A Fractured Inheritance: The Problems, Challenges, and Opportunities of Collecting Manuscript Fragments

A 75-minute panel discussion followed by 15 minutes of Q&A held on Tuesday, 15 September 2020, 5–6:30 p.m. ET, via Zoom.

“Fragmentology” has emerged as one of the dominant subjects in the broader manuscript studies field, as digital technologies have facilitated the identification, location, and reaggregation of widely dispersed individual folios originally from the same common manuscript. The reconstruction of broken manuscripts raises questions across the spectrum of medieval book studies, including codicology, paleography, art historical and textual research, historical provenance, modern consumerism, and the contested and shifting value of manuscript fragments as either objects of connoisseurship or scholarship. Collecting fragments is a highly contentious topic, and this session addressed it from institutional, private, commercial, and scholarly perspectives.

Follow the conversation on social media using hashtags #RBSOnline and #RBSFragmentology.

This panel discussion was presented live in September 2020. The session was recorded, and you are invited to watch the recording of the event below via our RBS YouTube channel.

This event’s panelists were Sumayya Ahmed, Tom Bredehoft, Lisa Fagin Davis, Rose A. McCandless, and Jim Sims. Eric Johnson moderated the session. 


Sumayya Ahmed recently joined the faculty of Simmons University’s School of Library and Information Science after teaching for several years in the Program in Library and Information Studies at University College London’s global campus in Doha, Qatar. Her research focuses on archives and documentary heritage in North Africa and the Persian Gulf. She is currently working on a monograph that navigates the complexities of private manuscript ownership, societal provenance and heritage in Morocco. She was the co-editor of the 2016 De Gruyter publication, Library and Information Science in the Middle East and North Africa.

Tom Bredehoft taught English literature at the University of Northern Colorado and at West Virginia University for 18 years; his last academic book was The Visible Text: Textual Production and Reproduction from Beowulf to Maus. Since he left academic employment in 2012, he has focused his fascination with the material text on his business, Chancery Hill Books and Antiques, where he tries to find good homes for oddball items, including manuscript fragments from the European Middle Ages, as well as printed fragments and later materials. He sees himself as a collector, dealer, and former academic.

Lisa Fagin Davis received her Ph.D. in Medieval Studies from Yale University in 1993. She has catalogued medieval manuscript collections at Yale University, the University of Pennsylvania, the Walters Art Museum, Wellesley College, the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, the Boston Public Library, and several private collections. Her publications include the Catalogue of Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts in the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University, Vol. IV (with R. G. Babcock and P. Rusche, Tempe, 2004); The Gottschalk Antiphonary (Cambridge University Press, 2000); numerous articles in the fields of manuscript studies, codicology, and fragmentology; and the monograph, La Chronique Anonyme Universelle: Reading and Writing History in Fifteenth-Century France (a translation, critical edition, and detailed study of a fifteenth-century French world chronicle) (Brepols Publishers, 2015). With Melissa Conway, Davis is co-author of the Directory of Pre-1600 Manuscripts in the United States and Canada, published online by the Bibliographical Society of America. She teaches Latin Paleography at Yale University and Manuscript Studies at the Simmons University School of Library and Information Science. With her Simmons students, she has digitally reconstructed several dismembered medieval manuscripts using the Fragmentarium interface. Dr. Davis has served as Executive Director of the Medieval Academy of America since 2013.

Rose A. McCandless is a fourth-year undergraduate at Ohio State University studying History and Medieval & Renaissance Studies. She studies the changing nature of the Bible in the thirteenth century, as well as the various ways in which medieval manuscripts have entered the modern era. A native of Cleveland, Ohio, Rose is particularly interested in the recent history of biblioclasm in northeast Ohio and its legacy in medieval studies today. Rose has worked extensively on the Josephinum Bible, a fragmentary manuscript owned by the Pontifical College Josephinum in Columbus, Ohio, reconstructing both its story and the current whereabouts of its leaves. In addition to her studies, she is currently working for the National Museum of Scotland and Maggs Bros. Ltd., and is applying to graduate programs in Medieval Studies.

Jim Sims is a graduate of the Rochester Institute of Technology’s Imaging and Photographic Technology Program. He worked for NASA for seven years as Imaging Specialist and most recently, for the past 22 years, in the field of scientific imaging for Biologists. He is currently Product Manager for Research Cameras for Hamamatsu Corporation. Jim bought his first rare book starting at the age of twelve and is a private collector of leaves and fragments with an interest in the history of script and the written word in general.


Dr. Eric J. Johnson is Associate Professor and Curator of Thompson Library Special Collections & Rare Books & Manuscripts at The Ohio State University, where he teaches widely across the University’s interdisciplinary humanities curriculum, with particular emphasis on manuscript studies, fragmentology, and book history. He holds an M.A. and Ph.D. in Medieval Studies from the Centre for Medieval Studies at the University of York (UK), as well as an M.L.I.S. from Rutgers University. His research interests extend widely across the fields of medieval and Renaissance studies, codicology and bibliography, book history, the pedagogical uses of primary source materials in K-12 and university classrooms, and the digital humanities.