The University of Arizona

Medieval History Comes Alive in Early Book Lecture Series

By Rebecca Ruiz-McGill, February 4, 2010

Talks ponder war, peace, faith and poetry with visual display of early art and life from the University Libraries’ medieval texts.

Sample of artwork found in UA Special Collections.
Sample of artwork found in UA Special Collections.

The University of Arizona Libraries Special Collections is home to some of mankind's best art and historical works. Albrecht Classen, a UA professor of German studies, and other invited UA faculty will use these materials to make history come to life in the seventh annual Early Book Lectures Series.

Each year, Classen invites his faculty colleagues to identify and discuss early works held in Special Collections during the series which begins Feb. 9. These events are free and open to the public.

"The lecture series allows us the opportunity to share with the community our most valuable collections and our scholarship. It is also an opportunity to thank the community, the librarians, the UA administration for supporting us," Classen said.

Professors from the UA's German studies, classics and English departments will give their audiences new insights into historic texts from Germany, France and England.

There are four lectures scheduled. The first two lectures will be held in the afternoon from 4 to 5:15 p.m. on Feb. 9 and 16. The last two lectures will be held from 6:30 to 8 p.m. on Feb. 23 and March 2. All lectures will be held in Special Collections at the Main Library, 1510 University Blvd., at the southwest corner of Cherry Avenue and the UA Mall.

The works on which the lectures are centered will be on display as well as facsimiles of other related works. These replicas are high-caliber copies, with some estimated to be worth more than $20,000.

"These illustrations in the Middle Ages were the highest form of art, containing a high level of skill to write and/or paint on these documents. They give you a sense of history and art - but also a sense of what people treasured in the past," Classen said.

Classen's March 2 lecture, the last in the series, will be on Wolfram von Eschenbach's "Willehalm" which dates to approximately 1218.

Classen will begin the lecture by first focusing on an image of a whole herd of sheep. "The sheep represent the book - you must sacrifice a whole herd of animals to be able to create the book.  These books were extremely treasured pieces of art that cost a fortune to make," he said.

"These books are the repositories of medieval knowledge and literature. We no longer approach from an antiquarian position - ‘they are old (and) we don't need them anymore.' We look at the interaction between images and text-with the art historian studying them very closely and the literary historian studying them very closely. These specialties have been separated, but in our lectures we bring them together," Classen said.

Classen said the cultural setting behind the manuscript, the scriptorium, represents a whole world that requires investigation to understand the conditions for the creation of these early works - what he calls icons of their time, their most precious artworks and religious works.

"It is history alive. If we discard our history we discard our roots. We need to hold on to the originals because they are unique and you can never replicate exactly the original," Classen said.

Bonnie Travers, associate UA librarian, has helped put together the materials for the lecture series each year and said the series helps to display the breadth and depth of knowledge at UA as well as Special Collections. 

More importantly she said the resources in Special Collections are available to anyone with Arizona picture identification, although the works must be used or viewed on site.

"The lecture series gives people an idea of how a field of study can be pursued with these works - and that it can be pursued by anyone," she added. 

The seventh Early Book Lecture Series schedule is:

Tuesday, Feb. 9, 4-5:15 p.m.

Cynthia White, interim department head, UA department of classics

"Rhabanus Maurus' De sancta cruce: The Brilliance of Early Medieval Monastic Culture"

Magnentius (c. 780-856) was a Frankish Benedictine monk, the archbishop of Mainz in Germany and a theologian. White will look at his "Liber de laudibus sanctae crucis" which contains a set of highly sophisticated poems that present the cross (and, in the last poem, Rabanus himself kneeling before it) in word and image, even in numbers. Special Collections has a fine art facsimile of the work, Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, Mss. (Codex 652) that will be displayed at the lecture.

Tuesday, Feb. 16, 4-5:15 p.m.

Thomas Willard, UA department of English

"Richard Verstegan, A Restitution of Decayed Intelligence in Antiquities (1605): Early Modern Notes on the Germanic Roots of England's Language and Culture"

Willard will explore how Verstegan, as a religious exile in Holland, realized how much England's language and culture owed to their Germanic roots - and how little the English understood these roots. He compiled a comprehensive guide to the origins of English words and names that advanced the nascent study of Old English. His "Restitution" included everything from etymology to geology and from Norse mythology to such Germanic folklore as the Pied Piper of Hamelin. The Special Collections vault contains the Antvverp, printed by R. Bruney, a 1605 first edition which includes a preface signed by Verstegan (also known as Richard Rowlands).

Tuesday, Feb. 23, 6:30-8 p.m.

Roger Dahood, UA department of English

"The Elusive History of English Book Production before Printing - Clues in the Auchinleck Manuscript"

Dahood will focus on what is known and conjectured about the production of the Auchinleck manuscript - considered the first anthology of English literature - and its implications for the history of English book production in the first half of the 14th century. Believed to have been produced in London around the 1330s, the manuscript consists of various pieces of literature including an unusually high proportion of knightly romances, conversion tales and stories about the lives of saints. The manuscript also provides clues about its own genesis. Predominantly in English, exceptional in the early 14th century when French and Latin were more usual, the original work resides in the National Library of Scotland; the UA Main Library collection includes a facsimile of the manuscript.

Tuesday, March 2, 6:30-8 p.m.

Albrecht Classen, UA department of German studies

"War and Peace in the Middle Ages - with some Sprinkling of Toleration: Wolfram von Eschenbach's Willehalm (ca. 1218)"

Classen examines von Eschenbach's "Willehalm", a German narrative poem about two mighty battles that describe both the beauty and horror that results when noble knights and Saracens, motivated by their love and faith, clash in mortal combat at Alischanz, the site of a Roman cemetery near Arles in the south of France. Questions pertaining to the relationship with the other faith and the role of love within the context of war underscore the importance of this poem. Special Collections fine art facsimile of the work, Österreichischen Nationalbibliothek Wien codex serial no. 2639, (ca. 13th cent).

Normal 0 false false false EN-US X-NONE X-NONE MicrosoftInternetExplorer4

Contacts

Normal 0 false false false EN-US X-NONE X-NONE

Gabrielle Sykes-Casavant

520-307-0877

sykes-casavantg@u.library.arizona.edu