We’ve talked a lot about how we digitize, but have you ever wondered how we decide what we digitize? There are a lot of criteria for a collections digitization – durability, funding and interest are some – but one criteria point for digitization that is less well known is if the collection will help people learn something new.

One of the collections going through this process right now is the Trutch Family Fonds – currently stored at UBC’s Rare Books and Special Collections. Much of Trutch collection are letters written to and from Joseph Trutch who was a well-known political figure in colonial times in Victoria, B.C. Today he is particularly noted for his hostile view of First Nations people, and his push for their forced assimilation. The collection includes many of Trutch’s personal letters. Scholars today review his letters for insight into the common prejudices of the time. Some of which look like this:

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And some of which look like this:

IMG_20150519_102159IMG_20150519_102148

Known as “crossed letters” the second set of letters is written in a style called cross writing or cross-hatching. It was once a common practice to have letters that contained two sets of writing written over one another. This usually meant the letter writer wrote to the bottom of the page, turned the paper, and kept writing!

IMG_20150519_101918

A close up of cross writing

During the early days of the postal system this was done to save money on paper and expensive postage costs. Many postal systems charged by the pages per letter or even the size of the paper.

It might be hard to read at first but many find they adapt after a while. Once you become familiar you learn to ignore the other words. Or at least we hope that’s what happens!

Thankfully a relative of Trutch spent time and energy transcribing many of the letters, something that can be accessed with the collection at RSBC. The letters are also widely known and cited in historical research sources than many things at RSBC. It helps too that most people don’t usually want to squint through the actual letter.

The counter argument, for digitization, is Joseph Trutch was a well known historical figure. Many more people might enjoy seeing the letters digitally and comparing them side-by-side with the transcription.

Keep checking back! You never know, maybe someday you too can go cross-eyed reading cross-hatching.

 

In honour of our new exhibition, Papal Parchments and Blackletter Books, here’s a lesson on the history of the written word and why the text you’re reading now looks the way it does. Thanks so much to the exhibition’s curator, Robert Makinson, for this fascinating look back.

The Changing Written Word

The alphabet used by Western European languages today, including English, French, German, Spanish, Italian, and many others, is usually called the Latin alphabet or the Roman alphabet because it was first used by the ancient Romans to write their language, Latin. But although the letter forms may look familiar, they wrote their books very differently, so differently that they are nearly unintelligible to modern readers:

Image of Roman alphabet

Rome, BAV, Vat. lat. 3256, fol. 3v

This image, taken from a reproduction of a Latin copy of Vergil from the fourth century, was produced during the later Roman Empire. While we can make out individual letter forms, such as the first seven letters spelling out the Latin word INFELIX (“unfortunate”), the text is very difficult to parse and read; this is because there are no spaces between words, no punctuation, and the letters are all majuscule, like our modern uppercase alphabet.

Four hundred years later, books would look very different. During the time of Charlemagne (c. 748-814), the emperor of the Franks (ancestors of the French), a new script was developed that was specifically designed for easy reading. Called Carolingian minuscule or Caroline minuscule—minuscule letters look like today’s lowercase alphabet—it allowed manuscripts to be produced with much fewer errors and eliminated much misunderstanding among readers.

Image of Carolingian minuscule

St. Gall, SB, CSG 201, p.48

Many familiar features are starting to appear: there are spaces between words and some punctuation is present. But most importantly, distinctions are made between majuscule letters, found in titles and at the beginning of sentences and phrases, and the minuscule letters present everywhere else. These minuscule forms are very similar to the forms used by most modern fonts, and Caroline minuscule would dominate European books for nearly four hundred years, even inspiring the script used by the papacy for its official documents like papal bulls. After 1150, however, Caroline minuscule was gradually supplanted by a more compact, angular script called textualis, better known today by the misnomer “Gothic.”

Image of Compendium Theologicae Veritatis

Hugh Ripelin, Compendium Theologicae Veritatis, p.24

Eventually, Caroline minuscule was revived by the Italian Humanists in the fifteenth century, who wrongly believed that it was the script used by the ancient Romans. This adapted version of Caroline minuscule, which came to be known as Humanistic minuscule, in turn inspired many of the typefaces used by early printers. The very modern- and familiar-looking typeface below is representative of many books printed during this early period.

Image of Elegantiae Linguae Latinae

Lorenzo Valla, Elegantiae Linguae Latinae, Venice: Rubes, 1476

These typefaces, though they were subject to changing tastes over the centuries, became the basis for the fonts that we use today. The way we read and write, then, descends directly from the innovations adopted and adapted during the Middle Ages, especially the time of Charlemagne.

To see some of these documents in person, please join us for the exhibition Papal Parchments and Blackletter Books: How the Middle Ages Shaped the Way We Read, 1245 AD to UBC, which runs from May 1-31, Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Rare Books and Special Collections on the first floor of the Irving K. Barber Learning Centre. For more information, please contact Rare Books and Special Collections at 604 822-2521 or rare.books@ubc.ca.

Specialty foods refer to items that cater to a specific audience such as organic, gluten-free, halal or artisanal food products.

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Papal bull of Pope Innocent IV

Papal bull of Pope Innocent IV

We’re pretty proud of our library and archival school here at UBC. Rare Books and Special Collections benefits greatly from the talented students that take on co-ops, work learn positions, and special projects here. Our new exhibition, Papal Parchments and Blackletter Books, was curated by current library student, Robert Makinson, and a fellow student (and a great designer) kindly offered to create a web-based exhibition catalogue for the project. You can browse Anne Darby’s site and learn more about medieval manuscripts and the RBSC exhibition here.

Papal Parchments and Blackletter Books is free and open to the public, and runs from May 1-31, Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Rare Books and Special Collections on the first floor of the Irving K. Barber Learning Centre. We hope to see you there!

In honour of our new exhibition, Papal Parchments and Blackletter Books, here’s a lesson on how medieval manuscripts were made, courtesy of the exhibition’s curator and a student in UBC’s School of Library, Archival, and Information Studies, Robert Makinson.

 How Manuscripts Are Made

Manuscript leaves are usually made from vellum, a term denoting calfskin; other animal skins were also used, however, and these are properly called parchment. Their material makes manuscript pages much thicker and heavier than paper, so they resist tearing and other forms of trauma better, but they react badly to changes in temperature and humidity: this causes the wrinkles and wave patterns you sometimes see in damaged manuscripts.

When the animal had been skinned, the material was submerged in a lime solution for several days, which prepared it to receive inks and pigments; afterwards it was stretched upon a wooden frame to dry evenly. Then pages were cut from the skin, and the artisan used a knife to remove hair from the “outside” of the skin and a pumice stone to reduce imperfections. If you look carefully, you can actually tell which side of the skin you are looking at, thanks to scars, veining, and other marks! Usually, these sheets were folded one or more times, creating what we call folios or quartos; many were gathered and bound together to make the manuscript. The front and back of each sheet were called the recto and verso, respectively.

Image of Book of Hours fragment

Book of Hours, Paris: c. 1510, fragment Av, with several shades of ink

There were several kinds of inks used during the medieval period:

  • Similar to modern inks because they adhere to the surface of the material, carbon gums were used for most early manuscripts, and were made by mixing carbon-based materials like charcoal or lamp-black with a thickening agent like gum arabic.
  • Later manuscripts were usually written with iron galls, which were made by combining tree galls, usually from oaks, and iron from nearly any source. They were much more cheaply made and used almost exclusively in the later Middle Ages, but they can cause more damage to manuscripts and fade to brown over time. Most manuscripts in this exhibition were written with iron gall inks.
  • Red inks were made by pouring acidic substances like vinegar or urine on lead sheets and repeating the process until the desired hue was achieved. The process usually took several weeks, but since red inks were necessary for rubrication, this was a fairly common practice.
  • There are dozens of different medieval recipes for making other colours of ink, and they vary widely in materials and manufacturing processes.

Pigments were used for illuminated manuscripts that feature colourful illustrations. Our collection does not have much illumination, but like coloured inks, these pigments come from a wide variety of sources: some were naturally-occurring compounds, while others were manufactured artificially. Certain pigments have weathered the years better than others, since they can fade, dissolve, or even explode without proper storage conditions!

To see some of these incredible documents in person, please join us for the exhibition Papal Parchments and Blackletter Books: How the Middle Ages Shaped the Way We Read, 1245 AD to UBC, which runs from May 1-31, Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Rare Books and Special Collections on the first floor of the Irving K. Barber Learning Centre. For more information, please contact Rare Books and Special Collections at 604 822-2521 or rare.books@ubc.ca.

LAW LIBRARY reference room (level 2): K230.L5 I57 2014
M.D.A. Freeman, Lloyd’s Introduction to Jurisprudence, 9th ed. (London: Sweet & Maxwell, 2014).

LAW LIBRARY reference room (level 2): KE452.C6 L64 2014
Paul V. Lomic, Social Media and Internet Law: Forms and Precedents (Markham: LexisNexis Canada Inc., 2014).

LAW LIBRARY reference room (level 2): KE3432 .A3 2014
Gordon Killeen & Andrew James, Annotated Canada Pension Plan and Old Age Security Act, 14th ed. (Markham: LexisNexis, 2014).

LAW LIBRARY reference room (level 2): KE4454 .W36 2014
Lorne Waldman, Canadian Immigration & Refugee Law Practice 2015 (Markham: LexisNexis, 2014).

LAW LIBRARY reference room (level 2): KE7704 2014
Paul Salembier, Modern First Nations Legislation Annotated 2015 (Toronto: LexisNexis, 2014).

Rare Books and Special Collections at UBC Library announces a new exhibition!

Papal Parchments and Blackletter Books: How the Middle Ages Shaped the Way We Read, 1245 AD to UBC

Image of Bull of Innocent IV, Lyons, 1245, seal

Bull of Innocent IV, Lyons, 1245, seal

This fascinating exhibition tells the medieval and early modern story of the written word using RBSC’s fantastic collection. Two recent acquisitions are of particular note: a papal “bull,” or legal decree, issued by Pope Innocent IV in 1245 (whose seal is depicted at the right); and a textbook used at the University of Paris during the late thirteenth century. But the exhibition also showcases pieces that have been here for decades, such as a single leaf from the Catholicon, a Latin dictionary probably printed in 1460 by Johannes Gutenberg, the inventor of typography. We also have a 1331 legal document donated to the library by the Bulwer family, whose ancestors are named in the manuscript and who moved from England to Vancouver in 1887.

The items found in this exhibition also explore the intersection between manuscripts and early books called incunabula (English “incunables”), texts printed during the period 1450-1500: the Biblia Pauperum (“Bible for the Poor”) is a printed book bound in the remnants of a medieval manuscript; and our copy of the Roman emperor Justinian’s Institutes has many annotations added by hand and even has fragments of an old manuscript book in its binding!

These pieces were produced over a period of nearly three hundred years, from 1245 to 1525, and together they tell the story of the written word as it moved towards the forms we use today. But we are part of the story too, moving that history forward as we write in English, French, or any of the other European languages.

You can explore the objects featured in the exhibition through the gallery below, but there is nothing quite like experiencing these treasures in person. The exhibition, which is free and open to the public, runs from May 1-31, Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Rare Books and Special Collections on the first floor of the Irving K. Barber Learning Centre. For more information, please contact Rare Books and Special Collections at 604 822-2521 or rare.books@ubc.ca.

 

Image of Papal Bull Image of Papal Bull Reproduction Image of Medieval Manuscript Image of Gradual Image of Catholicon Image of Biblia Pauperum Image of Biblia Latina Image of Biblia Germanica Image of Bulwer family deed Image of Justinian Image of Notarial act Image of 1 Corinthians sheet Image of Book of Hours fragment Image of De Nuptiis Philogiae Image of four wind roses

Webcast sponsored by the Irving K. Barber Learning Centre and hosted by the School of Nursing at UBC. Following World War II, governments began extending healthcare to residents living in northern remote communities as a way to “modernize” the vast region and to pave the way for increased resource extraction. Small outpost nursing stations were established across the north where nurses, often working alone and facing a number of challenges, delivered health care services to the primarily Aboriginal population. However, the nurses’ roles and their perceptions of the communities where they worked were often ambiguous and contradictory, resulting in a mixed experience for nurses and patients alike. Drawing from the nurses’ personal correspondence and interviews, this presentation will examine the perspectives about the places where nurses worked and the people they provided services to during a time of significant change.


Select Articles Available at UBC Library

McBain, L. (2013). Jurisdictional boundaries and the challenges of providing health care in a northern landscape. Nursing History Review, 21, 80-88. doi:10.1891/1062-8061.21.80. [Link]

McBain, L. (2012). Pulling up their sleeves and getting on with it: Providing health care in a northern remote region. Canadian Bulletin of Medical History, 29(2), 309. [Link]

McBain, L., & Morgan, D. (2005). Telehealth, geography, and jurisdiction: Issues of healthcare delivery in northern saskatchewan. Canadian Woman Studies, 24(4), 123. [Link]


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