as a scientific and documentary tool and an aid to the fine arts but had yet to achieve status as an artistic medium. The Photo-Secession, a group of American photographers established in 1902, worked against the medium’s identity as a technology of precision and mass production to promote photography as a fine art. In their quarterly journal, Camera Work, they emphasized the photographer’s subjective vision and manipulation of the photographic print and claimed photography to be “a means of individual expression” or “pictorial expression.”

Pictorial photography comprised a variety of styles and photographic techniques, which often referenced other artistic media, such as painting, drawing, printmaking, architecture, and sculpture. Rather than showing photography’s dependence on the other arts, photographers created new ways of seeing traditional media and demonstrated its ability to extend beyond the visual arts. Though the growing Pictorialist movement ultimately produced diverging definitions of art photography, the medium remained essential in transforming artistic conventions and subject matter over the course of the twentieth century.


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