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Inside Spencer: The KSRL Blog

Books on a shelf

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.

Physical/Digital Archives: Teaching with Spencer Manuscripts

April 2nd, 2019

This week’s post is by Dr. Whitney Sperrazza, Digital Humanities Postdoctoral Research Fellow at KU’s Hall Center for the Humanities.

Digital methods offer a new way to teach with and in the archives. I designed my Fall 2018 course, “Digital Feminist Archives,” around this conviction, aiming to build a class that worked at the intersection of archival and digital practices.

For sixteen weeks, twelve students from a wide range of KU departments (English, Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies [WGSS], History, Humanities, Museum Studies, and Theater) met at the Spencer Research Library to study, transcribe, and develop projects on one object from the library’s holdings: Elizabeth Dyke’s Booke of Recaits (dated 1668).


Image of ownership inscriptions in the front board and first page of "Elizabeth Dyke, her Booke of Recaits 1668" (MS D157)

Family Ownership inscriptions in “Elizabeth Dyke, her Booke of Recaits 1668.” England, approximately 1668.
Call Number: MS D157, Opening 2. Click image to enlarge.

Early Women’s Recipes

Are you interested in learning more about early Western remedies for headaches? What about the effectiveness of rose water in preventing plague (56)? Did you know that pickled cucumbers were made frequently in seventeenth-century English households (86) and that powdered hazelnuts were used to stanch bleeding (43)? Or, as Elspeth Healey asks in her blog post on the manuscript, are you simply looking for some seventeenth-century dietary advice?

Image of remedy using hazelnuts to stanch bleeding in Elizabeth Dyke, her Booke of Recaits 1668." (MS D157)

Hazelnuts to stanch bleeding? From “Elizabeth Dyke, her Booke of Recaits 1668.” England, approximately 1668.
Call Number: MS D157, Opening 43. Click image to enlarge.

This is just a taste of the wealth of information we collected from Dyke’s Booke of Recaits, which contains over 700 culinary and medicinal recipes. But the manuscript is so much more than a recipe archive. It is a document of familial and social networks and a record of cultural practices.

On the manuscript’s opening page (see photo above), several women catalogued their ownership of the book—Sarah Dyke, Dorothy Dyke, Elizabeth Dodsworth—suggesting that the text was passed down through the family’s female line. Like many surviving recipe books from the period, the titles of the recipes themselves also include names of women and men, either to note the original creator of the recipe (“Lady Rivers’ recipe for orange or lemon cakes”) or to mark the recipe’s effectiveness (“A very good green salve and ointment proved often times by goodwife Wesens”).

The Spencer Library acquired the manuscript in 1977 from UK bookseller, Henry Bristow Ltd, and it was recently featured in an exhibition titled, “Histories of the English Language” (Summer 2017). While the manuscript has long been available for visitors to the Spencer, it is now available as part of the KU Libraries digital collections and as a fully searchable (original spelling only) transcription on the “Digital Feminist Archives” course site.

Collaborative Close Reading

I designed the course syllabus to build gradually toward the students’ final digital projects, so the first eight weeks were dedicated to close study and transcription of the manuscript’s content. The students became experts on this archival object through their transcription work and their conversations with each other on the manuscript’s content and structure.

The students each transcribed and encoded a section of manuscript pages and, one day per week, we structured the class as a large-scale text encoding project meeting. Students came to class with examples and questions from their assigned pages and we dedicated these class sessions to collective conversation about encoding standards and transcription problems. We started with basic observations—things like, “this is what Dyke’s r looks like”—but the conversations quickly became more complicated and critically rich: should we include content that’s been crossed out? how should we note text that’s been lost due to page damage?

Examples of loss of text in Elizabeth Dyke's Booke of Recaits (MS D157)

Photograph of crossed out text in Elizabeth Dyke's "Booke of Recaits" (MS D157)

Example of lost text (top) and crossed out text (bottom) in “Elizabeth Dyke, her Booke of Recaits 1668.” England, approximately 1668.
Call Number: MS D157, Openings 95 and 99. Click images to enlarge.

As an instructor, it was thrilling to participate in these student-driven discussions and listen as the students grappled with the critical and methodological decisions that go into transforming a physical object into digital content. Our focus was on the process rather the product, and part of that process was working together to really know this archival object. In addition to giving students insight into the logistics of digital project development, these lab sessions became opportunities for collaborative reading of the manuscript’s content as students shared interesting passages, unexpected recipe titles, and common ingredients.

Interdisciplinary Networks

The students’ collective transcription work became the basis for their final project development. Through their projects, the students animated this archival material. One group transformed Dyke’s medicinal recipes into a crowd-sourced ailments and remedies platform modeled on WebMD (WebED).

Screenshot of WebEd, a crowd-sourced ailments and remedies platform modeled on WebMD.

WebEd, a student project centered on Elizabeth Dyke’s Booke of Recaits for ENGL 590 | ENGL 790 | HUM 500 | WGSS 701: Digital Feminist Archives, Fall 2018. Click image to enlarge.

One group tried their hand at making some of the recipes, using Dyke’s directions to capture the historical experience (Cooking 17th-Century Recipes). Another group developed teaching resources and updated versions of the recipes to explore how Dyke’s recipes remain relevant for today’s audiences (Using Early Modern Recipes Today). Finally, one group mapped the availability of several of Dyke’s ingredients, tracking how the ingredients would have been traded across different parts of the world (Mapping Elizabeth Dyke’s Recipes).

Screenshot of "Mapping Elizabeth Dyke’s Recipes" site.

Mapping Elizabeth Dyke’s Recipes,” a student project for ENGL 590 | ENGL 790 | HUM 500 | WGSS 701: Digital Feminist Archives, Fall 2018. Click image to enlarge.

The students’ transcription work and project development built on ongoing digital work on early modern recipes (for instance, the Early Modern Recipe Online Collective and The Recipes Project), connecting the students’ original research to wider networks across the country. Most crucial, though, were the lessons we gained from the interdisciplinary networks at work in the classroom. With this archival object as our focal point, we all found ways to draw on and expand our particular areas of interest and expertise.

Digital projects require significant time, labor, and resources. If I learned anything from designing and leading this course, it’s that one semester is not long enough for such an endeavor. We merely scratched the surface of what’s possible with such a rich archival object and, hopefully, our efforts will be a starting point for much more work to come.

Whitney Sperrazza
Digital Humanities Postdoctoral Research Fellow
Hall Center for the Humanities

[Thank you to everyone at KU who worked hard to make this class possible and offered support for the students’ work at various stages: Elspeth Healey, Brian Rosenblum, Whitney Baker, Jocelyn Wehr, Erin Wolfe, Jonathan Lamb, and Scott Hanrath. And, of course, my sincerest gratitude to the “Digital Feminist Archive” students, all of whom brought so much energy to this process: Brianna Blackwell, Gwyn Bourlakov, Mallory Harrell, Yee-Lum Mak, Jodi Moore, Sarah Polo, Elissa Rondeau, Kate Schroeder, Phoenix Schroeder, Suzanne Tanner, Rachel Trusty, and Chris Wright.]


The Mystery of MS A7

May 22nd, 2018

This blog post has been a long time coming. I actually started writing about MS A7 last fall. I wanted to do a simple post that talked about this manuscript and highlighted its interesting watercolor and ink drawings. However, in the preliminary stages of my research, the information I found brought up a series of questions that I have been attempting to answer for the past few months. Here is a peek at what I have learned so far!

Prediche sul nome di Gesu is a late 15th to early 16th-century Italian manuscript. The manuscript features a series of sermons on the name of Jesus by Saint Bernardinus of Siena (San Bernardino in Italian). The content of the manuscript is pretty straightforward; it is the images that prompted serious questions for me. There are several full-page drawings that feature a monk involved in a series of activities that are confusing at best (and completely macabre at worst).

MS A7, Prediche sul nome di Gesu, image of monk revealing/cutting his heart, f.81r MS A7, Prediche sul nome di Gesu, image of monk washing his heart, f.88r

With the open chest wound and heart in hand, the image on the right was the one that initially piqued my interest
in this manuscript. How was the monk alive without his heart? Did the seeming improbability of what was happening
in the image mean this was the depiction of a vision or metaphor within the text? Folio 81r (left) and 88r (right)
from Saint Bernardinus of Siena’s Prediche sul nome di Gesu, Italy, circa late 15th-16th century.
Call Number: MS A7. Click images to enlarge.

MS A7, Prediche sul nome di Gesu, image of blindfolded monk atop the world with angel, f. 115r MS A7, Prediche sul nome di Gesu, image of monk tortured by skeleton and demon, f.137r

The image on the left has prompted so many questions. How does this image relate to the previous images of the monk?
Is it even supposed to be the same monk? Why is he blindfolded? Folio 115r (left) and 137r (right) from Saint Bernardinus
of Siena’s Prediche sul nome di Gesu, Italy, circa late 15th-16th century. Call Number: MS A7. Click images to enlarge.

Were these images meant to depict scenes from the life of San Bernardino? A series of visions the saint experienced? Preliminary research on the life of San Bernardino seemed to indicate that neither one of those conclusions was likely. I then turned to our records concerning the manuscript – accession files, catalogue entries, bookseller correspondence, etc. The lack of concrete information and answers in those records solidified my growing belief that little to no serious research had ever been done on this manuscript (not unusual with collections the size of ours). It became clear that if I wanted answers, I was going to have to find them myself. I had a hunch that the images were related to the text, possibly even very literal depictions of passages in the sermons. However, without any significant knowledge of Italian, I knew I needed quite a bit of help.

The next steps in my research process demonstrate just how lucky we are to have the amazing faculty we do at KU. First and foremost, our Special Collections curators, Karen Cook and Elspeth Healey, provided insight, access to files, suggestions of where to look next, and beginning translation help. The next step was to find someone to more fully translate the Italian and provide some more information about the images themselves. This led me to Dr. Areli Marina in the Kress Foundation Department of Art History here at KU.

Dr. Marina’s translation work and insight have helped me immensely. With her assistance, I have started to get a clearer picture of what is happening in the manuscript (my initial hunch seems to be on the right track). However, with each new bit of information, more questions continue to arise. For example, do these sermons and images have any connections to certain established monastic communities and their traditions? Hopefully, I will have more answers to share with you all soon!

Emily Beran
Public Services

Collection Snapshot: Diet and Digestion Advice from the Late 1600s

January 5th, 2015

It’s that time of year when you may hear your friends and family vowing to eat better for 2015.  But who needs trendy “paleo” diets or post-indulgence rounds of pepto-bismol when you can consult a seventeenth-century manuscript instead?  Among the Spencer Research Library’s collections is a volume labelled “Elizabeth Dyke her Booke of Recaits 1668,” which contains approximately 725 medicinal and culinary recipes (or “receipts”).  There you’ll find these two succinct lists of things “good” and “ille” for the stomach:

List of "Things good" and "ille" for "the stomack" from a seventeenth century book of receipts.

Parsley and sage advice?: Dyke, Elizabeth. “Things good for the Stomack” and “Things Ille for the Stomack.”
Booke of Recaits [Receipts]. Great Britain, circa 1668. Call Number: MS D157. Click image to enlarge.

According to the manuscript, calamint, sage, and standing after eating meat are all beneficial, while “all sweet things,” “fryed meats,” eating “meat upon meat” (pace Dr. Atkins), and eating “to[o] many dishes at one time” can lead to digestive disorder.

Of course, some of the volume’s recipes are acquired tastes (see the instructions for black sheep’s pudding below), so you may want to take its advice with a grain of salt!

Opening in the Booke of Recaits featuring a recipe for Black Sheep's Pudding

“To make black sheeps pudings.” Book of Recaits [Receipts]. Great Britain, circa 1668. MS D157. Click image to enlarge.

Elspeth Healey
Special Collections Librarian

Manuscript Monday: Four from the 1400s

November 24th, 2014

Earlier this month Mitch Fraas at the University of Pennsylvania wrote a fascinating blog post in which he mapped data from Melissa Conway and Lisa Fagin Davis’s Directory of Institutions in the United States and Canada with Pre-1600 Manuscript Holdings (2014). Though, as Fraas notes, that the highest institutional concentrations of medieval and early modern manuscripts are found on the East and West Coasts, KU is responsible for one of the largest dots on the map in the middle of the country. In fact, the Kenneth Spencer Research Library ranks among the top fifteen institutions for holdings of pre-1600 manuscript codices (volumes), with its approximately 220 manuscript books, and fares even better when our over 2100 pre-1600 manuscript leaves, documents, and rolls are taken into account.

In light of these numbers, this week we’re highlighting four fifteenth-century manuscripts, each from a different country. Medievalists and early modern scholars take note; it’s worth making a stop in Lawrence, KS!

1. Vosper Book of Hours

Detail from the miniature of David in prayer (f. 83r) from the Vosper Book of Hours, France, ca. 1470.

Detail from the miniature of David in prayer (f. 83r) from the Vosper Book of Hours, France, ca. 1470.
Call #: MS Pryce C1. Click image to view full page.

Spencer’s most ornately decorated manuscript is a late-fifteenth-century book of hours from Eastern France. Named in honor of Robert Vosper (1913-1994), a former director of KU Libraries, this devotional volume includes seventeen large miniatures (or paintings), as well as stunning foliate borders, featuring birds and insects. In the image above, the darkish, opaque wings of the dragonfly are actually silver which has tarnished with time.

2. Minden Codex

Historiated initial detail (St. George and the dragon) from the Minden Codex.

Detail from: Gallus’s Malogranatum (folio 2r), one of several texts in the Minden Codex. Germany, mid-to-late 15th century.
Call #: MS C164. Click Image to view full page.

The Minden Codex received its name from our catalogers because it once belonged to a Benedictine monastery in Minden, a city in the Westphalia region of Germany. It is a collection of more than fifteen religious texts that appear to have been copied out by different scribes in the mid-to-late 1400s and then bound together alongside a fragment of printed text. The codex begins with a portion of the first book of the Malogranatum, a dialogue intended as guidance for monks striving toward the perfection of their souls. This text is sometimes attributed to Gallus, an abbot of Königssaal (near Prague). The historiated initial in the detail above depicts Saint George slaying the dragon. Look closely and you’ll see that their entwined bodies form the letter “S” of the Latin word Sancta.

3. A Collection of Italian lyric poetry; primarily Petrarch’s Canzoniere

Opening of Petrarch's Canzoniere, featuring an illuminated initial containing white vine on a blue background, from A manuscript collection of Italian lyric poetry; primarily Petrarch’s Canzoniere. Italy, 15th century.

Opening of Petrarch’s Canzoniere in a collection of Italian lyric poetry. Italy, 15th century.
Call Number: MS C24. Click image to enlarge.

Though many of Spencer’s pre-1600 codices are religious in nature, the library also holds a wide range of secular texts, including classical and scientific works, legal and estate records, histories, and works of literature. The main text in this 15th century miscellany of Italian verse is Petrarch’s Canzoniere (Songbook), a sequence of poems that tells the story of the poet’s love for “Laura.” The text begins with Petrarch’s famous sonnet, “Voi ch’ascoltate in rime sparse il sono […],”  whose initial “V” is here illuminated and decorated with a white vine design.  Subsequent poems in the Canzoniere receive a simpler treatment: their smaller initials appear in alternating blue and red.  The manuscript book also includes poems by Jacopo Sanguinacci, Giusto de’ Conti, and others, as well as Latin sayings with Italian translations.

4. English Medicinal Recipe

Medicinal Recipe in Middle English, England, ca. 1400s

Medicinal Recipe. England, ca. 1400s. (Phillipps 40717). Call #: MS P541  Click image to enlarge.

Feeling under the weather now that the temperature has dropped? This medicinal recipe dating form the 1400s provides directions for distilling a mixture of spices, herbs, and wine to treat a variety of illnesses and wounds. This single leaf, with its top three lines partly torn away, is notable in that it is one of the library’s comparatively few pre-1500 manuscripts in English (or Middle English, as the case may be). Though Spencer holds several thousand English estate documents (circa 1200-1900), including papers from the prominent North and Kaye families, those that date from before 1500 tend to be in Latin.  This recipe or “receipt” stands as an instructive example of unornamented, vernacular writing.  However, despite being in English, its script presents a challenge for modern eyes.  Try to read a line or two and you may soon find yourself yearning for the more familiar humanist letterforms of the Canzoniere above (MS C24). Finally, this modest leaf also boasts an interesting provenance: it was once a part of the library of Sir Thomas Phillipps (1792–1872), an obsessive nineteenth-century collector who built one of the largest private collections of manuscripts.

For those who may have caught a little of Phillipps’s manuscript-mania, Spencer has plenty more to explore. You will find records (and images) for many of our medieval and early modern manuscripts in the Digital Scriptorium, an online database with holdings from a variety of institutions. To browse Spencer’s contributions, simply click on “Advanced Search,” select Lawrence, University of Kansas, Kenneth Spencer Research Library, Special Collection from the “Current Location” field and hit “Search.” Or, for a another short narrative tour, take a peek at Lisa Fagin Davis’s great post on Kansas in her Manuscript Road Trip Blog.

Elspeth Healey
Special Collections Librarian

16th-Century Medicine for the Fascination of 21st-Century Audiences

July 19th, 2013

Yesterday, KU announced a magnificent gift to the libraries and the KU Medical Campus from the estate of the late KUMC Dean Stata Norton Ringle and her husband David Ringle. One of the projects that tied Stata Norton Ringle to the Kenneth Spencer Research Library was her translation of a manuscript from our collections.  Produced circa 1562, Libro de i secretti & ricette, also known as the Jesuatti Book of Remedies (MS Pryce E1), is a collection of remedies used by the friars of the Order of Saint Jerome in Lucca, Italy to treat an array of ailments. These range from the common (digestive problems, colds, wounds and sores) to the cosmetic (baldness) to the strange (“For the crust that comes on the head of little children“) to the most dire (the plague, malaria). The remedies recorded in the manuscript are a variety of galenical mixtures of herbs, alchemical distillates, prayers, and incantations.

Page spread from the Jesuatti Book of Remedies featuring distillation diagrams
Jesuatti Book of Remedies. Lucca, Italy, circa 1562. Call number: MS Pryce E1. Click image to enlarge.
Image courtesy of KU Libraries Flickr Photostream.

This volume so captivated Professor Ringle that she taught herself Renaissance-era Italian to undertake its translation. The result was a digital edition, published in collaboration with KU Libraries’ Center for Digital Scholarship, that combines her annotated English translation with manuscript page images.

Browsing the digital edition, it’s easy to see why a professor of pharmacology, toxicology and therapeutics, like Dr. Ringle, would want to share this fascinating manuscript with scholars and the public at large. We have it on good authority from our web gurus that the most scatological, blush-inducing, and comically bizarre search terms driving internet traffic to the KU Libraries website tend to be page hits for the Jesuatti Book of Remedies. (I won’t list those search terms here, but this passage should give you a sense of some of the more sensitive topics the remedies address).

To celebrate the late Professor Ringle and her work, we reproduce three remedies from her translation and encourage you to continue on and peruse the entire volume online.  In her  preface, she wisely cautions that the translation is for “historical information only.”  We hope you enjoy reading these remedies, but please don’t try them at home!

Best remedy for headache. [From folio 13 verso]

Take 1 handful each of good marjoram and rosemary and make fine powder of them. In the morning take half a glass of good white wine and put therein a tablespoon of this powder, heat it and drink this early in the morning and soon you will be cured. This is also powerful to save the teeth so they will not decay and it will give you a good breath. It is the thing used by gentlemen. […]

To make gray hair dark. [From folio 19 recto]

Take equal amounts of soft dark soap and quicklime and yellow litharge and incorporate them in the form of an unguent and with this rub the gray hair several times and it will become dark. Continue this rubbing according to how you see the need as it turns from being white to dark.

Another for the aforesaid and also good. Take the juice of beets mixed with ashes made of chicken feathers and boil them together a while. Rub yourself with this in the evening when you go to sleep. […]

To remove redness from the face and make it the way one wants. [From folio 162 verso].

Take 1 ounce of native sulfur, 1 dram each of white incense and myrrh and ½ ounce of camphor. Powder everything very finely and mix it with ½ lb. of rose water and distill it in a little glass still. Preserve this water well-closed and bathe the face in the evening and morning with a sponge, rubbing well. Soon the redness of the face will disappear. This has been tested by many persons. [...]

Image of the Jesuatti Book of Remedies, folio 13v: Best remedy for headache Image of page of Jesuatti Book of Remedies giving remedy for making gray hair dar. A page from the Jesuatti Book of Remedies:

From the Jesuatti Book of Remedies digital edition: (left) “Best remedy for headache” folio 13v; (center) “To make gray hair dark” folio 19r; and (right) “To remove redness from the face and make it the way one wants,” folio 162v. Translated with notes by Stata Norton. Electronic edition published by the Center for Digital Scholarship, University of Kansas Libraries, 2010. Click images to enlarge.