Manuscript fragments: a webinar to catch up on

The Rare Book School at the University of Virginia has been running a lively set of lectures and panel discussions that are now available online for anyone slow to catch on or living in incompatible time zones. For those interested in manuscripts there is:

A Fractured Inheritance: The Problems, Challenges, and Opportunities of Collecting Manuscript Fragments.

The panel description reads:

“Fragmentology” has emerged as one of the dominant subjects in the broader manuscript studies field, as digital technologies have facilitated the identification, location, and reaggregation of widely dispersed individual folios originally from the same common manuscript. The reconstruction of broken manuscripts raises questions across the spectrum of medieval book studies, including codicology, paleography, art historical and textual research, historical provenance, modern consumerism, and the contested and shifting value of manuscript fragments as either objects of connoisseurship or scholarship. Collecting fragments is a highly contentious topic, and this session addressed it from institutional, private, commercial, and scholarly perspectives.

Presented on 15 September 2020, the panel discussion involved Sumayya Ahmed, Tom Bredehoft, Lisa Fagin Davis, Rose A. McCandless and Jim Sims with Eric J. Johnson as moderator.

While likely to be of most interest to those in medieval studies, the discussion around fragments as objects and tools and of the act and the concept of fragmentation are nevertheless fascinating for those who focus on more modern periods. The question of digital manuscript reconstruction and the idea of digital rot leading on to further forms of fragmentation is one compelling line of thought. Sumayya Ahmed makes particularly important interventions around how, for many non-European cultural contexts, fragmentation begins with colonialism and the imperial appetite for manuscripts which has led to the fragmentation of their national corpus. As she highlights, with fragments “because it is such a small piece we can absolve ourselves of how we came to own it”.