Thursday, December 6, 2012

Editions, Manuscripts, and Digital Spelunking

When I began researching and writing about the use of apocryphal Acts for Old English sermons (for two chapters of my dissertation), it quickly became clear that I would to need to address a widely circulated collection known as the Virtutes apostolorum (sometimes erroneously connected with the name [Pseudo-] Abdias). More particularly, it became clear that the lack of modern critical editions might pose some problems. The last edition of this collection is Johann Albert Fabricius, Codex Apocryphus Novi Testamenti, 2nd ed., 3 vols. in 2 (Hamburg: Benjamin Schiller, 1719), II, 402-742; yet even this edition is only a reprint from an earlier edition by Wolfgang Lazius (1552).

Fortunately, over the summer, I received a Lynne Grundy Memorial Trust Award for Scholars in Old English Studies, as well as the Fred A. Cazel, Jr. Fellowship in Medieval Studies from the Medieval Studies Program at the University of Connecticut (it's great to publicly acknowledge this help from both the Trust and UConn Medieval Studies), both of which helped me to attend the First Summer School on Christian Apocryphal Literature at the UniversitĂ© de Strasbourg in June--which focused almost exclusively on the Virtutes apostolorum. There, I worked with a team of scholars (led by Els Rose, the leading scholar on the Virtutes) to examine various aspects of the editions, manuscripts, sources, texts, and receptions of the Virtutes. It was a thrilling experience, and it helped me to face head on some of the issues I had feared. I've also returned to the materials from this seminar often, and they continue to help me with my project.

I've recently returned to some of these issues, and again I've been working very closely with the texts of the Virtutes--and worrying about Fabricius's edition. But, again, I was fortunate. This time, I am most grateful for digital repositories online, which have opened opportunities for reading these Acts in the manuscripts: Munich, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, clm. 12641; Munich, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, clm. 22020; St. Gall, Stiftsbibliothek 561; and WolfenbĂĽttel, Herzog August Bibliothek, Weissenburg 48. While none of these digitized manuscripts on its own solves the problems of lacking a modern critical edition, together they do allow me to do a kind of archival work without which my scholarship would surely suffer in ability as well as quality. It's been a great experience, seeking out these digitized manuscripts, reading them, playing with them, and incorporating them into my project. I like to think of this work as digital spelunking. This is still not a complete solution--but that could only be had (lacking a critical edition, still years in the making) if all of the repositories holding manuscripts of the Virtutes apostolorum would digitize them and make them freely and openly available.

So I find myself recalling some of the conversations currently being had about digital humanities, especially about digitized manuscripts. A few weeks ago, I was elated to find out that the British Library had freed its manuscript images to the public domain. Of course, William Noel has been calling on institutions to do this for months (e.g., see here and here). But it's great to see things moving forward like this, to see more and more digitiemerging, and to be able to benefit from these developments. To be honest, my work would be less for it.

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