ANZAMEMS Member News: Matthew Firth – PATS (2016) Report

Matthew Firth, Master of History Candidate, University of New England

The Postgraduate Advanced Training Seminar (The Manuscript Book) held at the University of Sydney in February proved to be a stimulating, constructive and rewarding event; I am thankful to ANZAMEMS for the bursary I was granted that facilitated my attendance. The commitment to organise such a unique event and the provision of assistance to students at the start of their academic careers demonstrates an inspiring commitment to the future of medieval and early modern studies in Australia and New Zealand. Special thanks must go to the Medieval and Early Modern Centre at the University of Sydney (as represented by Nicholas Sparks), the good staff of the rare book collection at the Fisher Library, and Rod Thomson and Margaret Manion, who were both so generous with their time and experience.

The two day seminar had a strong codicological focus as Rod Thomson guided us through the manufacture and construction of the medieval codex on the first day, aptly illustrated by a fine selection of manuscripts held in the Fisher collection. The second day saw a brief survey of medieval palaeography before Margaret Manion delved into illumination and brought some of the treasures of the Fisher collection to life.

Medieval history in Australian and New Zealand universities is so often a minority discipline that, unlike our European counterparts, opportunities to gain practical experience with manuscripts are rare. It is little surprise then that, for me, having access to personally examine manuscripts and gain insight into their physical composition was a highlight of seminar. Combined with the instruction of two of Australia’s foremost manuscript experts, it was an experience with which reading codicology and palaeography textbooks cannot compare!

I left the PATS enthused. I am more confident in my use of digitised manuscripts and am happily now able to understand obfuscatory scholarly manuscript analysis. Somewhat less pragmatically, I am also reasonably confident that I shan’t embarrass myself on my brief research trip to England later this year!