ANZAMEMS Member News: Derek Ryan Whaley – PATS (2016) Report

Derek Ryan Whaley, Doctoral Candidate, University of Canterbury, Christchurch

Last week, I was privileged to be among two of the foremost scholars in the world of European manuscript studies: Rodney Thomson and Margaret M. Manion. I admit that I myself am not a palaeographer or codicologist, but nonetheless I learned much at the two-day Postgraduate Advanced Training Seminar held at the University of Sydney that may well help me both in my academic studies and my own personal pursuits.

The seminar series was divided into two days to cover the wide breadth of information that Thomson and Manion wished to convey to us regarding their experiences with manuscripts and their knowledge of the Fisher Library collection. What was by far the most rewarding aspect of the PATS was the hands-on interaction with around 20 medieval and early modern codices that the library holds (not counting 14 Spanish liturgical music manuscripts presented at the end of the first day). Thomson’s frequent reminder that there is always more to learn from handling the manuscript than can ever be gleaned from simply reading a transcription or viewing a digital copy was made abundantly clear to us all.

Over the course of the two days, we explored medieval manuscript preparation, organisation, bindings, writing, copying techniques, decorations, and provenance. Via our readings and Thomson’s statements, we were able to identify telling marks in the vellum leaves that told us where pages had been cut over multiple bindings, how authors ruled their lines, what the readers thought of the work, and how they portrayed their thoughts. Just like today, readers in the Middle Ages would doodle, highlight, and write notes in the margins to help them in their studies and understanding of the text. Hearing this is one thing, but seeing it firsthand in the pages is entirely another. It made the gap of time from the thirteenth century to the present seem infinitesimally small. Despite that gap, students today are little different in many ways from students then.

For me, the most helpful aspect of the PATS was right at the end, when Thomson broke down in minute detail the system he developed for cataloguing manuscripts, using an example from one of his own publications. Taking this knowledge, I was immediately able to understand a number of previously-indecipherable or seemingly-purposeless points in a catalogue that I had been using in my own research. This alone made the entire PATS worthwhile.

What was probably the most rewarding part, however, was the one-on-one interaction with the presenters. During the multiple tea and lunch breaks, I took every opportunity to ask questions about the manuscripts, the study of manuscripts, and aspects of my own research. Furthermore, the excellent group of regional students of palaeography brought me into contact with other like minds in a way I had not experienced in Australasia before.

My time at the University of Sydney was quite rewarding and the PATS held my interest throughout, even when the topic at hand was not of specific importance to my research. This was entirely due to the charismatic presentation style of Thomson and Manion and the curiosity that the manuscripts attracted.