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Welcome to the Kenneth Spencer Research Library blog! As the special collections and archives library at the University of Kansas, Spencer is home to remarkable and diverse collections of rare and unique items. Explore the blog to learn about the work we do and the materials we collect.

Manuscript of the Month: Her Book, Written by Her Own Hand

July 27th, 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 C66 contains a copy of a translation from Latin into Italian of the De theologia mystica [On Mystical Theology], also known by its opening words, the Viae Syon lugent [The Ways of Zion Mourn], along with two much shorter tracts added later. Composed sometime in the second half of the thirteenth century, the exact date of the De theologia mystica in Latin is unknown. Furthermore, its authorship has been subject to debate. In some medieval manuscripts, it is attributed to St Bonaventure, a thirteenth-century Franciscan scholar; however, this is generally accepted to be false. More recently, scholars have argued that the work was composed by Hugh of Balma. Yet, his identity has also been debated. He is now thought to be the same Hugh who was the Prior of the Charterhouse of Meyriat, a Carthusian monastery in Vieu-d’Izenave, France, between 1289 and 1304. The translation into Italian is thought to have been undertaken in or before 1367 by the Jesuit Domenico da Monticchiello. Not much information exists about Domenico either, but he is known also to have translated into Italian the Vita Christi [Life of Christ] by Ludolph of Saxony, another Carthusian scholar. The name of neither the author nor the translator is provided in the copy of the De theologia mystica as we have it in MS C66, where it is indicated only that the work was by a venerable friar of the Carthusian order.

Although Hugh of Balma and his De theologia mystica have received some scholarly attention in recent decades, including a full translation into English in 2002, its medieval Italian translation does not share the same fate. The most recent and the only modern edition is from the mid-nineteenth century, published as part of a series of editions of works by or associated with St Bonaventure. MS C66 was one of the two manuscripts that were used as primary witnesses to the text by Bartolomeo Sorio in this 1852 edition of the De theologia mystica. At the time, the manuscript was part of the collection of Domenico Turazza (1813 –1892), a renowned mathematician considered to be the founder of the School of Engineering at the University of Padua. In this edition, Sorio thanks Turazza for loaning the manuscript to him to study and prepare the edition (p. 54). A note Sorio wrote to Turazza, presumably when he returned the manuscript, is now bound together with the medieval manuscript as part of MS C66.

Image of the beginning of Hugh of Balma’s De theologia mystica in Italian on folio 1r. Venice, Italy, 1500. Call # MS C66.
Beginning of Hugh of Balma’s De theologia mystica in Italian on folio 1r. Venice, Italy, 1500. Call # MS C66. Click image to enlarge. See the Digital Scriptorium record for MS C66 for additional images.

In his edition, Sorio relies heavily on MS C66, especially since the other manuscript he chose was lacking the second half of the work. Despite that, he does not provide much information on the manuscript itself. Although he mentions that the manuscript is dated and the scribe is named at the end of the text, he omits certain details, such as the name of the scribe, not only in his preface but also in the edition of the text. At the closing of the De theologia mystica in MS C66 on folio 81r, the scribe records when and where the manuscript was copied and her name:

Scrita nel monast[er]io de le done de Sa[n] Fra[n]çesco della crose de Vei[n]esia de lordene de S[an]c[t]a Chiara de hoserva[n]çia. Nelliani del n[ost]ro signor mis[er] Ih[es]u Chr[ist]o 1500 finito a di 3 deçe[m]brio. S[uor] Le? Bol?. E tu lezitore prega Dio p[er] el scritore. Amen. De s[uor] Lena […]. Sc[ri]to de sua mano.

Written in the women’s monastery of San Francesco della Croce in Venice of the observant order of St Clare. Finished in the 1500th year of our poor lord Jesus Christ on December 3. Sister Lena […]. And you, reader, pray God for the writer [scribe]. Amen. [The book] of sister Lena […]. Written by her own hand.

Thus, we know that the manuscript was completed on December 3 in the year 1500 in Venice, Italy. Not only that; according to the colophon, MS C66 was copied in a women’s monastery. Although Sorio only mentions that the manuscript was copied by a Clarist nun (“Monaca Clarissa,” p. 29), the nun who copied MS C66 wrote her name on it: sister Lena.

Image of the ending of Hugh of Balma’s De theologia mystica in Italian on folio 81r (left), with the scribal colophon of Sister Lena.
Ending of Hugh of Balma’s De theologia mystica in Italian on folio 81r (left), with the scribal colophon of Sister Lena. Venice, Italy, 1500. Call # MS C66. Click image to enlarge.

There is another significant, if a little peculiar, aspect of MS C66, which is made of paper. All the initials in the manuscript are cut and pasted from another paper manuscript! More than 200 initials that open each chapter of the De theologia mystica in MS C66 are carefully cut out and placed on the leaves. The initials are all in plain red, made in the same style and they all seem to have originated from a single book. Although Bernard Rosenthal, from whom the University of Kansas acquired the manuscript, wrote in his description that “the initials are painted on small paper slips which are glued into their proper position,” it is certain that these initials were not made for this manuscript but instead repurposed from another one. When the manuscript is examined with a fiberoptic light sheet, which is commonly used for the inspection of watermarks on paper, the text underneath the initials become more apparent. The pieces are too small, however, to identify the text of this other book. I have not noticed any misplaced initials but there are a few instances in which the letter I is pasted upside down. Yet, MS C66 is so meticulously prepared that even this seems like a deliberate choice by sister Lena.

Image of the opening of folios 28v and 29r with pasted in initials visible in Hugh of Balma’s De theologia mystica in Italian (MS C66).
Hugh of Balma’s De theologia mystica in Italian, folios 28v and 29r. Venice, Italy, 1500. Call # MS C66. Click image to enlarge.
Image of the text visible on the verso of the pasted in initials under transmitted light, in in Hugh of Balma’s De theologia mystica in Italian (MS C66)
Hugh of Balma’s De theologia mystica in Italian, folio 29r with transmitted light. Venice, Italy, 1500. Call # MS C66. Click image to enlarge.

From its contents to its production, MS C66 is an excellent example of the impact of monastic networks in the transmission of texts and knowledge in the Middle Ages. But there is more to it. In his recent book titled Women and the Circulation of Texts in Renaissance Italy, Brian Richardson provides Sister Lena (and MS C66) as an example for his discussion of women scribes (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2020, p. 101). Many texts from the Middle Ages survive anonymously; their authors are not known. This is also true for medieval manuscripts; we usually do not know who was the parchmenter or the papermaker, the scribe, the rubricator, the illuminator or the binder of a given manuscript. Often, there is a tendency to think that these occupations were assumed by men, and especially that texts were written and copied by men. More and more studies, however, now argue that this may have not been the case. Therefore, it is especially important to bring to light those examples in which one can demonstrate that a medieval manuscript was written and/or decorated by a woman, as is the case with MS C66.

The Kenneth Spencer Research Library purchased the manuscript from Bernard M. Rosenthal Inc. in July 1960, and it is available for consultation at the Library’s Marilyn Stokstad Reading Room when the library is open.

  • Edition of the De theologia mystica in Italian based on MS C66: La Teologia mistica attribuita a San Bonaventura, già volgarizzata prima del 1367 da frate Domenico da Montechiello Gesuato, testo di lingua citato dagli accademici della Crusca, ora tratto la prima volta dai Mss. Edited by Bartolomeo Sorio. Verona: Tipografia degli eredi di M. Moroni, 1852. 31-96. [open access]
  • Edition of the De theologia mystica in Latin and its translation into French: Théologie mystique. Edited and translated by Francis Ruello and Jeanne Barbet. 2 vols. Sources chrétiennes 408, 409. Paris: Éditions de Cerf, 1995. [KU Libraries]
  • Translation of the De theologia mystica from Latin into English: Jasper Hopkins. Hugh of Balma on Mystical Theology: A Translation and an Overview of His De Theologia Mystica. Minneapolis, MN: Arthur J. Banning Press, 2002. [open access]

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.

Irish Manuscripts for Beyond 2022

March 17th, 2021

In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, this week we are highlighting KU’s participation in Beyond 2022: Ireland’s Virtual Record Treasury. On June 30, 1922, in the midst of the Irish Civil War, the Public Record Office of Ireland (PROI) was destroyed by an explosion and fire at the Four Courts in Dublin.  As the Beyond 2022 website explains, seven centuries’ worth of Ireland’s historical records were lost in this fire.

To overcome this harm to “Ireland’s collective memory,” Beyond 2022 is undertaking an international collaboration to digitize copies of records held across Ireland, Northern Ireland, and beyond in order to launch a “Virtual Record Treasury for Irish history—an open-access, virtual reconstruction of the Record Treasury destroyed in 1922.” One particularly exciting aspect of the initiative is its work with Transkribus to employ HTR (Handwritten Text Recognition) to automate the transcription of manuscript records.

Beyond 2022: Ireland’s Virtual Record Treasury.  A short video about Beyond 2022, explaining the project. Video available at Photo Credits: UCD Archives; National Archives of Ireland; Irish Architectural Archive; NoHo; Trinity College Dublin; ADAPT Centre.

To assist in this ambitious effort, Spencer Research Library is digitizing several manuscripts from its collections that Beyond 2022 has identified as pertinent to its treasury. These manuscripts bearing on Irish history include volumes containing civil and military establishments for late 17th and early 18th century Ireland (MSD88, MS B86, and MS A42), a “Galtrim Parish tithe composition book,” Co. Meath, 1825 (MS P403A), and a volume containing “Copies of informations &c taken in Dunfanaghy Petty Sessions district, County Donegal,” 1863-1901 (MS E109).  Such manuscripts are the types of records that might have once been held in the Public Record Office of Ireland (PROI). 

Image of five manuscripts pertaining to Ireland from Spencer Research Library's collections digitized for inclusion in Beyond 2022: Ireland's Virtual Record Treasury
Five manuscripts (MS A42, MS P403A, MSD88, MS B86, and MS E109) pertaining to Ireland from Spencer Research Library’s collections that are being digitized to contribute to Beyond 2022: Ireland’s Virtual Record Treasury.

Of these, MS E109 is particularly intriguing. The manuscript volume contains copies of depositions, informations, statements, and declarations of complainants, witnesses, and occasionally defendants taken between 1863 and 1901 in the Dunfanaghy Petty Sessions district of Co. Donegal, a county in the northwest of Ireland bordering the Atlantic ocean. Petty Sessions were “courts held by the justices of the peace to try minor criminal offences summarily—i.e. without a jury.”[i] More serious cases would also be referred to other court proceedings, such as quarter sessions and assizes. (For a brief overview of the legal system in Ireland during the 19th century, visit the “History of the Law in Ireland” page on the website of The Courts Service of Ireland.)

Manuscripts such as the Dunfanaghy Petty Sessions district copy book can be particularly interesting to historians and genealogists alike because they offer views of the experiences and conditions of individuals for whom other types of written evidence may not exist or survive. For example, a significant number of those providing sworn informations and depositions in the Dunfanaghy copy book are recorded as having signed with their mark—the x or symbol that individuals unable to write would use in place of their signature. Such individuals are unlikely to have left other written documentation of their lives, such as letters or diaries, so their statements (though filtered through the clerk’s transcription) may be all that survives of their voices. Of course, it is worth remembering that a volume like the copy book for the Dunfanaghy Petty Sessions district isn’t necessarily capturing everyday life, but the experiences of individuals—whether complainants/victims, defendants, or witnesses—as their lives intersect with the legal system and crime.

Image showing how the Dunfanaghy Petty Sessions copy book (MS E109) records that James Gallagher signed with his mark (x)  Image showing how the Dunfanaghy Petty Sessions copy book (MS E109) records that James Lindsay used a signature to attest to his sworn testimony (information)

Details from the sworn “informations” of James Gallagher (Item 5) and James Lindsay (Item 6) concerning the theft of clothes hanging in their respective gardens in December of 1863. The notations in the copy book suggest that Gallagher (left) signed with his mark, whereas Lindsay (right) used a signature. “Copies of Informations &c taken in Dunfanaghy Petty Sessions district, County Donegal.” Dunfanaghy, copybook, 1863-1901. Call #: MS E109.  Click here to see the full page containing the sworn information of both Gallagher and Lindsay. 

The types of offenses recorded in the copy book include fights, theft (of clothes, of oats, of horses, sheep, and cattle, etc.), unlicensed guns, misappropriation of letters, threats of violence, and resisting the bailiff’s confiscation of a horse, to name a few. Occasionally the volume also contains accounts of more serious and violent crimes, such as assault and battery, murder, and rape. The witness and complainant statements for these matters can be quite harrowing to read. These cases would be referred to the assizes, the courts where the most serious offences (felonies) were addressed.

Several sworn statements offer glimpses into some of the difficult conditions of the lives of women. One example involves the case of Mary McBride, who in the spring of 1871 is accused of the concealment of the birth of a child. The sworn informations associated her case can be challenging to read, not only because of the difficult subject matter, but also because they make reference to no fewer than three Mary McBrides:  1) the woman who gave birth (sometimes referred to as Mary McBride junior); 2) that woman’s mother (Mary McBride senior); and 3) Mary McBride junior’s sister-in-law (Mary McBride, wife to Michael McBride). However, it is worth pushing through the confusion that the shared names might pose since the content of the statements is likely to hold much interest for researchers in the field of women’s history; women, gender, and sexuality studies; and the law.  

Detail showing the beginning of Item 76, the sworn information taken on May 27, 1871 of Mary McBride (wife to Michael McBride) concerning her sister-in-law Mary McBride (junior), who is charged with concealing the birth of her child. From: “Copies of Informations &c taken in Dunfanaghy Petty Sessions district, County Donegal.” Dunfanaghy, copy book, 1863-1901. Call #: MS E109. Click image to see full page.

Though most of the cases are non-political, a few have a larger political valence. One notable instance relates to William Harkin of Creeslough, who is accused of inciting a meeting (which some witnesses referred to as a Land League meeting) to violence. The Land League was political agrarian organization that campaigned against landlordism and its more predatory practices, seeking rights for farmer tenants, such as fair rents, rights to sale of occupancy, and security of tenure. The date of the incident recorded in the Dunfanaghy copy book, July 11, 1881, falls during a period of heightened agrarian agitation referred to as the Land War, and indeed, later that year, the Land League would be suppressed and several of its national leaders, including Michael Davitt and Charles Stewart Parnell, jailed. The Dunfanaghy copy book contains witness statements of three members of the Royal Irish Constabulary against Harkin.  Constable Joseph Lougheed’s brief deposition reports, “In [Harkin’s] address or in the concluding words of it, he said ‘have no mercy on Landlords. Kill them, send them out of the country into Boersland.[’],” although he also notes, “When the word kill was used some voices in the meeting said, ‘no-no.’” News of the charges against Harkin reached as far as New South Wales, where Sydney’s The Freeman’s Journal reported on it a month and a half later as part of a section on the Land War, under the heading “A Land League Secretary Charged With Inciting to Murder.”[ii] The depositions surrounding Harkin’s case may appeal to students and scholars studying Irish nationalism, reform movements, and agricultural history alike.

Image of a detail from Constable Joseph Laugheed's deposition regarding William Harkin (Item 141) in the Dunfanaghy Petty Sessions copy book (MS E109)
Detail from Constable Joseph Lougheed’s deposition regarding William Harkin (Item 141). From “Copies of Informations &c taken in Dunfanaghy Petty Sessions district, County Donegal.” Dunfanaghy, copy book, 1863-1901. Call #: MS E109. Click image to see full page.

In the coming months, the five selected manuscripts will be made available online through Beyond 2022’s Treasury and in KU Libraries’ own digital collections, enabling researchers around the world to make new investigations into Irish history. On this St. Patrick’s Day, following a full year during which so many of our activities have migrated online in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, it’s exciting to think that students, scholars, and members of the public will soon be able to read (and make discoveries with) several of Spencer’s Irish manuscripts from wherever they can access a computer.  

Elspeth Healey
Special Collections Librarian

[i] Mulholland, Maureen. “Petty sessions,” in The Oxford Companion to British History. Oxford University Press, 2015.

[ii] “A Land League Secretary Charged With Inciting to Murder,” The Freeman’s Journal (Sydney, NSW). Vol. XXXII, No. 1958 (17 September 1881): 7.

Throwback Thursday: Bowl Game Edition

February 4th, 2021

Each week we’ll be posting a photograph from University Archives that shows a scene from KU’s past. We’ve also scanned more than 34,800 images from KU’s University Archives and made them available online; be sure to check them out!

Who’s excited to watch the Chiefs in the Super Bowl on Sunday?

KU football fans kneeling in front of a decorated truck, 1947-1948
KU football fans kneeling in front of a decorated truck, 1947-1948. KU played Georgia Tech in the 1948 Orange Bowl. University Archives Photos. Call Number: RG 71/66/14 1947/1948: Student Activities: Sports: Football (Photos). Click image to enlarge (redirect to Spencer’s digital collections).

Caitlin Donnelly
Head of Public Services

Paper Writing – Watch Different Methods You Can See

October 19th, 2020

Many people will rewatch their newspaper writings after a long time period, and some will even go as far as to reread them a lot more than formerly, which can really help in identifying mistakes and spelling Read the rest of this entry »