June 15, 2012

Ὁ Μεγαλέξαντρος Ζεῖ καὶ Βασιλεύει… στὰ Βάθη τῆς Ἀσίας

Week Two for Σασκῶπον καὶ Βλαδιμηρῶπον, Week One for Σοφοκλῆ. We’re into a fairly good rhythm and moving along at a good pace, though the collection never ceases to deliver surprises (and despite the many Easter eggs that Prof. Ševčenko left for us).

We got through about 85 films this week, including several milestones: Vladimir finished Milan, Saskia finished Naples, and I finished the Escorial, guided by two great cataloguers of yore, Señores Revilla & Andrés. (See samples from over 100 Escorial scribes here, and Vogel & Gardthausen’s awesome Verzeichniß of Greek copyists here).

Vladimir and Saskia have moved on to the Vatican, while I’m cleaning up some left-behinds from last year that nobody (including me) wanted to deal with. Most of today I spent with our films from the University of Manchester Library (formerly John Rylands Library), with two of their three most noteworthy Armenian manuscripts: Cod. Arm. 20 (a tetraevangelium from 1587: click here to see the Creation of Eve) and, even cooler, Cod. Arm. 3, a spectacularly illustrated copy of the Alexander Romance (Ψευδο-Καλλισθένης ἀρμενιστί, done by Zak’aria, Bishop of Gnunik, in 1544 at Constantinople: click here to see the Father of the Mermaids conversing with two Sirens). We see, among others, Sikander’s steed Bucephalus, his real father Nectanebo (as lecanomancer and as serpent), and Othello’s Blemmyæ.


(Not from Manchester.) More Blemmyæ here.
Cynocephali [saɪnoʊ’sεfəlaɪ] here and here.


       Wherein of antres vast and deserts idle,
       Rough quarries, rocks and hills whose heads touch heaven
       It was my hint to speak,—such was the process—
       And of the Cannibals that each other eat,
       The Anthropophagi and men whose heads
       Do grow beneath their shoulders.

More on Armenian miniatures here.

Currently working on some illuminated Gospels from the Holkham Hall library, whose collection was once enjoyed by characters in a Jane Austen novel but is now split up between (at least) Oxford and the British Library. The olim 3, 4, 34 and 345 of Hockham Hall’s Earls of Leicester Library are now at Bodley (but available on CD-ROM for only £100 + VAT, for those who act now).

Ready to enjoy the weekend, but also looking forward to getting back to the project on Monday. It’s really great to be back, with wonderful people in a wonderful setting doing wonderful work.

—Posted by Roderick, who speaks Greek, loves books, and is available for full-time work starting the end of August.

June 11, 2012

Week #1, 2012

Saskia and Vlad resumed work on Monday, June 4th. It was a busy but beautiful day – fair temperatures and clear skies to welcome new and returning interns, new and returning Fellows, and Byzantine Greek students.  Our team participated in various orientation activities during the morning and early afternoon, but, by mid-afternoon on day #1, Saskia and Vlad had already settled in and started work, each completing 1 microfilm and starting a 2nd by the time Deb made it to their office. By 4pm on Tuesday, the team was going full speed ahead and an impressive 20 microfilm had been processed.

By week’s end, total of 71 microfilm processed – wow!  Repositories represented this week:

  • Messina, Biblioteca Universitaria
  • Milan, Biblioteca Ambrosiana
  • Moscow, State Historical Museum of Moscow, and
  • Munich, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek.

We look forward to Roderick’s return next Monday!

June 11, 2012

Step Aside, the (nineteenth-century German) Expert is Here!

by Saskia Dirkse, June 8, 2012

One of my favorite things about our work is that we’re able to learn a great deal about the history of a manuscript, about its transmission and readership. When past readers were especially moved or struck by a passage in a manuscript they might make a note, “θαυμασιώτατον in the margins. At other times, when the words on the page were less riveting, they might doodle the alphabet or jot down their shopping list or make a comment about the weather. As I was working with the microfilms during the course of the summer, I realized that they too collect traces and evidence of their creators and users. For one blog post, I compiled a collage of microfilm marginalia (i.e. random things that happen to be visible in the frames) using my own discovered gems and those of my colleagues. The collage included paperclips, scissors, fingernails, a gold-embroidered cloth used as background in manuscript photography (a standard feature of the Iviron Monastery microfilms from the ‘70’s which helped me identify at least two unlabeled films!) and half of a holiday snapshot with mountain view (we weren’t quite sure about that one). After this first week back at work, I’ve decided that in the manner of the excellent film Inception, we need to take things one step further (or perhaps I should say, we must fall into the next reality) and look at the marginalia in catalogues. Catalogues of Greek manuscripts (especially older ones) are wonderful because one can find centuries of comments, corrections and references all penciled in with beautiful penmanship and a delightful dedication to sharing knowledge. The older Munich catalogue (published 1806-1812 under the auspices of Ignaz Hardt), which has been digitized by the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek and is available on their website, is a particularly fine example of such a work of many hands.  It is from this book that I wanted to share something:

When I was looking through the microfilm of ms. gr. 366, a beautiful eleventh menologion (this film has been catalogued as Mun.1.26 for those interested in having a look), I came across the following small piece of text on the last page of the manuscript, a note by the scribe (or a reader) asking for blessings upon the scribe, the owner and the readers:


I puzzled over it for a little bit, got a few things but couldn’t quite make it out and I thought it might be worth having a look whether Hardt made any mention of it in his catalogue.  Sure enough, he did:


It’s perhaps difficult to tell from this image but I’ll add a link to the pdf where the quality and resolution are better. As you can see, Hardt (or one of his collaborators) made a noble attempt at deciphering the scribbles but there are problems with his transcription. At some point later in time, a reader came along, compared manuscript to catalogue and then proceeded to blow everyone out of the water – well, me, at least – with his amazing palaeographical skills. The transcription is really good and completely deciphers this mass of squiggles and blotches. It was a wonderful reminder for me of the expertise and dedication that so many great scholars have had for these manuscripts and their commitment to sharing that treasure of information and learning through careful cataloguing, preservation, editing and publishing.


May 31, 2012

Coming soon…

The project resumes Monday, June 4, 2012.  Watch this space!

May 31, 2012

Friday tasks

Preparing AD strips (approx. 4pm on Fridays)

  1. Pull the number of microfilm that you normally process during a week from the cabinets on level 1. In order not to break up a “set” from the same holding institution or city, pull all the microfilm that belong to the same institution or city even if that exceeds your average weekly number. Be sure that you pull from all the subcollections:
    1. miscellaneous general collection,
    2. Sevcenko collection,
    3. Dennis collection, and
    4. Westerink collection (use the handout that lists the Westerink microfilm by city).
  2. One by one, remove the microfilm from the box.
  3. Place the microfilm in a plastic bag with an A-D strip (see “Using A-D strips” for proper usage).
  4. Seal the bag, and put the bag on top of the box on the shelves.

We strongly advise that you order the film by shelfmarks for a certain institution in order to help you identify any possible duplicates. You can order them as you prepare them with A-D strips but also check the shelfmark order as you pull film to enter info into the database.

Labeling and reshelving

  1. Shortly before 5pm on Fridays, Deb (or her designee) will enter Monday’s date next to the Print labels button, then click on the Print labels button to generate label sheets, then print the sheets on the label pages (Avery 5630).
  2. During the next week, Sarah M. (or someone appointed for processing) should apply labels and stamp all sides of the box with “Dumbarton Oaks” library stamp.
  3. After processing, a team member will be responsible for returning the processed microfilm to the appropriate cabinet on level 1 according to the new call number order. This might require shifting microfilm in drawers.

Contributing to the blogs

Each Friday, starting about 3pm, one intern should write up a weekly report for the Manuscripts-on-Microfilm blog. Please note how many microfilm the team processed that week, what repository each of the interns worked on, and whatever items of interest s/he might want to include.

This summer, Dumbarton Oaks has also established a blog that represents its intern community. Each intern is asked to contribute one post during the course of their internship (the Director’s office will arrange these on a schedule) and one at the end of their term to reflect on their projects and life at DO.

Our very talented interns are also welcome to contribute ad hoc posts as they feel inspired!

May 31, 2012

Workflow 2012

Standard workflow for a single microfilm with a single manuscript:

  1. Before you open a sealed bag, create a new record in FileMaker database (use New Record button on toolbar, go to Records=> New Record, or hit Ctrl+N).
  2. Enter Microfilm # in the Microfilm: Main screen. This number will form the last number in the local call number and is based on the number of microfilms you have already processed from the specific holding repository (for example, if the 3rd microfilm with contents from the Walters Art Gallery, then the Microfilm # is 3)
  3. Visually inspect the microfilm and record film format, film base, image polarity, and image reproduction.
  4. Based on the box and on accession records (folder on the Shared drive), record how the microfilm was acquired in the appropriate field.
  5. For boxes from the miscellaneous general collection or Westerink collection, record any information that appears on the label apart from institution and shelfmark information in the Notes about microfilm field. For boxes from the Sevcenko or Dennis collections, record all information on the label and anything else you observe (red crayon on certain image frames, for example) in the Notes field prefacing the information you copy with “Notations by Sevcenko” or “Notations by Dennis.”
  6. Go to Microfilm: Condition screen. Open the sealed bag and take out the A-D strip. Evaluate the color on the strip (this must be done within a few minutes or the color could alter). Record the number in the “A-D strip level” field on the record. Discard the A-D strip.
  7. Inspect the condition of the microfilm and mark issues you identify from the list of common problems. In the Microfilm: Condition: Comments field, add anything about the physical condition of the microfilm you feel appropriate. If the film is particularly long, then visually inspect several feet and use the rewinder to rewind the roll when you are done with your inspection. As you work with the roll on the scanner, be sure to keep an eye out for issues that you might not have seen in your first inspection.
  8. Add leader and make repairs if necessary. Be sure to record any action you take under Microfilm: Condition: Comments.
  9. Load the microfilm on your scanner.
  10. Click on New Manuscript Record button  in the database. This should take you from your completed Microfilm record to a blank Manuscript record.
  11. In the Manuscript: Main screen, select the current repository for the first manuscript on the microfilm (use the dropdown list under Institution). To add an institution to the list, go to Manuscript: List of Institutions and click on the New Holding button.
  12. Enter the shelfmark. Be sure to be consistent (gr. 362, gr. 381, etc.) for all manuscripts from the same repository.
  13. Research the manuscript in the Pinakes database and appropriate resources (print or online).
  14. Check the contents of the microfilm against your research findings: what folios are represented on the microfilm? Is there more than one manuscript on the microfilm?
  15. Complete the fields in the Manuscript: Main component of the FileMaker record.
  16. Be sure to note the folio pages represented on our microfilm next to the appropriate microfilm record number.
  17. Under Manuscript: Bibliography: References, enter information about where you found the entry in a print catalog or other select sources that you found useful or are considered fundamental to the manuscript.  If you need to add a title to the project bibliography, go to Manuscript: Bibliography: List of Titles, click “New Title” button at the top of the layout, and follow Chicago 15 style.
  18. Under Manuscript: Online Resources, give the URL for the Pinakes record for the manuscript, the URL for a digital facsimile if one exists, and any other URLs you think are useful resources.
  19. In Notes, record anything that you notice not listed by the print and online resources. If you find something not included or misidentified in the Pinakes database, please add a note that indicate clearly what you have found that differs from Pinakes and mention “Pinakes” specifically (Deb will search “Pinakes” as a keyword in order to generate a report on corrigenda and addenda for the Pinakes team). Also, feel free to add anything of unusual interest (such as names of scribes, marginalia, doodles, etc.) but keep it brief. Remember that you are not creating a full, authoritative description of the manuscript.
  20. Review your record.

More than one manuscript per microfilm?

  1. Complete steps above for the first manuscript on the microfilm.
  2. After you finish the manuscript record for the first manuscript, click on the Go to Microfilm button at the top of the screen, or, if more than one microfilm copy for the manuscript, click the appropriate Microfilm button under Manuscript: Main – page ranges. Make sure that you have returned to the correct Microfilm record before proceeding.
  3. You should need to change nothing on the Microfilm: Main screen. Just click on the New Manuscript Record button. This should bring you to a blank Manuscript: Main table.
  4. Identify the next manuscript on the microfilm and enter the appropriate information for Institution, shelfmark, etc.
  5. Research the particular manuscript in the Pinakes database and appropriate resources (print or online).
  6. Complete all fields in the Manuscript component of the FileMaker record, including page range.
  7. Review your record to be sure it reflects the additional manuscript.
  8. If more manuscripts on the film, then repeat steps until you have individual records for each manuscript reproduced on the microfilm.

More than one microfilm copy of a manuscript?

  1. Follow Standard Workflow steps 1-9 (top of this post), but, instead of clicking the New Manuscript button, click on the larger button Assign an existing MS record to this microfilm on the Microfilm: Main table.
  2. Clicking this button will take you to the existing manuscript records. Browse to find the right manuscript.
  3. Above the Manuscript table, you should see an extra gray button Assign to Microfilm that does not normally appear. Clicking this button links the microfilm record to the manuscript record. You should now see the microfilm listed at the bottom of the Manuscript: Main table (indicated by film # where the page ranges are listed)
  4. Before leaving the Manuscript: Main table, be sure to note the folio pages represented on this particular microfilm.

When you have done recording all the information about a microfilm in the FileMaker database:

  1. If the microfilm was on a metal or damaged roll, be sure you have reached the end of the film. Then switch out the old roll for a new plastic roll.
  2. Rewind the microfilm on the scanner.
  3. On the lid of a new microfilm box, record in pencil the call number, city, holding institution, and shelfmarks. In 2011, we found it useful to remove the label from the old box and leave it inside the new box in order for the person who is applying the new labels to verify the contents before applying the new label.
  4. Put the microfilm in its new box and discard the old one.

September 1, 2011

Closed for the season



Our palaeography team is back at their home institutions.  We are about 25% done with describing our collection of 2,000 microfilms of (primarily-)Greek manuscripts.  Rome wasn’t built in a day; neither was Constantinople; and neither will this project be done overnight!  But we’ve made wonderful progress.  And–we hope–we’ll make another big push next summer.



August 9, 2011

500th microfilm processed!

around lunch time on Monday, August 8th. Way to go, team!


August 4, 2011

Troubleshooting: database is not assigning complete call number for label

(I am having some trouble posting this post! Watch all the texts and photos I have tried to post appear at once…)

Solution: Click on the database-generated number that appears to the right of the first manuscript listed on the Microfilm: Main screen. This should be enough to execute the script which generates the call number and label information at the top of the screen above.

July 26, 2011

Before & After

Nothing warms a librarian’s heart like seeing items housed in acid-free, consistently labeled boxes: