On February 11, 2019, the First Annual Library Associates Lecture was held at Fordham University’s Walsh Library in partnership with the Center for Medieval Studies. We welcomed Dr. William P. Stoneman, Curator Emeritus of Early Books and Manuscripts at the Houghton Library of Harvard University. Titled “Fordham University Library’s MS 3, Private Collectors, Public Libraries, and Linked Data,” the lecture detailed Dr. Stoneman’s research surrounding a 15th-century book of hours, held in the library’s Archives and Special Collections.
Summary of Lecture
This summary was provided by Dr. Stoneman.
Fordham University Library’s MS 3 is a captivating little book of hours used for private devotion, written and decorated in Ferrara in the second half of the fifteenth century, based on the decoration and the inclusion of St. Nicholas of Tolentino, who was canonized in 1446, and whose feast in the calendar, provides a terminus postquem. Based on other clues in the manuscript itself and using the power of open linked data, we have are able to discover many new details about the history of MS 3, including the earliest reference to the manuscript changing hands in Paris in 1860 when it was sold with other items in the collection of Charles Sauvageot (1781-1860). Among other discoveries made possible by open linked data are the manuscript’s lot number and price in 1860, a new reference to the exhibition of the manuscript by William Bragge (1823-1884) in 1874 at the Burlington Finance Arts Club exhibition of illuminated manuscripts, and a number from that catalogue. We also have a price and a buyer for the manuscript when it was sold at Bragge’s sale in 1876; new references to both the 1888 and the 1914 privately printed catalogues when the manuscript was in the collection of Lord Aldenham (1819-1907); and a price and a buyer for the manuscript when it was sold after the death of Aldenham’s son in 1937.
Through linked data we are also been able to sketch the environment for Bragge’s exhibition of the Fordham MS 3 in 1874, the occasion when it may first have been seen by Lord Aldenham. We can also provide a context for Bragge’s sale two years later and its acquisition by Aldenham. Data from Fordham MS 3 has been used in the Schoenberg Database of Manuscripts, although its current location has not identified as such, yet. And finally, we have seen the data from the calendar in MS 3 has already absorbed into another website with a specific interest in saints feast days.
We have been able to use Bragge and Aldenham as examples of English private collectors, and in this case decidedly northern English collectors, who used exhibitions and catalogues to generate interest in medieval manuscripts and to market them. It is these sales that eventually results in the movement of these manuscripts from private collections to public libraries, many in North America.
Linked open data is a set of design principles for sharing freely interlinked data on the Web so that the links between datasets are understandable not only to humans, who are limited in their capacity to process information, but understandable also to machines which are not as limited. The more things, events, people, locations, etc. are connected, the more powerful the Web is and the knowledge that results. The work on MS 3 I have presented today is based on the linked open data of the Schoenberg Database of Manuscripts and augmented by me and is therefore limited very much by my ability to remember pieces of information and to connect them. I invite you to ponder how much more effective this would be if computers were able to make possible connections available for us to consider.
About Dr. William P. Stoneman
William P. Stoneman retired in December 2018 as Curator of Early Books and Manuscripts at the Houghton Library of Harvard University. Dr. Stoneman had been at Harvard since 1997 when he became the Florence Fearrington Librarian of Houghton Library. In 2013 he stepped back to become Curator of Early Books and Manuscripts and to work with colleagues, Jeffrey Hamburger, Anne-Marie Eze, Lisa Fagin Davis and Nancy Netzer on Beyond Words: Illuminated Manuscripts in Boston Collections. This 2016 three-venue exhibition of more than 250 Medieval and Renaissance manuscripts and early printed books from 18 Boston-area institutions was funded by the NEH and has generated a full-color catalogue, an innovative website and will shortly produce proceedings from a three-day international conference. Before coming to Harvard Bill was the Scheide Librarian at Princeton University. Bill did his undergraduate degree at the Centre for Medieval Studies at the University of Toronto. He did graduate work at University College Dublin before returning to the University of Toronto where he completed his Ph.D.
As a scholar librarian Bill has written and lectured widely. In 1999 he edited the medieval library catalogue of St. Martin’s Priory, Dover, which was volume 5 in the Corpus of British Medieval Library Catalogues published by the British Academy; in 2011 he published, with A. N. Doane, Purloined Letters: The Twelfth-Century Reception of the Anglos-Saxon Illustrated Hexateuch. He has lectured widely on many topics, especially on the theme of private collectors and public libraries, and on the impact of the digital revolution on libraries and the study of the Middle Ages. He spoke most recently in 2017 at Fordham as part of a panel on “Editing Manuscripts in the Digital Age” at the 37th Annual Conference of the Fordham Centre for Medieval Studies which was a celebration of the 75th anniversary of Traditio. Like many librarians Bill has served in various administrative capacities. He is a member of the Advisory Council of the American Trust of the British Library, of the Advisory Board of the Schoenberg Database of Medieval Manuscripts at the University of Pennsylvania and of the International Advisory Council of Digital Scriptorium. He is Chair of the Special Collections Committee of the Boston Public Library and Chair of the Library Committee of the Grolier Club here in New York. He served as Editor of the Harvard Library Bulletin and as Series Editor of Houghton Library Studies distributed by the Harvard University Press. Bill is a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London and has served as a Councilor of the Medieval Academy of America and of the Bibliographical Society of America.