• Pothi Seva

Care and Conservation of Manuscripts 17

Updated: May 24

Through the kind support of the Anna Plowden Trust, in April 2018, I was able to attend the 17th Care and Conservation of Manuscripts Conservation held at the University of Copenhagen. This conference has earned a reputation as one of the most globally important gatherings of historians, conservators, librarians and archivists involved in the care of manuscript collections. I was fortunate enough to deliver a paper at this year’s conference which provided an overview of Sikh codicological history with a focused case study on the conservation of one particular manuscript.

The first day included a number of ground breaking papers from conservators at the cutting edge of research into early codices. This included Georgios Boudalis’ lecture on the “invention” of the codex in late antiquity. Georgios explored the origins of the early codex by examining the multiple craft traditions which were forged together by the earliest bookbinders. Georgios also shed light on an array of crafts such as textile manufacture and shoe-making. His visually rich presentation was complimented well by Julia Poirier’s un-precedented examination of enigmatic Samaritan bindings. As well as detailing previously undocumented features of Samaritan binding practices , she laid out the dilemmas faced by conservators seeking to treat manuscripts with damaging yet historically important structural features. Following this, Julia’s colleague from the Chester Beatty Library in Dublin, Kristine Rose, provided tantalising updates from the research and conservation being carried out on one of the earliest Quran manuscripts from the collection. By the end of the first day, my notes were full of practically applicable conservation tips as well as research leads to pursue further.

Kristine Rose describing the use of non-rigid gels for the removal of damaging old repairs.

The second day began with a touching video by a team of Armenian conservators involved in the in-situ conservation of a Gospel manuscript from the refugee village of Tsughrut in Armenia. The devotion shown by the local community towards the manuscript tied in well to my own paper (which was scheduled immediately after) where I discussed the “Guru” status given to Sikh codices containing sacred texts and how this can shape the conservation approach.

Explaining the functionality of Sikh codices in their traditional setting.

The final day of the conference was no less diverse and captivating than the first two and included two presentations by my colleagues and seniors from the Oxford Conservation Consortium. The first of these was by Nikki Tomkins who explained the methods she used successfully in documenting the conservation of a large collection of books from the library of a 17th century physician, Nicholas Crouch. Her visually colourful presentation focused on the intelligent use of spreadsheet software in conservation documentation. Jane Eagan, the head of the OCC, presented on a very significant project which integrated numerous conservation specialties (ceramics, wood and paper) in the conservation of the Magdalen College medieval archive housed in a historic muniments tower.

Nikki Tomkins describes the multi-coloured fore-edges of the Crouch volumes.

The final session ended with a mixture of topics which reflected the diversity of the conference. Vania Assis from the British Museum shared the extra-ordinary challenges in unrolling and flattening extremely important yet fragile fragments of early texts in the International Dunhuang Project. Whilst Miriam Rampazzo, a recent conservation graduate from Italy, dazzled the audience with images of beautiful panel stamped 16th century Venetian bindings which were modelled on Safavid prototypes and reflected the wider taste for Persian designs in renaissance Venice.

An example of the bindings shared by Miriam Rampazzo from the Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana, Venice.

The final presentation of the conference was by the team from the collaborative “From Beast to Craft” project centred at the University of York. In this project, biology experts, parchment experts and textile specialists are collaborating to use DNA from parchment manuscripts and woolen textiles to research the changes and developments seen in livestock over the centuries. The potential insights and discoveries which could emerge from the project are exciting to say the least.

Overall, the aspect of the conference I found particularly valuable was the privilege of listening to very skilled professionals share the techniques they have developed for dealing with complex problems. The diverse projects we work on at Pothi Seva, often require innovative solutions and notes from the conference have helped develop and hone my skill set considerably.

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