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Simon Fraser University unveils its first medieval manuscript

Simon Fraser University unveils its first medieval manuscript


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University students in Paris, Toulouse, and Bologna in the late 1200s pored over anthologies of Civil Law such as the one Simon Fraser University in Canada has just acquired, which contains among other things the New Laws of the Roman emperor Justinian.

Written in Latin on parchment, and dated to 1269, it features student notes scrawled in the margins, as well as amusing decorative drawings.

The SFU Library recently obtained the medieval manuscript at an auction held at Christie’s, London for £24,000 pounds sterling. Previously owned by a family in France for hundreds of years, no one else has had access to it, and it has not been described in academic literature.

Humanities professor Paul Dutton, who organized the funding to purchase the book, says it fills a gap in the SFU Library’s Special Collections.

“The one thing we lacked was a medieval codex,” he says. “Special Collections has a rare leaf of the Gutenberg bible, printed around 1450, and a magnificent collection of Aldines—books printed by Aldus Manutius in Venice at the start of the second age of print in 1500.”

Dutton teaches Humanities 103, “The Invention of the Book,” in which students study how ancient books were made.

It’s an experiential course—students put their hands on cuneiform tablets, papyrus, parchment, and also make quill pens and medieval ink. But Dutton could never actually show them a book written on parchment.

“We’ve gone 50 years with this gap,” he says, “so it’s a nice Department of Humanities and Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS) contribution to SFU’s 50th Anniversary.”

Dutton cobbled together funding from three sources: chiefly from FASS Dean John Craig, the SFU Library, and a grant associated with the Jack and Nancy Farley University professorship, an appointment Dutton held until the end of August.

Purchasing the book at auction was a fascinating experience, says Dutton. He had to watch online, relying on an agent to make the deal, which cost approximately $65,000 Canadian after factoring in Christie’s fee, the agent’s fee, shipping costs and the exchange rate.

Archivist Melanine Hardbattle, acting head librarian, Special Collections and Rare Books, expects the manuscript will be an invaluable resource for faculty, scholars and students of history, humanities, and SFU’s Print Culture Program.

Dutton plans to examine the book and produce a catalogue entry for the library that will give users the information they need to use the manuscript efficiently.

~ our thanks to SFU News for this article


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