Final project for a senior English class
This section of my site is dedicated to my 2013 final project for my English 473 Seminar, Picturing Texts and Making Media.
Throughout this class we have been examining a variety of digital texts and how they, by their very nature, are different. Their creation and circulation are unlike other previous written form as they can function as both a visual display and written composition in a non-linear, non-2D fashion. This distinct form challenged me to reflect upon my previous understanding of readership and authorship.
For this final project, we were to create a culminating piece reflecting my developed understanding of this relationship between word and image. We were encouraged to choose a topic that would both display solid, academic writing and distinct, hybrid form.
I chose to collaborate with the Davidson College Library to help with the development and experimentation of a new online database project, called Shared Shelf. I will be helping the college understand the potential role this platform could be playing in digitizing our Rare Books Collection. I call this project “The Shared Shelf Initiative”, as it is not only a research project but also an exploration of the implications digitizing ancient texts will have on readership and authorship.
For my final project, I have agreed to assist the Davidson College Library in the first stages of their Shared Shelf Initiative.
I will be looking at one piece of my choosing from the Davidson College Rare Books Collection. I will examine the details of how well we can transfer it to an online, readable piece. The college has already bought the demo version of an online database entitled “Shared Shelf” and are considering purchasing the full version after these initial test trials. My role in this project is to figure out how well this platform will fit the needs of online readers looking to conduct research of my chosen piece of literature.
In speaking with Susanna Boylston and Sharon Byrd about this project, I mentioned that music is a main interest of mine. They then suggested that I look at some of the college’s old music collections as a starting point. Sharon Byrd laid out a large array of remarkable pieces from the Davidson College music collection. The pieces included the following:
1) Two illuminated leaves from a liturgical book of the Western Christian church, containing chant in neumatic notation. Antiphonal, 16th century Spainsh. 53 cm. On vellum.
2) L’Art du facteur d’orgues. Paris: Impr. De L.F. Delatour, 1766-78. 3 volumes. 1st edition. Part of the series Description des arts et metiers, published by the Academie des Sciences, Paris. (Beautiful, intricate drawings. Still considered one of, if not the, best work on organ building.)
3) Die orgel und ihr bau / Johann Julius Seidel. Breslau, F.E.C. Leuckart, 1844.
4) The organ, its history and construction: a comprehensive treatise on the structure and capabilities of the organ, with specifications and suggestive details for instruments of all sizes / E.J. Hopkins. London: R. Cocks; 1855.
5) The Art of Organ-building: a comprehensive historical, theoretical and practical treatise on the tonal appointment and mechanical construction of concert-room, church, and chamber organs / George Ashdown Audsley. New York: Dod, Mead, and Col., 1905.
I was most interested in the two illuminated liturgical leaves. They include written text, shape note music, and images. I believe working with all three of these will provide a good starting point for testing the capabilities of Shared Shelf.
There have been many aspects of this class that have influenced the progress of this project. At the beginning of the class, we read three scholarly articles by W. J. T. Mitchell, discussing the delicate relationship between word and image. This is a very timely discussion, given today’s rise in technology and digital text. I was then given the chance to research one of the college’s older books in the collection. For this project, I wrote a bibliographic report on Lewis Carol’s “The Hunting of the Snark”, printed in 1876. This report sparked my interest in working further with the Davidson College Rare Books Room. And then later in the class, we looked at a website platform called Scalar. This was a very attractive and interactive site. It’s readability and easy-to-use hyperlinks were components that I envisioned could play an important role in the final proposal for this project.
I hope to help create an accessible and effortless experience for online users who, like me, are interested in doing research on items in The Rare Books Room.
I think my final question really sums up the theoretical purpose of this project. What are we to do with old texts such as these? Especially in today’s technological day in age? Texts like these are not easily transported, but simply making photo-copies seems to take away so much of the beauty in them. Hopefully, my work with Shared Shelf will help bridge this gap between inaccessibility and quality experience.
Not every user of Shared Shelf will be a student, which means that Shared Shelf’s final format must accommodate other potential users as well.
My initial questions reflect what I, as a student, would wish to see in a digital translation of the texts. However, I am aware that the library has not yet chosen a specific Shared Shelf package, which means they are not yet sure who will be able to access these documents. The audience is not yet fully defined. It is possible that these online archives will only be available to Davidson College members. But it could also be made available to fellow Shared Shelf-registered universities or even to the general public.
Because of this, and per Dr. Churchill’s suggestion, I decided to reach out to some of the Music Scholars on campus and ask them for their opinions about the initiative. During these interviews, I explained to them the purpose of this project and my role as a contributor. I then asked them what questions and information they would like to see readily available in the digital translation of these texts, supposing they were performing research on them online.
For the most part, our questions were similar. This was encouraging because it indicates that one single platform will accommodate many users. But there were a few additional questions and comments that I would like to include.
- What era of notation is it? Gregorian? If so, why are we seeing it so late?
- Does it have to do with the fact that Spain was generally more conservative/ slow to progress in terms of religious practice?
- Why does it have five-stave notation? That is rather modern for 16th c. Gregorian notation.
- Is this a copy of another text?
- For those who are not scholars in Renaissance music notation, is there an easy way to provide a modern transcription?
- Educated guess: Magnificat Anima (Mary)- Evening Prayer (Song of Mary).
- Referential Text Suggestions: Yudkin (Music in Medieval Europe), Hoppin (Medieval Music).
- Compared my images to the manuscript in his office (also 1600s, French). Can we use this platform to easily compare this piece to other related pieces?
- Educated guess: fifth “stave”- it is actually an underline for the text, not part of the musical notation.
Now having collected both student and scholar questions on the outlook of this project, my next step is to answer as many of the questions as possible.
Naturally I understand that it would be impossible for me to answer very single question originally posed, especially since Ancient Musical Texts is not my formal discipline. However, I still believe it is necessary to at least acknowledge that any sort of digital representation of texts online should provide a space for all available supplementary meta-data.
To approach this, I first wrote a brief bibliographic report on the documents. This report includes all the information that was readily available to me solely by examining the illuminated manuscripts in the Rare Books Room and not with outside research.
Location: The Davidson College Library Rare Books Room
Title: Two Illuminated Leaves from a Liturgical Book of the Western Christian Church
Author(s): Unknown Spanish Monks
Date of Creation: 1500s for Spanish Monastery
Content: The Magnificat- Antiphonal chant in Gregorian pneumonic notation
Size: Two double sided illuminated manuscripts, each 53 cm
Materials: On Vellum
- Four-stave lines with Intricate pen work
- Magnificat Anima…
- Four-stave notation
- Fifth lint to underline text
- Gregorian square-notes
- Faded red staves
- Dark brown neumes
- Dark brown text
- Deep Blue/ Deep Red/ Emerald Green Illuminations
- Floral decor around edges
After putting together the bibliographic report, I then collected all the meta-data I could find to the best of my ability with my limited scholarly music research skills. The categories of research correlate to questions I initially posed.
What is the notation history?
This is a form of Gregorian square notation. The square style developed in Italy, beginning in the early 10th c. They started as single-stave lines and later developed to the four-stave line, like the ones in these manuscripts.
The three small squares at the beginning of each line indicate that this piece is written in the key of F.
What does the Latin text translate to?
This is a Latin written copy of the Magnificat. It is clear that this is a Spanish scribed Latin text because of the distinct usage of accent marks.
I also notice that this text seems heavily truncated. This is because the text would have typically been learned orally and memorized by the choir. The manuscripts serve only as visual cues, not fully notated scores.
How would these leaves have been used? Displayed?
These texts would have been part of a large choir book shared by the monks in the monastery. They are large in size so that they could be displayed in front of the choir of monks and viewed by all.
Can I play the music?
Yes. The Music Department has the means to transpose this music. In fact, it is highly likely that a transposed version already exists. However, it seems that the school does not have a copy of any such transposition.
What monastery are they from?
How common were these types of music leaves?
Well-made, durable antiphonal leaves were especially common for most 16th c. monastic communities.
Is it part of collection?
Most likely. It seems as if it is an unfinished collection of the Magnificat, which is traditionally bound together as a large choir book containing at least five pieces.
Research is currently being done on finding and putting together the missing pieces of this collection by an archivist in South Carolina.
How was this made?
Antiphonaries were written and decorated by hand, often by members of the community in which the books would be used.
What materials were used?
This piece was made on vellum. One noticeable feature of this piece is that there is visible residue other texts were previously written on the manuscripts. Vellum was a durable, but expensive material. So often times there is visible residue from a previous text written on the leaf, because is was so frequently re-used and recycled.
Why is it so large?
The large size allows the monks all view it from standing choir position. They served as visual cues to the choir.
What does the text signify?
The calligraphy font used is a blend of Gothic and Humanistic font. This is indicated by the blend of sharp and rounded angles used on the letters.
Lyrics are written in black ink, while titles and directions are in red, marking the call and response portions of the chant
Parts of the pages are slightly scored, providing a grid by which the calligraphers aligned the text.
How frequently were these ink colors used? What do they tell us about the piece?
The color scheme is a standard, jewel-toned tone with the text and notation in dark brown ink.
It is clear that the red ink used for the four-stave lines is the class “minium”- a red sulphide of lead, which was a very common and inexpensive ink.
Currently, the school has not yet chosen a specific package they intend to use. And only basic platforms are available to the public for me to examine. Below is a construction of how the digital presentation could look.
Because of these limitations, I examined other archiving websites and took note of any potential feature they included that could be helpful to Davidson’s Shared Shelf Initiative.
This example features a beautifully displayed text with easy standard metadata on the side scroll bar.
This example allows for extended elaboration of the featured image.
This example features a striking side by side comparison of image and text.
This example demonstrates the versatility a website designer can have in his or her display.
Overall, I see great potential in the Shared Shelf platform. It is well organized and allows for a space for various types of supplementary information. My main concern is whether or not it will be adaptable for information that does not match its pre-fitted format. While there is no perfect formula for proper digital archiving, the examples I included above exhibit multiple different additions that could greatly improve the display style of Shared Shelf.
Within the near future, I hope to have the metadata I collected put into a prospective version of Shared Shelf for the school to publish.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this assignment, this project has challenged me to rethink my conceptions of readership and authorship in terms of digital texts. Throughout working on this project, I was constantly struck by the intense contrast between the two subjects I was working on: an ancient illuminated manuscript and a brand new online database. It almost felt laughable at times how different these two means of communication were, yet could combine to create one beautiful archiving site.
The morality of this project provided another fascinating layer for me. If the manuscripts were specifically created to be seen in front of a monastic choir, what gives me the right to publish them into public domain? Should the school even consider making it a public domain, or should our archives be kept private? There is no copyright on documents as old as these, which means that in the eyes of the law this project crosses no illegal boundaries. But even so, that does not stop me from wondering about my ethical role as a researcher.
Despite these moral qualms, I learned a great deal from this project. It allowed me to analyze the different modes of transposing text, music score, and image. I experimented my academic writing style by making pointed arguments about the text to guide the reader’s interpretation through my choice of presentation. The hybridity of this project reflects what I’ve gained from this course as a whole, as it addresses the complexity good readership and authorship when put into a digital space.
Rowland, Michael. Personal interview. 20 Nov. 2013.
Bothello, Mauro. Personal interview. 25 Nov. 2013.
Hoppin, Richard H.. Medieval music. New York: W.W. Norton, 1978. Print.
Mitchell, W.J.T. “Chapter Four: Word and Image.” Critical Terms for Art History. 2nd ed. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2003. 51-61. Print.
Mitchell, W.J.T. “Visible Language: Blake’s Art of Writing.” Picture Theory. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1994. 111-150. Print.
Mitchell, W.J.T. “What Is an Image?” The Johns Hopkins University Press 15.3 (1984): 503-537. Print.
“Music in the Middle Ages: Two Antiphonal Leaves.” – Storyboard. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Dec. 2013. <http://www.transcriptsearch.com.es/sb/KoKtc_jGL-I?lang=en>.
“Shared Shelf Overview.” Overview. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Dec. 2013. <http://www.artstor.org/shared-shelf/s-html/shared-shelf-home.shtml>.
“The Alliance for Networking Visual Culture.” The Alliance for Networking Visual Culture. N.p., n.d. Web. 9 Dec. 2013. <http://scalar.usc.edu/>.
“Vellum leaf from a liturgical music ms. Part of a sequence for the feast of St. Barbara (4 December).” Flickr. Yahoo!, 20 May 2011. Web. 10 Dec. 2013. <http://www.flickr.com/photos/58558794@N07/5712938904/in/photostream/>.
Yudkin, Jeremy. Music in medieval Europe. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1989. Print.