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14th Annual Schoenberg Symposium on Manuscript Studies in the Digital Age

Loss

November 18-20, 2021
Manuscript fragment showing folds from being in a bookbinding and other damage from loss of the parchment.
Fragment of Avicenna's (980-1037) Canon medicinae, Italy, 14th or 15th century (Ms. Coll. 591 Folder 44)

In partnership with the Rare Book Department of the Free Library of Philadelphia, the Schoenberg Institute for Manuscript Studies (SIMS) at the University of Pennsylvania is pleased to announce the 14th Annual Lawrence J. Schoenberg Symposium on Manuscript Studies in the Digital Age.

Engaging with pre-modern books and manuscripts necessarily involves reckoning with the paradox of loss. While a historical document from the distant past is the material survivor of a singular attempt to hedge against the disappearance of an idea, image, or text, the extant specimen always has to be considered alongside missing exemplars, damage and erasure, lost comparanda, and the vanished life-worlds that produced the object in the first place. This symposium will interrogate the notions of loss, survival, and recuperation in manuscript studies, so often in the background but rarely acknowledged as defining features of the field.

Bringing together scholars, librarians, curators, and conservators, we will investigate losses unknowable and quantifiable, ancient and recent, large and small, physical and digital. How have chance survivals shaped literary and linguistic canons? How might the topography of the field appear differently had certain prized unica not survived? What are the ways in which authors, compilers, scribes, and scholars have dealt with lacunary exemplaria? How do longstanding and emergent methodologies and disciplines—analysis of catalogs of dispersed libraries, reverse engineering of ur-texts and lost prototypes, digital reconstructions of codices dispersi, digital humanities. and cultural heritage preservation, and trauma studies to name a few,—serve to reveal the extent of disappearance? How can ideologically-driven biblioclasm or the destruction wrought by armed conflicts -- sometimes occurring within living memory -- be assessed objectively yet serve as the basis for protection of cultural heritage in the present? In all cases, losses are not solely material: they can be psychological, social, digital, linguistic, spiritual, professional. Is mournful resignation the only response to these gaps, or can such sentiments be harnessed to further knowledge, understanding, and preservation moving forward?

The program will begin Thursday evening, November 18, 5:00 pm, at the Rare Book Department of the Free Library of Philadelphia, Parkway Central Library, with a reception and keynote address by Professor Elaine Treharne, Stanford University. The symposium will continue November 19th-20th at the Kislak Center of Special Collections, Rare Books, and Manuscripts at the University of Pennsylvania.

 

Program details will be made available and registration will open September 1, 2021. Our priority is to hold the event in person as much as possible, but with the knowledge that we may have to move to a purely virtual or hybrid program if necessary.

For more information on the Schoenberg Symposium Series, click here.

At top: Fragment of Ibn Sina's (or Avicenna, 980-1037) al-Qānūn fī al-Ṭibb, translated as Canon medicinae. Copy produced in Italy, 14th or 15th century (Ms. Coll. 591 Folder 44).

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