Teaching with Manuscripts: Material, Digital, and Collaborative Pedagogies

A 40-minute presentation followed by 50 minutes of Q&A held on Wednesday, 21 April 2021, 4:30–6:00 p.m. ET, via Zoom.

This panel, sponsored by Rare Book School’s Andrew W. Mellon Society of Fellows in Critical Bibliography (SoFCB), brings together four short, practical papers about teaching medieval, early modern, and eighteenth-century European and Islamic manuscripts through hands-on, digital, and collaborative approaches. Panelists will address issues related to teaching manuscript studies in graduate and undergraduate literature and art history courses, including paleography, editing, computational methods, and the physical analysis of manuscripts. Some of the hands-on and digital methods presented in these papers respond to COVID-19 disruptions of in-person teaching, while others reflect projects that were specifically designed for collaboration at a distance. All papers address the needs of students or curricula at the institutions where panelists teach. Some speakers are also participating in collaborative projects that involve faculty, librarian, undergraduate student, and graduate student researchers at multiple institutions. Together, these papers speak to the work of teaching with manuscripts in the classroom, on the screen, and through collaborative projects that share the work of humanities research and critical bibliography beyond the university.

This panel discussion was presented live in April 2021. The session was recorded, and you are invited to watch the recording of the event below via our RBS YouTube channel.


“Virtual Material: How to Make a Manuscripts Teaching Kit for Remote Instruction”
Presented by Sonja Drimmer

Teaching the fundamental skills necessary to studying medieval European manuscripts requires hands-on interaction with books, whether those books are actual medieval objects, modern facsimiles, or even printed library books that allow demonstrations of the architecture and experiential aspects of books. Teaching remotely during the pandemic has led educators to come up with inspired and creative uses of digital objects in our courses devoted to manuscripts. Yet many of the sensory aspects of the books we examine remain outside of the capabilities of virtual teaching. For my graduate seminar in medieval manuscripts this spring, I have attempted to compensate for this lack by assembling packets of materials to send to students. In this talk I’ll address the logistics of assembling and using those packets in my courses, offering such details as what they contain, how much they cost, and how to work them into the course.

“Digitizing Manuscripts and Challenging Archival Power: The Ballitore Project”
Presented by Rachael Scarborough King

Recent work in archival studies has highlighted the structural challenges––from the perspectives of curation, cataloguing, and access—inherent in efforts to “decolonize” archives and archival research. This presentation will discuss how the ongoing Ballitore Project highlights such challenges through digitizing, transcribing, and computationally analyzing a collection of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Irish Quaker documents held at UCSB’s Special Research Collections. The project represents a collaboration between UC Santa Barbara, Cal State-Northridge, and Howard University. Working in research teams composed of faculty, graduate students, and undergraduates, researchers are exploring different methods to examine the collection’s connections to questions of abolitionism and women’s rights. At the same time, this work constantly reveals what is missing from or repressed in the collection, which was originally assembled by a middle-class white woman and is now held at a Predominantly White Institution (although UCSB is also a federally designated Hispanic-Serving Institution and Asian American Native American Pacific Islander-Serving Institution). I will discuss how computational methods address some structural concerns while reinforcing others.

“Editing Recipe Manuscripts Online”
Presented by Marissa Nicosia

What can students learn by editing manuscripts using a digital interface? Through Penn State Abington’s Undergraduate Research Activities initiative, I collaborate with colleagues Christina Riehman-Murphy (Reference and Instruction Librarian) and Heather Froehlich (Literary Informatics Librarian) to mentor students who are enrolled in an ongoing independent study “What’s in a Recipe?” We work closely with students as they complete transcription, editing, and analysis of one specific seventeenth-century recipe book each year through the Folger Shakespeare Library’s DROMIO platform as part of the larger Early Modern Manuscripts Online (EMMO) and Early Modern Recipes Online Collective (EMROC) projects. In addition to learning about early modern manuscripts and practicing paleography, our students consider how manuscript material can offer an additional layer of editorial intervention—we have crossouts, marginalia, and corrections to handle alongside the ‘text’ itself – and how to present this material in the digital interface. In this presentation (co-written with my collaborators), I will discuss some of the practical concerns and successes related to teaching students about paleography, editing, and digital practice.

“From Folded Paper to Google Sheets: Teaching Islamic Manuscripts Today”
Presented by Yael Rice

Teaching the history of the Islamic manuscripts to undergraduates is a challenging, if also often gratifying, experience. The majority of students are not equipped to read the languages used in the objects that we study, and that small percentage that is proficient in reading Arabic, Persian, or Turkish, &c., only very rarely has the training to decipher pre-modern handwriting. Further challenges arise in trying to convey how book-making materials were sourced and prepared; calligraphers and illustrators of manuscripts were trained; and manuscripts were used, circulated, and restored. In this presentation, I will introduce some of the pedagogical tools I’ve incorporated into my courses—from an image-making practicum to a computational exercise that builds on digital humanities methods—to enliven and texture the study of Islamic manuscripts.


Sonja Drimmer is an associate professor of medieval art in the Department of the History of Art and Architecture at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She is the author of The Art of Allusion: Illuminators and the Making of English Literature, 1403-1476 (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2018), which received High Commendation for Exemplary Scholarship from the Historians of British Art. Most recently she edited a special issue of Digital Philology (2020), “Manual Impressions: Visualizing Print in Manuscript, Europe c.1450-1850,” which featured her introduction, “The Manuscript Copy and the Printed Original in the Digital Present.” Her articles have appeared in Gesta, the Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies, Viator, Exemplaria and elsewhere. She is a Senior Fellow in the Andrew W. Mellon Society of Fellows in Critical Bibliography at Rare Book School.

Rachael Scarborough King is an associate professor of English at the University of California, Santa Barbara. She is the author of Writing to the World: Letters and the Origins of Modern Print Cultures (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2018) and editor of After Print: Eighteenth-Century Manuscript Cultures (University of Virginia Press, 2020). She is the Director of the NEH-funded Ballitore Project at UCSB. She is a Senior Fellow in the Andrew W. Mellon Society of Fellows in Critical Bibliography at Rare Book School.

Marissa Nicosia is an assistant professor of Renaissance literature at Pennsylvania State University – Abington College. She has published articles on early modern English literature and book history in Modern Philology, Milton Studies, The Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America, and she edited the collection Making Milton: Print, Authorship, Afterlives, which was published by Oxford University Press in March 2021. She runs the public food history website Cooking in the Archives. She is a Senior Fellow in the Andrew W. Mellon Society of Fellows in Critical Bibliography at Rare Book School.

Yael Rice is an assistant professor of the History of Art & Asian Languages and Civilizations at Amherst College. She specializes in the art and architecture of South Asia, Central Asia, and Iran, with a particular focus on manuscripts and other portable arts of the fifteenth through eighteenth centuries. Her first monograph, Agents of Insight: Artists, Books, and Painting in Mughal South Asia, is forthcoming from the University of Washington Press. She is a Senior Fellow in the Andrew W. Mellon Society of Fellows in Critical Bibliography at Rare Book School.


Hwisang Cho is an assistant professor of Korean studies at Emory University, specializing in the cultural, intellectual, and literary history of Korea, comparative textual media, and global written culture. His first book, The Power of the Brush: Epistolary Practices in Chosŏn Korea, was published by the University of Washington Press in 2020. Cho’s major work in progress is The Tales of the Master: T’oegye and the Making of Modern Korea, a study of how the culture of storytelling about a historical personage and its manifestation in diverse material forms have influenced the formation and appropriation of self-identities of various communities in Korea from the late sixteenth century to the present. He is a Senior Fellow in the Andrew W. Mellon Society of Fellows in Critical Bibliography at Rare Book School.


Header Image: English cookery and medicine book [manuscript], ca. 1677–1711, LUNA: Folger Digital Image Collection.