Works and Days

Locating the Past: Language and Culture in BNF Manuscript 375, Presidents Summer Fellowship

For my President's Summer Fellowship Award, I undertook to pinpoint the geographical origins of a medieval French manuscript and to thereby develop a novel philological method of inquiry that could hold great promise for medievalism, art history, and for my development as an individual and a scholar.



My summer is off to a good start.  Here’s a résumé of the work I’ve done so far.

I started my research at the BNF (Bibliothèque Nationale de France) on June 6th.  For those who are unfamiliar, the BNF consists of seven sites in Paris, and exists online as “Gallica,” an impressive electronic library containing scanned manuscripts and a wealth of secondary material.  It is no surprise that I spent my first week in Paris figuring out where to go, how to get there, and what to do upon arrival.

I spend most days at the library’s Richelieu-Louvois site in the 2nd arrondissement.  This site is home to the BNF’s department of manuscripts.  François-Mittérand in the 13th is a better bet for secondary sources and general reading.  To gain access to the library’s manuscripts, microfilms, and other physical resources, you must first buy a ‘carte de lecteur.’  Once you have this card, you can pretty much access anything you want if you smile, make the right arguments (supported by letters of approval), and exercise great patience.  Last Thursday I waited three hours to read a manuscript, and on Friday all staffers were on strike.  Finally, you can only consult one document at a time, and if you wish to take a break you are required to leave all materials inside and present a “laissez-passer de sortie temporaire” upon exit and entry.  Once you get used to all of this, the BNF is really a great place to do research!

I am working on Ms. Fr. 375, a French manuscript written in the late 13th century (1288-89).  375 is a collection of 29 texts.  I am focusing on the second text, a glossed version of the New Testament’s Book of Revelation (L’Explication de l’Apocalipse) written in Old French.  L’Explication has been ignored for the most part.  My goal is to use the dialectal and religious content of the text to figure out where the base manuscript for this particular version of the Apocalypse was written.  I have so far identified one of the main dialects used in the text and a possible author.

Tags: psf, presidents summer fellowship, manuscript, history, french