Report from manuSciences '19

photo of spectral imaging

In March I participated in manuSciences ’19, a week-long Franco-German summer school in Fréjus (France) focused on multi-faceted investigation of manuscripts using various “chemical and physical analyses, imaging methods,” and application of “techniques from computer sciences to classical philology, palaeography, codicology, and history.”  Forty participants—all interested in some aspect of manuscript studies—began each day at a community breakfast (8am), followed by a first lecture or practical session (9am), and a packed day of information gathering until 9pm most evenings.

On the first evening there was a group dinner and poster session to see what the other participants were researching. I presented a poster (“Analyzing Greek Biblical Papyrus P136: A Case Study in the Use and Limitation of Technology for Authenticating Papyri”) and was delighted at the range of topics covered by the other attendees, both students and researchers. Indeed, even the subjects of the daily lectures were quite diverse: topics ranged from palaeographical and codicological TEI-XML encoding to multi-spectral imaging methods and post-processing to use of X-ray fluorescence, synchrotrons, and carbon dating.

The sample manuscripts we created as teams on the second night of the summer school became our objects for testing in the practical sessions. For example, we would use X-ray equipment to identify the components of the mordent ink we used on a piece of papyrus or the chemical make-up of a rubricated piece of parchment. The practical sessions were fantastic hands-on opportunities to use field equipment and analyze live data.

Ira Rabin (Bundesanstalt für Materialforschung und -prüfung) and Daniel Stökl Ben Ezra (Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes) have done a fantastic job of organizing a practical learning experience for those of us deeply interested in going deeper into analyzing manuscripts, biblical or otherwise, and I highly recommend the experience to anyone who has the opportunity to attend a future summer school.

manuSciences machines

display floor at manuSciences

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