Inside Spencer: The KSRL Blog

My Life with Lillian: The Year (And Then Some) I Spent Transcribing MS B173

July 14th, 2021

Last July, I mentioned in our ‘Spencer Public Services Working from Home’ blog post that one of my work from home projects was creating transcriptions of some of our handwritten collection materials. Well readers, a year later here is the follow-up on one of those transcriptions – the Lillian North diary – and a bit of the story of how a New York suffragist helped me through the pandemic.

Photograph of the first page of Lillian North’s diary with entries from January 1 and 2, 1915.
The first page of Lillian’s diary with entries from January 1 and 2, 1915. Lillian North Diary. Call Number: MS B173. Click image to enlarge.

Who was Lillian North?

Lillian was born on August 17, 1881, in Stafford, New York, to parents George and Mary Thomas Radley. On September 26, 1906, Lillian married Frank North, a farmer. They were married for fifty-seven years before Frank’s death in October 1963.

Lillian’s diary entries span from January 1, 1915, to May 14, 1917, and detail her day-to-day life as a homemaker and farm wife. Her days were full of activity: cleaning and improving the house, washing and mending clothes, baking bread and pies, canning pickles and strawberries, and churning her prize-winning butter. I can confirm that I was motivated to clean on more than one occasion after working on this transcription; you would be, too, after reading about Lillian cleaning daily while your dishes stared at you from the kitchen sink.

Photograph of the entries in Lillian North's diary from September 21 and 22, 1916.
Entries in Lillian’s diary from September 21 and 22, 1916. She mentions spending the day at the suffrage tent at the fair and her butter being named first premium. Lillian North Diary. Call Number: MS B173. Click image to enlarge.

Outside of her work managing the home and helping on the farm, Lillian attended social engagements and community events almost every week. In her diary she recounts automobile rides and dinners with friends, visiting with her mother and sisters, weekly church, and listening to various speakers and concerts in the area. She frequently attended meetings for the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, the Ladies Aid Society, and The National Grange of the Order of Patrons of Husbandry. She was involved in the women’s suffrage movement as well – attending meetings and talks and even campaigning for the cause. It was her work as a suffragist that initially introduced me to her diary while I was conducting research for other projects related to the centennial anniversary of the Nineteenth Amendment.

Photograph of Lillian North's diary entry from October 13, 1915.
Photograph of Lillian North's diary entry from October 13, 1915.
Lillian’s entry from October 13, 1915, highlights a suffrage lecture given by Mrs. Phillip Snowden of London and Mrs. Keating from Colorado. Lillian North Diary. Call Number: MS B173. Click images to enlarge.

Where did this project take me?

Working on this transcription took me on a bit of a journey; I found myself embroiled in some side research projects I was not expecting to do when I started. While the diary provides extensive details about Lillian’s day-to-day life for over two years, there was so much more I wanted to know about her and her family beyond 1917 when the diary ends. I began researching, trying to find whatever I could find based on the information in the diary, our published finding aid, and our records from when the diary was acquired. Eventually, I tracked down obituaries for Lillian, Frank, and Lillian’s mother Mary Radley via Newspapers.com.

In addition to wanting to know more about Lillian, my curiosity was piqued about some of the acronyms and abbreviations in the diary. What did all of them mean? Several of them I deciphered fairly quickly with the help of some online resources. Others were not so easy to interpret or did not seem to be related to any organizations I could find. By taking clues from the context in which these acronyms appeared and some additional research, I was able to make some guesses about possible meanings, but questions still abound.

All of these side projects did lead somewhere beyond satisfying my own curiosity: The additional information gleaned from the obituaries allowed us to update the biographical information in our online finding aid – providing a more accurate picture of Lillian’s life and family. We also added the list of possible meanings for the acronyms and abbreviations in hopes that this would help future researchers who are interested in the diary and Lillian’s many activities and organizations.

Photograph of Lillian North’s obituary in the Democrat and Chronicle (Rochester, New York), December 19, 1963.
Lillian North’s obituary in the Democrat and Chronicle (Rochester, New York), December 19, 1963. Courtesy Newspapers.com. Click image to enlarge.

Why did it take over a year to transcribe one item?

Now, I know many of you are probably wondering how I am just now finishing the transcription of Lillian’s diary – a full year after that initial blog post. After all, this is not the first item I have transcribed so this should be a faster process, right? Well, here are a few details to consider:

It’s a long story: Lillian’s diary is not quite like the other items the staff at Spencer have transcribed. We typically focus on transcribing shorter documents, primarily letters. Lillian wrote daily in her diary for over two years; there are over 700 entries and roughly 200 pages to transcribe. It was only because of the pandemic and working from home that I even had time to take on a transcription project of this scope. No matter how fast I worked, this was going to be a long project.

Handwritten = hard: Reading someone’s handwriting can be a challenge (how many of us frequently wonder if our doctors are writing actual words on those prescription pads?). Add in factors like age, access, and series of acronyms and abbreviations and, suddenly, handwriting can become practically indecipherable. You have to learn to look for patterns in how someone shapes their letters and rely on context clues frequently – a process that takes time to do.

Photograph of entries in Lillian North's diary from June 23, 25, and 27, 1916.
Entries in Lillian’s diary from June 23, 25, and 27, 1916. These more crowded pages show some of the reading difficulties associated with this transcription, including Lillian’s use of abbreviations. Lillian North Diary. Call Number: MS B173. Click image to enlarge.

There is only one of me: Working on transcriptions was only one of my work from home projects during the pandemic. I was also revising training documents, updating instruction plans, participating in professional development opportunities, and conducting research and creating content for other projects, most notably other blog posts and an online exhibit – to name a few things. Some of these activities had scheduled times and due dates; creating a transcription for general use did not so it was the project to fill hours and provide breaks instead of the top priority.

Opening up: Spencer Research Library re-opened at the beginning of the school year in August! With the re-opening came an end to my full-time work from home status. I was back in the building several days a week and helping with paging, shelving, reference, and instruction. Even though I was still working from home some days, my focus shifted to other projects that supported what was happening onsite. Again, a transcription without any specific deadline was moved to the back burner more often than not.

Saying good-bye: The world turned upside down in 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic brought unimaginable stress, trauma, and heartbreak to so many. In the last year and half many lost their lives, their livelihood, and their loved ones. I recognize that I am incredibly fortunate that I was able to continue working and that my family and friends were largely spared from any serious health issues related to COVID-19. However, that does not mean 2020 was without difficulties for me – particularly related to mental and emotional health.

I live by myself in a one-bedroom apartment. Honestly, I am quite the homebody and pretty introverted so prolonged periods of time in my own space and on my own are welcome. But despite my introverted tendencies, I also have people I enjoy seeing and spending time with regularly – family, friends, colleagues. And then poof! I really could not see anyone, especially not frequently, for quite some time. That gets lonely after a while and I could feel the effects. All of this was on top of the anxiety I was feeling about work and school and life in general during the pandemic.

During that time Lillian’s diary became a distraction from the uncertainty and isolation I was experiencing. After reading increasingly grim outlooks on public health, I could turn to this diary and read about Lillian taking the family horse to get re-shoed or working on a sewing project with a friend. Reading and transcribing Lillian’s diary was like talking with one of my friends about their week when our lives were not consumed by COVID-19; it was a welcome break. As time went on and I became more invested in Lillian’s life, I began to procrastinate on this project – prolonging the point when I would finish the transcription and lose this source of comfort at a time when I really needed it.

Photograph of the last page of Lillian North’s diary, 1917.
The last page of Lillian’s diary, written on the inside of the back cover. Lillian North Diary. Call Number: MS B173. Click image to enlarge.

At the end of Lillian’s diary, she ran out of pages and began writing on the inside of the cover. Why? The reason is likely pretty practical – to save money, to use up all the available space, etc. – but the appearance gives the sense that she was trying to put off saying good-bye to this little book for as long as possible. It is a feeling I am all too familiar with as I reach the end of this project and, more importantly, my life with Lillian.

Emily Beran
Public Services

Remembering James E. Gunn and His Alternate Worlds

July 7th, 2021

July 12 would have been James E. Gunn’s 98th birthday. Though KU’s legend of science fiction died on December 23rd of last year, Gunn (1923-2020) leaves a legacy as one of the genre’s most notable writer-scholars. An author and editor of roughly 50 books (critical studies, works of fiction, and anthologies) with more than 100 short stories to his name, Gunn helped to make Lawrence, Kansas a hub for science fiction. Chris McKitterick, a writer and former student of Gunn’s who succeeded him as Director of KU’s Center for the Study of Science Fiction, affectionately referred to him as “Science Fiction’s Dad” in an illustrated memorial on the Center’s website.

Photograph of James E. Gunn during the 1960s while working for KU’s Chancellor’s Office
James E. Gunn during the 1960s while working in Public Affairs with KU’s Chancellor’s Office. University Archives. Call #: RG 41: Faculty Photos: Gunn, James. Click image to enlarge.

It’s easy to see how Gunn earned that moniker. As one of the first professors to offer courses devoted to science fiction at the college level, he was a teacher and mentor to countless students. The summer institutes and workshops that Gunn established at KU attracted attendees from across the country, and his connections and programming meant that Lawrence received visits from numerous SF luminaries over the years, from Frederik Pohl and Theodore Sturgeon to Nancy Kress to Cory Doctorow. Among Gunn’s scholarly contributions to the field was Alternate Worlds: The Illustrated History of Science Fiction (1975), which drew a number of its images of from Spencer Library’s collections. Of course, at the same time, Gunn was instrumental in building Spencer ’s science fiction holdings. Not only did he donate books and magazines, but he encouraged others to do so as well, helping writers and SF organizations to place their papers and records at the library up until his death. Gunn won a Hugo Award (one of science fiction’s top honors) for another of his works of criticism, Isaac Asimov: The Foundations of Science Fiction (1982). In a 2007 ceremony, he was honored with the “Damon Knight Grand Master Award” by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) and was inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame in 2015.

  Cover of James Gunn's Alternate Worlds (1975) Photograph of James Gunn with his 1983 Hugo Award in the category of “Best Related Work” for his study Isaac Asimov: The Foundations of Science Fiction (1982)

Left: James Gunn’s Alternate Worlds: The Illustrated History of Science Fiction. Englewood Cliffs, N.J: Prentice-Hall, 1975. Call #: E2598. Right: Gunn with his 1983 Hugo Award (in the category of “Best Related Work”) for his study Isaac Asimov: The Foundations of Science Fiction (1982).  University Archives. Call #: RG 41: Faculty Photos: Gunn, James.  Click images to enlarge.

Given what he achieved, it’s easy to forget his humble beginnings, but materials from his papers on deposit at the Spencer Research Library offer a glimpse of what it was like to be a young science fiction writer in the 1950s.

To this day, most speculative fiction magazines pay writers by the word. Current rates include 8-12 cents per word for stories published in Fantasy & Science Fiction, 8-10 cents per word for Asimov’s, and 10 cents per word for the online Uncanny Magazine. An early letter in Gunn’s papers from 1952 reports the income from some of his first science fiction sales. In his memoir Star-Begotten (2017), Gunn recalls that Planet Stories paid a rate of 1¼ cents per word for his 12,000-word “Freedom, Inc.,” but then (to Gunn’s chagrin) changed the title of the novelette to “The Slaves of Venus.”[i] Observant readers will note that the letter comes from another famed SF writer Frederik Pohl, who was still then working as a literary agent, though Pohl would soon abandon agent work to devote himself to writing and editing science fiction.

Photograph of letter from Frederik Pohl to James Gunn, reporting on Gunn's early story sales, 5 March 1952
Letter from Frederik Pohl to James E. Gunn, reporting Gunn’s fiction sales, March 5, 1952. James Gunn Papers. Call #: MS 92, Box 1, Folder 7

Being paid for one’s writing has always been important point of pride for the genre of science fiction. Early in his career, Gunn made a decision:

…I would write my novels in the form of short stories and novelettes that I could get published first in magazines and later collect as books. When I became a teacher of fiction writing, I passed this along to my students as “Gunn’s Law” (Sell it twice!).[ii]


It was a law that Gunn often followed. His novel The Immortals (1962), which presciently imagines a dystopian future where advances in medicine have enabled the richest to live increasingly long lives, while most in society suffer under staggering medical costs, was comprised of four previously published novelettes. When The Immortals was adapted (with significant changes) into a popular TV movie of the week as The Immortal, Gunn also wrote a novelization of the script. Likewise, Gunn’s novel The Listeners (1972) was first published as a series of stories in Galaxy magazine (and one also appearing in The Magazine of Science Fiction and Fantasy) between 1968 and 1972.  The novel, which explores interstellar communication and the effects on individuals and society of the attempts at first contact with distant alien cultures, was dedicated “To Walter Sullivan, Carl Sagan, and all of the other scientists whose books and articles and lectures and speculations provided, so clearly, the inspiration and source material for this book […].”  It seems Carl Sagan’s imagination was also stirred in return. As Gunn reports in his memoir, Sagan later sent him his own novel of interstellar communication, 1985’s Contact, “inscribed with ‘thanks for the inspiration of The Listeners.’”  Gunn’s story received accolades from the broader field as well. The first of the sections published in Galaxy (“The Listeners”) was nominated for the 1969 Nebula Award for Best Novelette, and the subsequent novel was in 1973 the runner-up for the John W. Campbell Memorial Award for Best Novel.

Typescript with instructions for the printer and some editorial marks for the first of the quotation-laden “Computer Run” interchapters that appeared after each chapter of The Listeners, 1972. Cover of James Gunn's novel The Listeners (1972)

Left: Typescript with instructions for the first of the quotation-laden “Computer Run” interchapters that appear after each chapter of The Listeners, 1972. James Gunn Papers. Call number: MS 116A:1a. Right: Gunn, James E. The Listeners. New York: Scribner’s, 1972.  Call #: ASF Gunn C26 Click images to enlarge. 

And though with endless energy and good will James Gunn helped his students navigate the practical and business aspects of the field science fiction, it was his belief in the genre’s ideas and their potential to bring about change that arguably stands as the most potent force across Gunn’s fiction and criticism. It was this potential that James Gunn heralded in his remarks at his 2015 induction into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame. “A lot has happened to science fiction since I sat in a garret writing my first story in 1948,” he explained;  

[…] The world has changed, too, often in positive ways, sometimes in ways that threaten its survival. It’s the job of science fiction, it’s our job, to observe those changes and consider their implications for human lives and maybe even do something to make those lives better, more livable, more human—whatever “human” turns out to be.  Let’s save the world through science fiction.[iii]

Over the years, many of Gunn’s students and readers have taken up that call and will continue to be inspired by it, even in his absence.

Elspeth Healey
Special Collections Librarian


[i] Gunn, James E. Star-Begotten: A Life Lived in Science Fiction. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, 2017: 68.

[ii] Gunn, James E. Paratexts: Introductions to Science Fiction and Fantasy. Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow Press, 2013: 10.

[iii] Gunn, James E. Star-Begotten: A Life Lived in Science Fiction. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, 2017: 189.



Manuscript of the Month: From the Library of the Charterhouse of St Barbara in Cologne

June 30th, 2021

N. Kıvılcım Yavuz is conducting research on pre-1600 manuscripts at the Kenneth Spencer Research Library. Each month she will be writing about a manuscript she has worked with and the current KU Library catalog records will be updated in accordance with her findings.

Kenneth Spencer Research Library MS C91 is a fifteenth-century collection of religious texts. It contains a copy of the Homiliae quadraginta in evangelia [Forty homilies on the Gospels] by St Gregory the Great (approximately 540–604), the Exposicio sive postilla passionis Ihesu Christi [An exposition or annotations on the passion of Jesus Christ] compiled by Herman Appeldorn (d. 1473) and a shorter text on the passion of Christ, also attributed to him in the manuscript.

Unlike many manuscripts whose origin and provenance are now lost to us, we have evidence that MS C91 comes from the medieval library of the Charterhouse of St Barbara in Cologne, Germany, a Carthusian monastery. St Bruno (approximately 1030–1101), who was educated in Reims, France, and who later became the Chancellor of the Archdiocese of Reims, founded the Carthusian Order in 1084 in the Chartreuse Mountains, north of Grenoble, France. This original establishment, known as the Grande Chartreuse, is the head monastery of the Carthusian Order, and Carthusian monasteries are known as “charterhouses” after Chartreuse. Despite St Bruno originally being from Cologne, there was no charterhouse in Cologne until December 12, 1334, when the Charterhouse of St Barbara was founded by the Archbishop of Cologne, Walram of Jülich (approximately 1304–1349). Although it had a difficult start due to political tensions in the region, the charterhouse began to prosper especially after it came under the protection in 1354 of Charles IV (1346–1378), King of Bohemia and later Holy Roman Emperor.

Image of St. Gregory the Great’s Homilies on folio 2r and Herman Appeldorn’s Exposition on folio 144r.
Beginning of St. Gregory the Great’s Homilies on folio 2r and Herman Appeldorn’s Exposition on folio 144r. Trier and/or Cologne, Germany, between 1451–1473. Call # MS C91. Click image to enlarge, and see the Digital Scriptorium for additional images from this manuscript.

By the mid-fifteenth century the manuscript collection of the Charterhouse of St Barbara was the largest in Cologne, at least until the library and the neighboring buildings were completely consumed by a fire in November 1451. Some manuscripts, however, would have survived, for even though the Charterhouse of St Barbara had a separate library space, one did not need to be there to work with books. The Carthusians lived a solitary and contemplative life, and much work with manuscripts, including reading, copying, and writing commentaries was carried out by nuns and monks in the solitude of their cells. Therefore, although many books surely perished during this fire, scholars have argued that some of the manuscripts the monks were consulting at the time would have been spared.

Image of the parchment binding of MS C91, the front cover of which contains an older shelfmark of the library of the Charterhouse of St Barbara in Cologne: “G.xlii.”
Parchment binding of the manuscript, the front cover of which contains an older shelfmark of the library of the Charterhouse of St Barbara in Cologne: “G.xlii.” Call # MS C91.

Following the 1451 fire, the collection of the Charterhouse of St Barbara in Cologne was swiftly rebuilt not only by the copying of new manuscripts by the members of the charterhouse but also through purchases and donations. MS C91 is the product of these efforts, probably put together when Herman Appeldorn was Prior of the Charterhouse of St Barbara between 1457 and 1472. MS C91 is in its original parchment limp binding with a fore-edge envelope flap that extends from the right (back) side of the cover and is secured with a brass clasp. The fifteenth-century shelfmark of the library of the Charterhouse of St Barbara is written on the front cover of the manuscript: “G.xlii.” In this system, the letter is thought to indicate the name of the author or the subject of the manuscript and the number possibly the order of acquisition. So, in the case of MS C91, “G” probably refers to Gregory, whose work is the first text in the manuscript, and “xlii” to no. 42. Another manuscript from the library of the Charterhouse of St Barbara in Cologne with a very similar binding, presumably bound around the same time as MS C91, is now held at the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia (Ms. Codex 1164). No shelfmark survives on the front cover of this manuscript, but there is evidence that some writing was scraped off of the parchment and one may presume that the shelfmark was erased by a subsequent owner.

Although no medieval catalogs of the library of the Charterhouse of St Barbara with these shelfmarks survive, there are other manuscripts from the library with them. There are also several documents that detail the contents of the library from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, most of which have been preserved in the Historical Archive of the City of Cologne. For example, a shelf list edited by Richard Bruce Marks that was compiled in the second half of the seventeenth century includes over 550 volumes of manuscripts. In this document (Cologne, Historisches Archiv der Stadt Köln, Best. 233 Kartäuser, Repertorien und Handschriften, Nr. 14), MS C91 is assigned the shelfmark “OO 89.” In the shelf list, the print books are organized according to subject matter under the letters of the alphabet (A to H; J to N), with the letter O reserved for all manuscripts. The manuscripts are divided into four groups according to their size: O for folio, OO for quarto, OOO for octavo and OOOO for duodecimo. Measuring approximately 210 x 145 mm, MS C91 has one of these labels with “OO” adhered to its spine.

Image of the label with “OO” of the library of the Charterhouse of St Barbara in Cologne adhered to the spine of the binding of MS C91
The label with “OO” of the library of the Charterhouse of St Barbara in Cologne adhered to the spine of the binding. Call # MS C91. Click image to enlarge.

Furthermore, the short description for MS C91 in the seventeenth-century shelf list comes directly from the list of contents provided in a contemporary hand on the front flyleaf of the manuscript:

Conte[n]ta libri h[uius]
Quadraginta omeli[a]e b[ea]ti Gregorii p[a]p[a]e super evangelia
Collectu[m] q[uo]dda[m] sup[er] passione[m] d[omi]ni ven[erabi]lis p[at]ris H[er]ma[n]ni Appeltorn p[ri]oris tu[n]c dom[us] T[re]veren[sis] et postea dom[us] h[uius] scriptiu[m] man[u] ipsi[us] obiit 1473
Ite[m] textus passio[n]is Chr[ist]i ex [quattuor] eva[n]gelistis eiusdem.

This book contains:
Forty homilies on the gospels of the blessed pope St Gregory,
A certain collection on the passion of our lord by the venerable father Herman Appeldorn, then the prior of the house of Trier, and afterwards of this house, written by his own hand, died 1473,
Also a text on the passion of Christ from the four evangelists, by the same [Herman Appeldorn].

Image of the opening of the manuscript and the table of contents and the ownership inscription on the front flyleaf on MS C91
Opening of the manuscript and the table of contents and the ownership inscription on the front flyleaf. Call # MS C91. Click image to enlarge.

Above this brief table of contents on the first flyleaf of MS C91, there is also a donation inscription:

Ex donation[n]e d[omi]ni Jo[?] Warendorppe p[ro]ve[n]it nobis h[ic] lib[er] quoad Omelias Gregorii
This book, as far as Gregory’s Homilies, comes to us from the donation of Johann? Warendorppe.

Unfortunately, the identity of this donor Warendorppe is unknown; Richard Bruce Marks reports that there are eighteen people with the same name in the list of graduates from the University of Cologne before the year 1500 (p. 16). The donation inscription and the table of contents are written by the same hand, presumably around the same time the contents of the manuscript were copied. Taken together, they tell us that what is now the first part of the manuscript (Gregory’s Homilies) was commissioned by Warendorppe and that the remainder was authored and copied by Herman Appeldorn. These two parts must have been put together shortly after their copying, with the addition of the flyleaf with the donation and contents information when the manuscript was bound. There is very little known about Herman Appeldorn, although his name is recorded in other manuscripts as part of purchases and donations made to the library of the Charterhouse of St Barbara in Cologne during his priorship. He is thought to have composed three works: Sermones dominicales [Sunday Sermons], De passione domini [On the passion of Christ], and De institutione novitiorum [On the education of novices]. None of these works seem to have been published and it is possible that MS C91 contains the only copy of the De passione domini.

The recent provenance of MS C91 is quite well known. After the dissolution of the Charterhouse of St Barbara in Cologne in 1794 during the French Revolution, some of the manuscripts were sent to Paris, others to a new school founded in Cologne and the rest were sold. During these sales, some hundred and thirty-six manuscripts were acquired by the book and art dealer Johann Matthias Heberle (Antiquargeschäft mit Auktionsanstalt Cologne) and then sold in 1821 to Leander van Ess (Johann Heinrich van Ess, 1772–1847), a theologian and book collector from Warburg, Germany. MS C91 was one of these. Only a few years later, in 1824, Sir Thomas Phillipps (1792–1872) purchased the entire collection of Leander Van Ess, including those manuscripts that formerly belonged to the Charterhouse of St Barbara. In 1910, at the beginning of the twentieth century, as part of an auction of Phillipps manuscripts, MS C91 was sold by Sotheby, Wilkinson & Hodge to J. & J. Leighton, booksellers and bookbinders in London. Soon afterward, in 1912, the manuscript was purchased from J. & J. Leighton by Robert Ranshaw (1836–1924), a master draper and an art collector from Louth, Lincolnshire.

In his 1974 study, Richard Bruce Marks aimed at reconstructing the manuscript collections of the Charterhouse of St Barbara in Cologne and identified the current whereabouts of over 250 manuscripts that were included in the seventeenth-century shelf list. MS C91 was among those he was not able to locate. Indeed, Spencer Library holds two former Van Ess and Phillipps manuscripts from the library of the Charterhouse of St Barbara in Cologne, neither of which was identified by Marks: Phillipps MS 642 (now MS C64) and Phillipps MS 646 (now MS C91). Both of these manuscripts can now be added to the list.

The Kenneth Spencer Research Library purchased the manuscript from Internationaal Antiquariaat (Menno Hertzberger & Co.) in September 1960, and it is available for consultation at the Library’s Marilyn Stokstad Reading Room when the library is open.

  • The most comprehensive study in English on the Library of the Charterhouse of St Barbara in Cologne: Richard Bruce Marks. The Medieval Manuscript Library of the Charterhouse of St. Barbara in Cologne. 2 vols. Analecta Cartusiana 21. Salzburg: Institut für Englische Sprache und Literatur, Universität Salzburg, 1974.
  • Other blog posts from the “Manuscript of the Month” series on former Sir Thomas Phillips manuscripts at the Kenneth Spencer Research Library: https://blogs.lib.ku.edu/spencer/tag/sir-thomas-phillipps/

N. Kıvılcım Yavuz
Ann Hyde Postdoctoral Researcher

Follow the account “Manuscripts &c.” on Twitter and Instagram for postings about manuscripts from the Kenneth Spencer Research Library.

Manuscript of the Month: Signs in the Margins and Between the Lines

May 26th, 2021

N. Kıvılcım Yavuz is conducting research on pre-1600 manuscripts at the Kenneth Spencer Research Library. Each month she will be writing about a manuscript she has worked with and the current KU Library catalog records will be updated in accordance with her findings.

Kenneth Spencer Research Library MS C49 contains copies of two works which were originally composed a millennium apart: the translation of Sextus Pythagoreus’s Sententiae from Greek into Latin by Rufinus of Aquileia (345–410) and the Enchiridion by Laurentius Pisanus (approximately 1391–1465). Both works are collections of sayings, usually of moral nature, and the genre of sententiae (i.e., sentences) goes back to the classical times. Considering its age, MS C49 is in relatively good condition despite heavy water damage that caused discoloration of parchment on the upper part of the manuscript towards the fore-edge. The manuscript was copied by a single scribe, probably in the third quarter of the fifteenth century in Italy, and it probably is still in its original binding. We do not have any information on the exact origin or the history of the manuscript, except for an unidentified ownership inscription in the lower margin on folio 1r, which indicates that the manuscript once belonged to a Philippus (“Iste liber est d[omi]ni Philippi […]”: This book belongs to master Philippus […].)

In addition to this ownership inscription, there is a series of other writings and markings in MS C49, especially in the margins of the first part of the manuscript which contains the Sententiae. Originally written in Greek in the late second or early third century, the Sententiae by Sextus Pythagoreus includes about 500 sayings. The Latin translation by Rufinus of Aquileia in the late fourth or early fifth century, which includes 451 of these sayings, is mostly literal, although there are alterations to the text as with any late antique or medieval translation. In MS C49, the text opens with an extended version of Rufinus’s preface, and even though the sayings are copied as if they were a prose text and not numbered, they can be easily identified as each saying begins with a capital letter highlighted in red.

Image of the opening of the manuscript and the unidentified ownership inscription on folio 1r of Sextus Pythagoreus, Sententiae translated by Rufinus of Aquileia, and Laurentius Pisanus, Enchiridion. Italy (?), third quarter of the fifteenth century (?). Call # MS C49.
Opening of the manuscript and the unidentified ownership inscription on folio 1r. Sextus Pythagoreus, Sententiae, translated by Rufinus of Aquileia, and Laurentius Pisanus, Enchiridion. Italy (?), third quarter of the fifteenth century (?). Call # MS C49. Click image to enlarge, and see the Digital Scriptorium for additional images from this manuscript.

All text and marks in the margins of a manuscript are collectively called marginalia. There can be several reasons for marginalia in a manuscript; some are left by the scribes of the manuscripts and others by the readers or later owners of the manuscripts, such as the ownership inscription on folio 1r. After the copying of a text in a manuscript, for example, often scribes or others working with them would check the copy against the exemplar, the manuscript from which the copy was made. This was to ensure that the copy of the text was correct and complete, similar to modern proofreading and copyediting practices. Sometimes, they would also check the copy they had against another copy of the same text, especially if they thought what was copied was not reliable or there was lacuna in the exemplar. During both of these processes, if they encountered a missing word or a phrase, or a discrepancy, they would note this down, usually in the margins of the manuscript and sometimes in between the lines. Interventions and alterations of any kind to the main text frequently also included the use of different types of signs. Centuries later, similar practices are still in place today in the academic and publishing worlds. See, for example, the Proofreader’s Marks provided by the Chicago Manual of Style. It is possible to discern how this methodology works even when the copyediting or proofreading is done electronically, for example, via Microsoft Word Track Changes or Adobe Acrobat Comments.

Image with enlarged pop-outs showing three examples of marginal and interlinear interventions on folios 16v-17r of MS C49.
Examples of marginal and interlinear interventions on folios 16v-17r. Call # MS C49. Click image to enlarge.

In the case of MS C49, most of the marginal and interlinear additions and corrections seem to have been made by the same hand, either the scribe who copied the text or a contemporary who could have been another scribe, an editor or a reader. Since this second hand mostly adds corrections to the main text, we can be fairly certain that they were checking the copied text against the exemplar. Here are three examples of interventions from folio 17v:

In the first case, the text is corrected by adding a missing sentence in the outer margin. This usually happens when the scribe originally skips a word, a phrase or a sentence and later notices that they made a mistake. Instead of copying the entire page again, which would be costly and time consuming, they make a note of the missing passage. In order to ensure that the additional text is inserted into the right place, the place where the insertion needs to be made in the main text is first marked with a sign and later a corresponding sign is placed together with the additional text in the margin. In this case, the sign employed in MS C49 looks like an exclamation mark with two dots. These types of signs are called signe-de-renvoi (i.e., “sign of return”) or tie marks. They are used in pairs and link the main text to a marginal annotation.

In the second example, on line 15 of folio 17r, the word “verbis” has a series of dots underneath. In this case, it seems that the scribe made another mistake by copying a word that is not part of the text. In these cases, again, instead of copying the entire page, they signaled a deletion of the extraneous word or phrase. There are differing practices to indicate a deletion in medieval and early modern manuscripts, depending on the scribe and where and when a manuscript is copied. What is used here is an omission technique called subpuncting or underdotting, in which a series of dots are placed under the letter or the word that is to be omitted from reading. Today, one usually crosses out a passage or a word when there is a mistake. Nevertheless, this medieval practice is thought to have given way to the modern ellipsis, which indicates omitted words in a text.

The sign seen in the third example has a slightly different use; it is not a direct intervention to the text. Instead, it is utilized to mark an important passage. The symbol in the shape of a pointing hand is called a manicule (from the Latin word manicula, meaning “little hand”), and it is found in the margins of medieval manuscripts and later on in printed books to draw attention to a section of a text. There are over two dozen manicules in MS C49. If this pointing hand sign seems familiar, it is because it is the same symbol that one sees when one moves their pointer over a hyperlink today!

The Kenneth Spencer Research Library purchased the manuscript from Charles S. Boesen in February 1959, and it is available for consultation at the Library’s Marilyn Stokstad Reading Room when the library is open.

N. Kıvılcım Yavuz
Ann Hyde Postdoctoral Researcher

Follow the account “Manuscripts &c.” on Twitter and Instagram for postings about manuscripts from the Kenneth Spencer Research Library.

Collection Snapshot(s): Marcas de fuego

May 11th, 2021
Marcas de Fuego on Part 1 (right) and Part 2 (left) of Spencer Research Library's copies of Fray Juan Bautista'sAdvertencias para los confesores de los naturales (1600-1601)
Marcas de fuego on Part 1 (right) and Part 2 (left) of Spencer Research Library’s copies of Advertencias para los confesores de los naturales by Fray Juan Bautista. Mexico: Por M. Ocharte, año 1600 (Parte 1); Excudebat Ludovicus Ocharte Figueroa, 1601 (Parte 2). Call Number #: B620.

Today we share two examples of “marcas de fuego” from Spencer Research Library’s collections. In colonial Mexico, “marcas de fuego” (that is, “marks of fire” or fire brands) identified a book as belonging to a particular religious order or institution. This identifying emblem (or sometimes a set of stylized initials or a name) would be burned into the edge of the text block of a book using a hot metal instrument.  The scholars and librarians associated with the Catálogo Colectivo de Marcas de Fuego (Collective catalog of fire brands) date this practice from the second half of the 16th century into the first decades of the 19th century.

The marcas de fuego shown above appear on the top edges of the two parts of Spencer Research Library’s copy of Fray Juan Bautista’s Advertencias para los confesores de los naturales. Printed in Mexico City in 1600 (Parte 1) and 1601 (Parte 2), Bautista’s Advertencias was a manual offering guidance for priests taking the confessions of the indigenous peoples of “New Spain.” Printing came to the Americas in 1539 when Juan Pablos established a printing press in Mexico City. Bautista’s text is included in that first group of editions (roughly 220 in Mexico City and 20 in Lima, Peru) printed in the Americas prior to 1601. These are sometimes known in Spanish as “Incunable Americano,” after the practice of calling books printed in Europe prior to 1501—the “cradle stage” of printing—incunabula.

Interestingly, although Spencer Research Library acquired the two parts of Bautista’s Advertencias together from the California-based bookseller Zeitlin & Ver Brugge, their marcas de fuego suggest that the two separate volumes haven’t always resided together.  Using the enormously helpful Catálogo Colectivo de Marcas de Fuego, we’ve been able to identify the fire brand that appears on each of the two volumes. 

Marca de Fuego of the Colegio de San Fernando on the text block Juan Bautista's Advertencias para los confesores de los naturales, Parte 1 (1600), Kenneth Spencer Research Library Call Number: B620.
Marca de fuego of the Colegio de San Fernando at the top (head) of the text block of Juan Bautista’s Advertencias para los confesores de los naturales, Parte 1 (1600). Call Number #: B620.

The marca de fuego that appears on “Parte 1” is that of the Colegio de San Fernando in Mexico City (see this entry in the Catálogo Colectivo for comparison). We’ll admit that this marca is among the more self-evident! The Colegio de San Fernando was founded in the 1730s as a Franciscan missionary college or seminary.  Since one of its primary purposes was to train priests for conducting missionary work with indigenous peoples, it’s not surprising to see a copy of Bautista’s Advertencias with the marca de fuego of the Colegio de San Fernando.

Marca de Fuego of the Convento del Carmen (Atlixco, Puebla) on the text block Juan Bautista's Advertencias para los confesores de los naturales, Parte 2 (1601), Kenneth Spencer Research Library Call Number: B620
Marca de fuego of the Convento del Carmen (Atlixco, Puebla) at the top (head) of the text block of Juan Bautista’s Advertencias para los confesores de los naturales, Parte 2 (1601). Call Number #: B620.

The marca de fuego on “Parte 2” appears to be that of the Convento del Carmen in Atlixco, Puebla (see this entry for comparison).  The term “Covento” in the Spanish colonial context refers to complex or facility used by a religious order, without the strong connotation of a female order present in the English term “convent.” Founded by the Carmelites, the Convento and the associated church were built the during the first two decades of the 1600s. The marca contains several elements of the Carmelite shield (the cross, the mount, and two of its characteristic three stars), and, as the Catálogo Colectivo entry for the marca notes, the initial “A” at the bottom of the marca might be an abbreviation for Atlixco. The “Convento” was dissolved in the mid 19th century and its belongings sold, but the much of the building structure still stands (with a more modern façade), though it did sustain damage in the 2017 earthquake that hit the region.

The Catálogo Colectivo de Marcas de Fuego is a fascinating resource for researching provenance and the movement of books in colonial Mexico and beyond.  In order to encourage you to explore it (and marcas de fuego more generally) we share one final “snapshot” from Spencer’s collections — a photograph that we use on the page of our website that discusses Spencer’s Renaissance and  Early Modern Imprints.  Unlike the Advertenicas which was printed in Mexico City, the six volume Complutensian Polyglot Bible was printed in Spain under the patronage of Cardinal Francisco Ximenes de Cisneros in 1514-17, as noted in the volume (though actually, 1520/1521). However, at some point in the decades and centuries following its publication, Spencer’s copy travelled to “New Spain” and received its marcas de fuego.  Can you identify whose heart-shaped brand this is?  Take a look through the Catálogo Colectivo de Marcas de Fuego and then highlight the text in the square brackets to confirm your identification: [Convento de san Agustín (Puebla, Puebla), see for example the variations on the brand BJML-1005.]

Marcas de fuego of [Convento de san Agustín (Puebla, Puebla)] on Spencer Research Library’s copy of Biblia polyglotta. Alcala de Henares: in Complutensi universitate, industria Arnaldi Gulielmi de Brocario, 1514-1517 [i.e., 1520 or 1521]. Call #: Summerfield G41. (Highlight the text in brackets to reveal the source of the brand).

Both parts of Spencer’s copy of Advertencias para los confesores de los naturales by Fray Juan Bautista have been digitized and are available online (Images 1-370 are “Parte 1” and the binding of “Parte 2” begins at Image 371). You’ll also find a digitized copy of Spencer’s other “Mexican Incunable”– the 1571 edition of Alonso de Monlina Vocabulario en lengua Castellana y Mexicana (Call #: D214), a Nahuatl-Spanish dictionary–in our digital collections. To read more about both of these volumes, visit the online version of Spencer’s 2016 exhibition In the Shadow of Cortés: From Veracruz to Mexico City, where Caitlin Klepper discusses them in the section headed “The Colonization of This Land.”

  • This blog post was originally intended to post in November 2020, but was postponed due to a time-sensitive post. Since then, a colleague at another university, Michael Taylor, has written a fascinating and more detailed post on marcas de fuego for the blog of the Book Club of Washington. Take a read to dive even further into the history and nature of these bibliographic firebrands.

Elspeth Healey
Special Collections Librarian