Inside Spencer: The KSRL Blog

Meet the KSRL Staff: N. Kıvılcım Yavuz

October 22nd, 2019

Today’s profile features N. Kıvılcım Yavuz, who joined the Spencer Research Library in September as Ann Hyde Postdoctoral Researcher.

Photograph of N. Kivilcim Yavuz in the Kenneth Spencer Research Library's Reading Room with MS E71 (a manuscript copy of Vergil's Aeneid, Italy, circa the early 1400s)

N. Kıvılcım Yavuz in Spencer Research Library’s Reading Room with MS E71.

Where are you from?

I was born in Turkey and grew up there, but I spent the past eight years in the United Kingdom and Denmark, doing a PhD in Medieval Studies and working at the Universities of Leeds and Copenhagen before moving to Lawrence, KS and starting work at the Spencer Research Library this past September.

What does your job at Spencer entail?

I am the first Ann Hyde Postdoctoral Researcher of the Spencer Research Library. The position was created thanks to an endowment by Alexandra Mason, former Spencer Librarian, in honor of Ann Hyde, former Manuscripts Librarian at Spencer who specialized in medieval manuscripts. I work with the two Special Collections librarians Elspeth Healey and Karen Cook and my job entails making medieval and early modern manuscripts more accessible to the wider scholarly community and the public by conducting research and creating detailed catalog records as well as enhancing the visibility of the excellent special collections we have here, especially through digital means, social media and other outreach activities.

How did you come to work in special collections and archives?

My background is in Comparative Literature and I have always been interested in the concept of rewriting and repurposing of old stories in new contexts. I discovered the world of manuscripts during my master’s in Medieval Studies at the University of Leeds and did my thesis on two fifteenth-century historical roll manuscripts. It was an amazing experience to work on manuscripts that hardly anyone had looked at in the last century. My work with manuscripts continued with my PhD studies, also at Leeds. It was then that I came to understand even more fully the central importance of the material context of the text, and that every time a text is copied it became a new work. It was impressed on me that when looking at handwritten materials we need to change our modern expectations about a text being fixed and having a fixed meaning. Only in this way can we appreciate the scribal practices and the mindset of the medieval and early modern scribes and compilers. During visits to manuscript archives such as the National Library of France and the Vatican Library, I developed a deep appreciation not only about manuscripts themselves but also about collection development and conservation practices. I became more and more interested in how manuscripts were put together and used over time and how they travelled from one place to the other, changing hands across centuries. I also noticed how difficult it is to access information about manuscripts, because catalog information was incomplete or inaccurate, was stored in different places, or had not been recorded at all. Since I completed my doctoral studies, I have been conducting research exclusively on manuscripts in special collections and archives in Europe and most of this work is geared towards making these manuscripts better known and more accessible. I am so happy now that I have the opportunity to work at a US institution, because the ways in which European manuscripts travelled across the ocean and the people involved in their travels are an interesting research area in itself and we do not know enough about it.

What is one of the most interesting items you’ve come across in Spencer’s collections?

The medieval and early modern manuscripts at Spencer as a whole are exceptionally interesting as they reflect the collection building efforts by the former librarians of the University of Kansas, especially during the middle decades of the last century. My specialty is in the reception of the Trojan War in the Middle Ages and I am especially interested in the history of the book, so if I had to pick one item, I would have to go with MS E71, which contains an incomplete copy of Vergil’s Aeneid.

A poem about the story of Aeneas, a Trojan who travelled to Italy after the fall of Troy and who is considered to be the ancestor of the Romans, Vergil’s Aeneid was probably the most read and most consulted classical work throughout the Middle Ages and beyond. This means that we still have surviving copies of this work by the hundreds if not the thousands. Until recently, most scholarly research was focused on early copies of texts, so this manuscript, which contains a copy from the beginning of the fifteenth century of a text that was written in the first century BCE, would not have been considered significant. What is more is that it is defective so it does not even contain the entirety of the text! But the state of the manuscript as we have it reflects a rich history of reading, writing and ownership in the past five hundred years. Its pages are full of annotations by different hands which reflect the interests of the readers and users of this handwritten book at particular points in time.

The history of the manuscript, which probably originates from Italy, is also significant. MS E71 is part of a larger gift from Robert T. Aitchison (1887-1964), along with 42 printed editions of Vergil’s works. A native Kansan, Aitchison was an artist and a book collector, and served as the president and director of the Kansas Historical Society among other things. Formerly, the manuscript belonged to Sir Thomas Phillipps (1792–1872), who owned the largest collection of handwritten material in the nineteenth century and who is recorded to have said that he wanted to own one of every book in the world. This is all to say that there are great things to discover and sometimes, the real gems are not the shiniest ones.

Bookplate of Robert T. Aitchison in the middle of the front pastedown of MS E71 (a manuscript copy of Vergil's Aeneid). The ticket of the binder, George Bretherton, is also visible on the top left corner indicating that the current binding had been done for Sir Thomas Phillipps in 1847. Sir Thomas Phillipps’s handwritten note on the recto of the first leaf of this manuscript copy of Vergil's Aeneid,MS E71 (“Phillipps MS 12281”) along with other annotations on the text by different previous hands.

Image 1 Bookplate of Robert T. Aitchison in the middle of the front pastedown of MS E71 (a manuscript copy of Vergil’s Aeneid. Italy, early 1400s). The ticket of the binder, George Bretherton, is also visible on the top left corner indicating that the current binding had been done for Sir Thomas Phillipps in 1847. Click image to enlarge.

Image 2 Sir Thomas Phillipps’s handwritten note on the recto of the first leaf of MS E71 (“Phillipps MS 12281”) along with other annotations on the text by different previous hands. Click image to enlarge.

What part of your job do you like best?

I enjoy discovering new, previously unnoticed things in manuscripts. In the past decades the interest in manuscripts solely as carrier of texts has shifted. We now know that there is more to discover when looking at handwritten artifacts: what is it made of, how was it made, what kind of processes it went through, what kind of materials was used, where did the materials come from, who was involved in the making, who was it made for, how much did it cost, what was the purpose of it, who read it over the years, who owned it until it became part of its current collection and so on. So much to discover that makes manuscripts into living creatures and not merely the carriers of texts!

What are some of your favorite pastimes outside of work?

I love cooking and gardening. I also like visiting new places and meeting new people, even though I find the airline travel tedious. Every year, I try to go to a place I have never been before; often this involves a visit to a new library. For example, last year I taught at a summer school in Reykjavik (Iceland) and consulted manuscripts in Milan (Italy) and Stuttgart (Germany) and earlier this year I vacationed in Marrakesh (Morocco) and taught a class and looked at manuscripts at the University Library in Leipzig (Germany).

What piece of advice would you offer a researcher walking into Spencer Research Library for the first time?

Just remember that we are here to help. Do not hesitate to ask questions. If you are working on primary sources, let the manuscripts guide your research. Keep an open mind and you never know what unexpected thing you will find!

N. Kıvılcım Yavuz
Ann Hyde Postdoctoral Researcher

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. http://etext.ku.edu/view?docId=jesuatti/jesuatti.xml. Click images to enlarge.

An Easter Pizza in Umbria, Italy in 1842

May 24th, 2012

Easter Sunday …  after dinner they brought us an enormous sort of cake to look at – it is made of flour, lard, cheese, & quantities of eggs – the name is Pizza – or Torta – one of these we saw must have been 4 feet in circumference – it is made at Easter – only in this part of the country not in Rome – it is rather good – very light – but too strong of the cheese – they eat this cake – sausages – eggs which have been blessed (so has the cake) and wash it down with the best wine which is stored up for the occasion – such is their Easter feast. …

Entered by Pauline Trevelyan in her diary,  Spoleto, Italy, 27 March 1842 , call number: MS C133

Traditional pizza recipes vary greatly in different regions of Italy. In her journal entry for Easter Sunday 1842 Pauline Trevelyan describes her first taste of Umbrian Easter pizza, a tall round loaf of cheese-flavored bread traditionally served with sliced Italian sausage and hard-boiled eggs. The photograph featured below shows the tasty recreation of that meal submitted to the recent University of Kansas Libraries edible book competition.


Umbrian Easter pizza entry at the Edible Book Festival, 2012
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