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…and Days 2, 3, 4, and 5: On Handling Manuscripts at the Morgan Library

At the end of February, Madison and I visited the Morgan Library & Museum in New York City to utilize their extensive collection of Books of Hours for our manuscript survey.

That was almost two months ago.

I still have a hard time believing that our trip even happened– did we really use university money to leave Georgia? and see museums and eat cool food? and handle new and fantastic manuscripts? and see snow??– but the intake sheets saved on my computer are irrefutable proof that we did, indeed, spend a week at the Morgan. Here’s some numbers, to make it feel more official:

Over the course of 6 days, I surveyed 18 manuscripts. 14/18 were microform, and of the 4 that were not, only 2 contained relevant texts (namely, prayers) from the Hargrett Hours. 12/18 had either John’s Gospel 18-19 or 1+ prayers.

Beyond those two sets of text, I was also able to identify four calendars that were Use of Sainte-Chapelle. After comparing our calendar to those, it is safe to say that our manuscript is also Use of Sainte-Chapelle rather than just Use of Paris. This is a technicality, of course, because the deviant feast days were identified by Group 1 of the Fall 2016 iteration of this course, but a lack of similar calendars online stopped our connection short of an official use. And that’s about it.

For some reason, the process of packing bags, booking flights and hotels, had instilled a belief in me that this trip would be one of grand revelations within this project. Perhaps Madison or I would, at random, pick one Book of Hours out of a couple hundred that would be the key to every question we began asking last fall.

Did this happen?


If the overwhelming giddiness I felt from spending hours within an incredible museum, handling its incredible manuscripts, is taken out of the picture, the data derived from the trip is unremarkable. Had I not spent the week in New York, it could have been any other set of manuscripts that provided the transcriptions now in my notebook. The value in this trip wasn’t in the manuscripts we saw (though they are incredible, irreplaceable, and therefore valuable manuscripts), but in the skills we learned; this is a “journey-not-the-destination” point that I’m trying to make. My time in the Morgan Library’s reading room reinforced the importance of everything over which I’ve spent the last two years worrying: accurate transcriptions, picking the right manuscript, using convoluted research tools properly, being gentle with manuscripts and fragments, remembering to wash my hands before handling materials, and worrying less over it all, among so many other things. When applying for the scholarship that sent us to New York, Madison and I pitched this trip as an experience that would help determine whether this line of study would be a part of our academic futures. In its aftermath, I honestly don’t know how I can do anything else but this. Lackluster data aside, the future this trip hinted at– one that includes more of this– is one for which I won’t stop looking.