Care and Conservation of Manuscripts Conference 2016
By Jess Hyslop
By Jess Hyslop
From 13th to 15th April 2016, the postgraduate students of Books & Library Materials Conservation took ourselves off to the University of Copenhagen to attend the sixteenth Care and Conservation of Manuscripts conference. As it was the first conservation conference we had been to, we weren't quite sure what to expect-but it turned out that CC16 was a wonderful introduction to this sort of event, and an amazing experience all round.
Day 1: Wed 13th April
Care and Conservation of Manuscripts is a relatively small conference-this year around 220 people attended, and this was more people than they usually have. The small numbers made it a little less intimidating for us students as we turned up to register on the morning of the 13th, and we quickly spotted people we knew in the crowd: past and present tutors, supervisors, and fellow book and paper conservation students from Camberwell College of Arts. We were also immediately impressed with the venue, as the University has some very swanky lecture theatres.
The first day began with a morning session that focussed on local projects. The conference is hosted by the University's Arnamagnæan Institute; founded in 1856, this is a research institute established to foster the study of the manuscripts in the Arnamagnæan Manuscript Collection, which was bequeathed to the University in 1730 by the Icelandic scholar Árni Magnússon. The first talk, by Beeke Stegmann, was a great introduction both to the collection and its compiler: she discussed the notation slips found in the collection, which shed light upon the ways in which Árni Magnússon arranged and rearranged his manuscripts. The second talk, by Guðvarður Már Gunnlaugsson of the Árni Magnússon Institute, was also fascinating, telling of the Latin manuscript fragments from Iceland that Árni Magnússon had painstakingly found and, in some cases, pieced back together into almost entire manuscripts. These fragments, mainly of the Latin liturgy, had been scattered and repurposed after the Reformation in all sorts of ways. As one might expect, many had been used in bookbinding as spine linings, pastedown material, and book covers, but some had led more bizarre lives, such as being used for the covering of a chair, and in one case the lining of a Bishop's hat! The final two talks in this first session then focussed more on the environment of the collection. Tim Padfield spoke about the very minimal-but extremely effective-climate control employed in the Arnamagnæan manuscript vault, and then Margit Smith presented an unexpectedly humourous lecture about "The dreaded Lepsima saccharina"-or, as we more commonly know it, the silverfish.
Session two was one for the computer nerds among us, as its theme was digitization. While people's mileage varies rather a lot when it comes to talking about databases, the session was nevertheless very engaging, making it clear that technology has a lot to offer conservators, scholars, and the interested general public. We started off with a talk by Flavio Marzo about how British Library conservators have been closely collaborating with the digitization department and helping to streamline the process by logging their work through Microsoft SharePoint. The next talk was very exciting: Alberto Campagnolo is a PhD student with the arduous task of trying to create a virtual 'collation modeller'. This tool would allow conservators to input collation data into a form, and then automatically generate a collation diagram. He is also working on a digitization interface that foregrounds the two congugate leaves of a bifolium, rather than those of an opening-a different slant on the usual digitization display. The next two talks were both about digitization platforms hosted by the University of Pennsylvania. First, Lynn Ransom spoke about the newest iteration of the Schoenberg Database of Manuscripts, which has been updated to allow the public (including, of course, conservators) to create accounts and add data of their own. Second, Jessica Dummer introduced us to the OPenn digital library, emphasising its flexibility in that it allows mass download of images and data that can be freely used in research projects. Finally, Nicholas Pickwoad, David Cooper, and Athanasios Velios spoke about creating an online catalogue for the manuscripts of Saint Catherine's Monastery in Sinai, and the particular difficulty they face with enabling the search and display of different languages and scripts.
The talks in session three were, to put it bluntly, awe-inspiring. The presentations by Michaelle Biddle, and by Marco di Bella and Nikolas Sarris, both concerned practicing conservation in Africa-Michaelle in Nigeria, Marco and Nikolas in Ethiopia-and the problems and challenges presented by the climate, lack of resources, lack of education, and political instability. In different ways, they had overcome some very fierce difficulties to complete their projects: Michaelle to establish a conservation lab at Arewa House in Kuduna, and Marco and Nikolas to conserve a large 15th-century manuscript from the northern Ethiopian monastery of Ura Mäsquäl. Nil Baydar also spoke of triumphing over adversity in order to modernise the Süleymaniye Manuscript Library in Istanbul, Turkey. Suffering from bad environmental conditions, pest infestation, and understaffing, the library was transformed, deinfested, and new staff trained, all within an astounding two-year period. The final paper of the day was by Abigail Quandt of the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, and concerned "purple codices"-Byzantine parchment manuscripts in which the leaves have been dyed a rich purple. This was particularly interesting for me, as I had come across a purple manuscript for the first time earlier this year while on a work placement at the Bodleian Libraries, and Abigail's talk answered many of the questions that had sprung to my mind upon seeing it.
Wednesday wrapped up with drinks at the University-very welcome after an extremely informative but rather exhausting day!
Day 2: Thu 14th April
Because of the number of papers being given this year, days two and three were split into two streams, so that we had to make the agonising decision of which presentations to attend-difficult when everything looked so fascinating! In the first session of day two, I attended presentations by Teresa Espejo Arias and L. Crespo Arcá (actually delivered by Tania Estrada Valadez, a current Camberwell book conservation student, in their absence) on mounting a parchment document for display, Marco Fagiolo on the study and conservation of a manuscript from the Museo Nazionale d'Arte in Rome, and Kelli Piotrowski on conserving English manor rolls at Harvard's Weissman Preservation Centre. Of these, the highlight for me was Kelli's talk, which described the different structures of exchequer and chancery rolls, and what problems these structures presented during treatment and storage.
The lunch break was a busy one, as it included both a poster session and demonstration of multi-spectral imaging. The imaging demonstration was very popular, so it was a little hard to squeeze everyone into the room and see the equipment at work. It was worth the effort though: the technology has some great capabilities and seeing how it is set up and used was very enlightening (literally!).
Session two was a no-brainer for me: I attended the session that included a talk by Frederick Bearman (also given by a colleague in his stead, since he was sadly unable to attend) about laced overbands. This is a topic of particular interest to me at the moment, since this term I will be making a model of a 16th-century Spanish ledger binding with laced overbands. The talk was therefore very useful-I was scribbling notes as fast as I could! Patricia Engel then spoke about her detective work in hunting down old restoration treatments in an Austrian archive, and finding out when and by whom they were carried out. Next, Saira Haqqi presented some of the beautiful modern bookbindings that can be found at the Pierpont Morgan Library, many of which were done by Marguerite Duprez Lahey, and discussed the possible reasons behind the bindings. Lastly, Robert Fuchs told us about his experience conserving a veritably gigantic choral book from Naumburg Cathedral, which contained some splendidly demonic illuminations, as well as some names and initials scratched into the pigments by cheeky choral scholars over the centuries.
Session three turned again to technology, with the presentations clustering around the ways in which imaging-and especially spectral imaging-could assist conservators in their treatments and manuscript scholars in their research. Nancy Turner presented a very interesting talk on cumulative light exposure of the manuscripts at the Getty Institute, and how she had worked out how many Getty exhibitions'-worth of light the popular folios had been exposed to during their time at the Institute. However, the highlight of this session was undoubtedly the final presentation by Matthew Collins, who spoke to us-with great enthusiasm and panache-about his team's biomolecular research into the York Gospels. Using DNA sampling, they had identified the species of animal from which each parchment folio had been made. Matthew further explained how they had been able to gain information about what age/size/gender of animal had been used, and why-which in turn shed light upon the use and worth of animals during the Middle Ages. (This video explains more about their fascinating research: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xBAXaLvGe5I.)
In the evening, we all packed into the "Monk's Cellar" bar on the main university campus to eat, drink, and be merry. This was a nice chance to mingle and chat to people, and to enjoy what we were coming to recognise as a quintessentially Danish feature: the buffet, or det kolde bord.
Day 3: Fri 15th April
The final day of the conference got off to a flying start with a talk by West Dean alumna Cécilia Duminuco and her colleague Lieve Watteeuw, about the examination of sewing threads in manuscripts. Cécilia's MA research had compared visual/manual examination of the threads with examination assisted by multispectral microdome imaging, whose hundreds of LED lamps allow amazing photography of otherwise hard-to-access aspects of the book. The microdome imaging allowed Cécilia to see greater detail of the threads and to precisely work out their thicknesses and twist frequency. This presentation was followed by the Islamic manuscript specialist Paul Hepworth, whose paper asked whether the Yekşah tooling technique is actually the best way of defining Yekşah bindings, seeing as it may mask other similarities the bindings may have with contemporary, non-Yekşah counterparts. Finally, William Christens-Barry spoke more about the science behind multi-spectral imaging, and how the technique may further research and treatment in conservation.
A highlight of the second session was Elke Cwiertnia's presentation about "the Barons' letter" of 1301, of which one copy is held at the UK National Archives. The letter once bore 95 wax seals, which have at some point been detached from the letter and are now stored separately. The National Archives have been trying to establish the original arrangement of the seals on the document, delving back into previous conservation and scholarly literature to find anything written about the seals. The 17th-century interest in heraldic studies has proved useful, as has a previous 20th-century publication-with images-about the letter, which in fact indicates that some seals may have since undergone a change in colour. I found this all very fascinating and am keen to learn more about conservation of unusual elements, like seals, that I may encounter in the future. Session two also included a thought-provoking paper by Mary French, Rebecca Goldie, and Emma Nichols from the Cambridge University Library. For the past two years, they have been conserving over 1,700 paper and parchment fragments, which were discovered in the Cairo Genizah by the Lewis Gibson sisters during the 19th century. The paper addressed the issues Mary, Rebecca, and Emma had faced while conserving these often extremely fragile items, and the extra complications posed by the 19th-century repairs that had been done soon after the items' discovery. Many of these were completed with care, but some were not so sympathetically done by today's standards!
The final session of the conference had a distinctly Irish theme, with papers from the National Library of Ireland and Trinity College, Dublin. The first, from the National Library, concerned the conservation of a large collection of heraldic manuscripts, while the second, from Trinity College, discussed the treatment of a mould-damaged 17th-century manuscript that had been completed by their latest intern, Emmanuelle Largeteau. The conference ended on a strong note, with Dan Paterson speaking about the practice of using manuscript waste for binding material. I was aware of this as a practice, but thought it was mainly confined to the 15th/16th centuries when there was a lot of manuscript waste to hand following the advent of the printing press and the change of liturgy during the Reformation; as such, I was intrigued to see that there are also 19th- and 20th-century examples. In these cases, instead of the bindings being temporary or rough covers, the manuscript was used to make highly collectable (and unarguably beautiful) editions.
We headed home from the conference with notebooks stuffed with scribblings and heads buzzing with information and ideas. The conference had been a wonderful experience, and we had been made to feel very welcome as students and future professionals. I will definitely be attending the Care and Conservation of Manuscripts conference again, and hope that I will one day have the opportunity to present there myself.