Frederick Douglass Day: Transcribing History

By Lisa Lamson

After an hour of transcribing for the “Frederick Douglass Day: Transcribe-a-thon,” a student approached me and said that, although she had completed her mandatory Screenshot_20180213-223738hour of transcription, she wanted to continue working on a series of letters written by and about a single family; she wanted to know how their story ended. My warning that “you might not find the ending you want,” fell on deaf ears – she had begun to transcribe documents and she was going to continue until she was satisfied.

This student’s excitement regarding the act of transcribing was one of many responses I received during Marquette’s “Frederick Douglass Day: Transcribe-a-thon.” She was there because Dr. Rob Smith’s African American History class had been assigned to do an hour of transcription, but the mandatory assignment had also parked her curiosity. I coordinated Marquette’s “Frederick Douglass Day: Transcribe-a-thon” through the Ott Memorial Writing Center on Wednesday, February 14th. This was part of a national event celebrating the life and legacy of Frederick Douglass, one of the most well-known anti-slavery and black equality advocates in the nineteenth century. The Transcribe-a-thon was nationally sponsored by the University of Delaware’s Colored Conventions Project, the National Museum of African American History and Culture, and the Smithsonian Transcription Center, to celebrate Douglass’s 200th birthday. I was tapped for this event for many reasons – I am a40030 nineteenth century historian whose work focuses on girls of color in Maryland (where Frederick Douglass was born) and I am a graduate writing tutor at the Writing Center. I also passionately believe in making history and the work historians do accessible to everyone, inside and outside of the academy. The Transcribe-a-thon allowed me to combine these elements of my work at Marquette and, in the Jesuit tradition, service the greater community. On the heels of Service Week and in the middle of Black History Month, I could not pass on this great opportunity to show value in the work that historians do and transcribe documents that share the rich histories found in the papers of the Freedmen’s Bureau.

After Douglass’s death in 1895, black communities established Douglass Day to celebrate his life. Douglass Day was one of the inspirations for Black History Month. Last year, in 2017, archivists at the University of Delaware revived Douglass Day as an occasion to encourage the transcription of the approximately two million image files of the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands, commonly known as the Freedmen’s Bureau.

For several years after the Civil War, the Bureau aided formerly enslaved individuals during their transition to freedom and eventual citizenship. The Freedmen’s Bureau officers created one of the richest documentary records of African American individuals living in the fifteen Southern and border states and in Washington D.C. The records include letters, labor contracts, lists of food rations, indentureship and apprenticeship contracts, and marriage and hospital registers from throughout the South.

Among the many services the Bureau provided for the newly freed enslaved people and African Americans included securing food, clothing, legal representation, education, helped legalize formally enslaved individual’s marriages, and assisted 40011African American soldiers and sailors in securing back pay, bounties, and pensions. One of the goals of the Freedman’s bureau was to assist many of the newly freed peoples who wanted to find their families that had been separated through enslavement. The documents transcribed during the Transcript-a-thon provided a window into many different stories and narratives. To celebrate Black History Month and the spirit of Frederick Douglass, the Colored Conventions Project decided to honor the efforts of the Freedman’s Bureau in assisting African Americans and formerly enslaved people’s efforts to find their families.

The “Transcript-a-thon” was also intended to “help African Americans discover their ancestors and help historians better understand the impact of freedom and unfreedom in the years following the Civil War” by allowing anyone with an internet connection access to these documents. Digitizing continues the efforts of the ancestors of these newly freed people to find their families.

At Marquette, students– both undergraduate and graduate – and Writing Center and library staff gathered in Raynor Library 227 for four hours (though many students wandered in and out as class schedules permitted) to do some of the practical work of being a historian. They scrolled through images of documents and typed what they read (their transcriptions will later be reviewed by members of the Smithsonian transcription team). My job was to help students work through the lack of standardized spelling and punctuation, to provide a second opinion on words that they were unsure about, and generally celebrate their successes as individuals worked through a phrase, a sentence, and a document.

Through the sponsorship of the Ott Memorial Writing Center, the Center for the Advancement of the Humanities, the History Department, Dr. Rob Smith’s African American History class, and many other campus organizations we were able to celebrate with cake, cupcakes, and other assorted snacks. In fact, the cake was one of the things I insisted upon as Dr. Rebecca Nowacek, the director of the Ott Writing 40006Center, and I planned the event. It wouldn’t be a birthday party without birthday cake. As people transcribed, we listened to a special Frederick Douglass-inspired Spotify list that spanned the decades and included songs like “Free” by Deniece Williams, “Living for the City,” by Stevie Wonder, “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” by Gil Scott-Heron, “Alright” by Kendrick Lamar, “Possibility (2nd Movement)” by the Roots, and “Say it Loud – I’m Black and I’m Proud” by James Brown.

Often, a discussion emerged about what people were finding in their documents, as people shared their struggles and their triumphs as they worked through their transcriptions. One student found a mistake in several of the documents she transcribed, where “Surg” was often transcribed as “Furg, Ferg, or Farg,” and many notes suggested that the previous transcribers were not sure what the official title of the letter writer was. Paging through the image files, she found a typed version of one of the previous letters that contained the individual’s name and title in question, and, after discussion with other transcribers to ensure she was correct, went back through the previous transcriptions and corrected some of them. During her conversations with other students, several noted similar language or abbreviations in their own document, and this prompted several of them to look up guides into nineteenth-century abbreviations to help with their understanding of the documents. The collaboration enriched the experience. As these stories show, the study of history is much more dynamic and alive than books would suggest.

This event and project is not just limited to one day throughout the year. The Freedmen’s Bureau Transcription Project is one of the largest crowdsourcing initiatives ever sponsored by the Smithsonian and is ongoing. The website—–contains all of the information you need to begin your own transcription and to be captivated by the stories these documents hold. Though Douglass Day is over, the transcription goes on.

Lisa Lamson is a PhD candidate in history at Marquette University.


Interning at the Milwaukee Public Museum

By Cara Caputo

Our latest blog post is by history major (and student employee extraordinaire!) Cara Caputo.

MPMThis past semester, I worked as an intern for the Milwaukee Public Museum’s Anthropology Department. With my majors of History and Anthropology, my minor in Public History, and my career goals of working in the museum field, this internship was an unparalleled experience that allowed me to expand my knowledge of museum studies. Along with the opportunity to work closely with the curator of the museum’s Anthropology Collections, Dawn Scher Thomae, this internship exposed me to the day-to-day operations of a large natural history museum through the variety of tasks I performed during the semester.

My internship coincided with the opening of MPM’s latest temporary exhibition, Weapons: Beyond the Blade. This exhibit, which ran from October 2017-January 2018, featured over 180 weapons from various cultures and time periods, including a sword made from crocodile skin and a full suit of armor. Many interns from Marquette contributed to the development of this exhibit by conducting research on the provenance and historical context of the museum’s vast collection of weapons and assisting Dawn in the process of determining which objects made it into the exhibit.

My primary responsibility during my internship was selecting ten objects from MPM’s collections that were not chosen to be displayed in the Weapons exhibit and researching these objects in order to present them to visitors. Following the opening of the exhibit in October, I presented my objects in the exhibit space every Monday morning to provide visitors with a closer look at various weapons in MPM’s collections, including armored socks worn by samurai and a sword used during the Napoleonic Wars. Many visitors are appreciative of interns’ enthusiasm to share information with them and it is always rewarding to see visitors enjoying their experience in the exhibit.

I was also tasked with developing programs that I would present during two of the museum’s largest events, Halloween Hauntings and Archeology Day. For Halloween Hauntings, my colleague and I developed a program on Egyptian Mummification and examined various objects in storage to determine which artifacts we wished to research Cara 2and interpret. After researching the provenance and history of our chosen objects, we presented our objects, which included an authentic mummified head, to visitors of all ages at the event. Our presentation also featured an interactive aspect, as visitors were able to smell various oils and incense utilized during the mummification process. For Archeology Day, I helped developed a presentation on weapons utilized by warriors from various cultures, including a shark-tooth club from the Gilbert Islands. Developing these collections-based programs and participating in two of the museum’s special events led me to discover how much I enjoy interacting and engaging with museum visitors. It was also gratifying to witness museum visitors’ curiosity and eagerness to learn about the history behind various artifacts within MPM’s collections.

My final project of the semester was performing a summative evaluation of the Weapons: Beyond the Blade exhibit. This project consisted of two main components: unobtrusive visitor observations and exit interviews. For the observations, I recorded the ways that visitors utilized the exhibit space, including whether or not they read the labels and the amount of time they spent in the exhibit. In addition, I conducted exit interviews as visitors left the exhibit, which consisted of asking them a few questions about their opinions of and experience in the exhibit. I was interested in learning more about how museum professionals measure the effectiveness of exhibitions based on the public’s reactions and opinions, and this project effectively provided me with insight into this process and essential aspect of museum studies.

In addition to these larger projects, I also performed various tasks to assist the department, such as moving objects to and from storage and aiding researchers. For instance, a Ph.D. candidate came to the museum to conduct research on the museum’s collection of Phoenician and Punic ceramics from Malta, and I helped him streamline the process of taking 3D digital scans of the objects. I was even able to utilize this technology to scan a few objects, and I really enjoyed learning more about the development of 3D scanning in the fields of archeology and collections research.

Ultimately, this internship was a fulfilling experience that exposed me to various aspects of the public history field and reinforced my career aspirations of working in a museum. Make sure to visit the Milwaukee Public Museum and check out the upcoming special exhibition, Maya: Hidden Worlds Revealed, which opens on February 10!

Scroll down to view gallery of photos from the weapons exhibit.

Cara Caputo is a history major who has studied abroad in London and participated in a number of public and digital history projects. Last fall she was part of the public history class that created an exhibit for the Chudnow Museum of Yesteryear (see more at 

History in the Seams

By Emily Dattilo

Working in a museum is full of surprises. Most days as a museum intern, and now as a Collections Assistant at the McHenry County Historical Society, I encounter objects that leave me with more questions than when I began the day. Some questions are eventually answered with research, many are left unanswered, and several questions make me wish that I hadn’t found an answer to them. For instance, in the few months since I began working in the McHenry County Historical Society clothing and textile collection I’ve been learning how to distinguish between different types of animal fur used on nineteenth and twentieth century coats and capes. In the case of identifying monkey and wolf (or possibly dog) fur, I almost wish I had remained clueless. But among the many questions in my work, it’s easy to wonder where my academic history training fits in with my newly acquired fabric and fur identification skills. I’ve realized time and again that my Master’s degree in United States History from Marquette gave me the knowledge base to provide historical context for all of the artifacts I handle on a daily basis.

One day while working on a dress from the 1930s my academic training proved to be especially helpful. I noticed an unusual tag sewn into the side seam of a green dress. (See NRA tag dress-MCHSphotos.) The letters “NRA” were printed in blue underneath a blue eagle clutching something in each talon. Below that the tag read “Made Under DRESS CODE AUTHORITY,” followed by some identification letters and numbers. Thanks to Fr. Avella’s class on Modern U.S. History, I knew that NRA stood for the National Recovery Administration and the blue eagle, clutching a gear and lightning bolts, was their symbol. President Franklin D. Roosevelt passed the National Recovery Act, which formed the National Recovery Administration, in 1933 as part of his New Deal plan to lift the American economy out of the Great Depression. This act in particular established regulations for manufacturers and workers, and after a littNRA tag-MCHSle more research I discovered that clothing manufacturers following NRA guidelines sewed this tag into garments to show consumers that they were following these new policies. The NRA only lasted for a few years (1933-1935) because the Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional. Although FDR was unhappy about this ruling, it’s an uncommon blessing to museum professionals like myself because it allows the clothes with this tag to be dated to those specific three years instead of to an entire decade.

I’ve also unexpectedly encountered some historic clothes relevant to my own previous research. On one occasion I found a long velvet robe with a satin lining printed with paper lanterns, probably Japanese, and cherry blossoms from the 1910s. Another Chinese house coat-MCHSartifact, a house coat from the 1920s,resembles traditional Chinese jackets and features an embroidered and painted pagoda and garden design on the front.  I could have easily incorporated both of these items into my research for Dr. Donoghue’s seminar on Race and Gender in International Relations. For that paper I analyzed the relationship between late nineteenth and early twentieth

century American immigration policies and Orientalism in Western fashion during the same time period. As pieces of loungewear, both the robe and the house coat illustrate my point that popular

Lantern robe interior-MCHS

Western fashions relegated many elements of East Asian traditional clothing and design to garments worn in private spaces, instead of the public spaces where the traditional clothing would have been worn.

Even though I graduated from Marquette less than a year ago, it has been gratifying to see the ways in which I’ve already continued to learn about history outside of the classroom and to share my knowledge with others. One would hope I’d be doing that as a museum professional with degrees in history, but it’s not difficult to get wrapped up in the aspects of my work more fixed in the present moment, such as photographing the garments. When I handle historic clothing like the dress with the NRA tag or encounter a robe similar to ones that I studied, I can’t help but be reminded that the historical context is still very much present. Sometimes I just have to look again at the details or in the seams.

Emily Dattilo received her MA in history from MU in 2017. While here, she worked on digital projects for Milwaukee County Historical Society’s exhibits on brewing and on music. She was also an intern at the Chudnow Museum of Yesteryear in summer 2017.

Little Christmases on the Prairie

By James Marten

Historians@Work rather accidentally started a tradition of holiday-themed blogs in our first year (see earlier posts for a historians’ take on Frankincense and Myrrh, a blog about the Christmas truce during the First World War, Christmas during the Civil War, and hints of actual history in popular Christmas movies). I’m indulging in a bit of nostalgia from my own life in this year’s holiday blog.

Some of my coziest childhood memories come from Laura Ingalls Wilder’s series of books about growing up in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Kansas, and Dakota Territory. Sometimes the books were being read to me, by my mother, or by Miss Larsen, the teacher in the “little room” (grades one through four—the “big room” naturally had grades five through eight) in the school I attended in Badger, South Dakota (population 117 in 1960). Eventually I read them all myself, and read some of them to our daughter decades later.

I have a feeling that these books helped spark a sense of history in my little boy brain, probably because I knew that my family had shared a time and place with Laura and her family; my Marten, Wesenberg, and Hokenstad great-grandparents had all homesteaded in Dakota Territory at the about the same time the Ingallses arrived. Moreover, the actual “Little Town on the Prairie” was De Smet, South Dakota, the seat of Kingsbury County, located about twenty miles from Badger. Indeed, on at least one occasion our school took a field trip to De Smet, visited the graves of Ma, Pa, Carrie, and Mary (Laura is buried elsewhere), drove past their homestead, and toured the house in town where they holed up during the “Long Winter” of 1880-1881.  I’m pretty sure I read some of the books when I was in seventh grade and living in the slightly larger town of Canova (where it took four rooms to hold all eight grades). That was the year that South Dakota and the rest of the upper great plains had a historically severe winter. In February 1969, we had only nine days of school because of frequent blizzards that closed country roads.

But all of that is just background to why I connect Christmas to these fictionalized versions of actual Dakota pioneers.

Among my favorite parts of the Little House books were Wilder’s descriptions of feasts, ceremonies, parties, and holidays. Christmas was pretty important to the Ingalls and their neighbors.  Most of Laura’s books featured at least one Christmas—with town xmas“socials,” a Santa Clause who looked surprisingly like a grizzled neighbor, and simple gifts of oranges, pennies, and mittens. The kind of celebration the family could enjoy tended to reflect the status of the sometimes hard-scrabble lives they lived (since they were constantly fighting drought, grasshoppers, and blizzards, after all).  That somehow resonated with me, too—although, in all honesty, I never fought grasshoppers and blizzards were more a source of delight than trauma when I was a boy—probably because virtually all of my classmates lived on farms and my father’s job depended on a healthy agricultural economy.

Christmas memories from my small-town past were created sixty years after Laura’s, but included:jim and jane driving past lonely farmsteads with colored lights strung over trees and outbuildings; the cardboard “fireplace” and fire we set up just for Christmas; the mysterious bubble-lights on Grandma’s tree that absolutely enthralled me as a five-year-old; the corny “reports” from Dave Dedrick, the Channel Eleven weatherman, tracking Santa’s sleigh on radar (and my longing to believe those reports long after it was really appropriate for a boy my age to do so); certain gifts that my grandmother picked out for her five grandchildren and my young aunt on the other side of the family gave to her seven nieces and nephews (giant foot-shaped rugs one year!); “helping” my Dad make a rough wooden star with blue lights to hang outside our upstairs window;  the glow of the candles while singing “Silent Night” at the end of the Christmas Eve service in our white-steepled country church. (In the photograph above, the author and his sister Janey enjoy Christmas morning, 1963.)

Even if we did not grow up in little towns on the prairie, like the Ingallses, those of us who celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, or any other seasonal holiday create our own traditions; some are based on customs ingrained since childhood, others emerge from changing beliefs and living arrangements, still others are built from scratch with spouses, partners, and children. They all become parts of our personal histories, coloring our pasts with concrete places, people, and circumstances.

Happy Holidays on behalf of the faculty, staff, and students in the History Department!

James Marten is professor and chair of the history department. Fans of Laura Ingalls Wilder may want to visit this website from the Laura Ingalls Wilder Legacy and Research Association, which, I have to mention, holds an annual conference called “Laurapalooza”:








Some Guys Get Lucky: Honoring Fr. John Patrick Donnelly

Late in October the History Department hosted a reception in honor of Fr. John Donnelly, S.J., that featured the public launch of the book From Rome to Zurich, between Ignatius and Vermigli, Essays in Honor of John Patrick Donnelly, Kathleen M. Comerford, Gary W. Jenkins, and W. J. Torrance Kirby, eds. (Brill, 2017).  The several dozen attendees included former and current MU history faculty, a number of Pat’s Jesuit brothers, editors and contributors of the book (in town for the Sixteenth Century Society conference), a few former students, and Pat’s beloved nephew and his wife. The book grew out of panels organized and presented in Fr. Donnelly’s at the Sixteenth Century Society’s conference in Vancouver a few years ago (when, through the efforts of his Rector at San Camillus Retirement Community, Pat had Skyped in to one of the sessions!). 

Kathleen Comerford, one of the editors of the book, offered a warm toast to Father Donnelly.  She and Pat shared a dissertation director at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, Robert Kingdon (although they received their PhD’s more than twenty years apart).  An excerpt from her remarks, which refer to stories told by and about Pat in their circle of friends and scholaDonnellyrs, follows:

“I’m sure that we all have dissertation-related stories about money, living quarters, drinking, and struggling with languages, but I’ve never heard anyone else having to deal with the kind of crisis which would lead someone to decide to be a missionary in Tanzania rather than take prelims, or spending a few hours in Sicily looking in vain for a church in which to say Mass. That collar tends to invite more confidences, and more responsibilities, than the average student experiences. The events of 1968, recounted as they concerned Madison and Florence, provide a fascinating background for Pat’s interest in the mavericks Ignatius Loyola (who, to my knowledge, did not have to bribe himself to learn a language) and Peter Martyr Vermigli (whose experience with rioting students appears to have been rather more serious than Pat’s).

When I met Pat, about 25 years after the events Lynn recounted, and about 25 years ago, he was an established scholar, and like many graduate students, I was anxious about approaching him. Our mutual mentor, Robert Kingdon, worried little about the niceties of academic distinctions, and eagerly put current students in contact with former ones. He also obviously taught his students to feel the same way about treating junior scholars with genuine interest and respect, and I was fortunate that early in my career I met Pat, who read some of my work as a reviewer for Catholic University Press (it was later published elsewhere) and corresponded with me for a while as I hopped from job to job. It is thus a great privilege for me to be involved in this project.” Kathleen also introduced the several contributors in attendance and thanked other scholars involved with the project.

The highlight of the event was Pat’s short speech; a slightly edited version follows:

“I am very grateful for this award in my honor. . . . This [honor comes] to a scholar for a lifetime or long years of achievement as a scholar. For scientists it usually depends on many good research grants, for scholars in the humanities it means abundant scholarly publications. Winners usually have put in many years of hard work.

But intelligence and scholarship are necessary.

One does not get intelligence on his or her own.

Our raw intelligence largely comes through our genes. Here I owe a big debt to my father and mother. Both were Marquette graduates, my father was a [graduate of Marquette University High School, and Marquette University’s college of Arts and Sciences] and Law School. My mother was a graduate of the MU nursing school. Both were bright and well trained.

I was not a good student in grade school.  My parents sent me to Campion. We had to take an exam right at the start: we were then sent to class A, B, C, D, E, or F. I stated in the E class. After the first quarter I bounced up to C and later to B. At the end of my second year my grades were good enough for A class, but my worst grades were in Latin and I did not want to take Greek, so I stayed in B class. Toward the end of my senior years I took an exam in Chicago in which the best Campion student got a 4-year full scholarship to Loyola University. I beat out the valedictorian. He ended his career as head of the NY Federal Reserve bank. I entered the Jesuits.

I decided as a Jesuit, I had to master Latin, my one bad high school subject. I did, but I was never any good at Greek. That turned out to be very important. Latin was big for our courses in philosophy and theology, the heart of Jesuit training. I loved history. I wanted to work on European history from the Roman days to 1600. I could use Latin for that—most of the scholarly books written then were in Latin. I decided Renaissance/Reformation was the period for me. . . .

At Campion High School: I was best in Physics and Chemistry and before becoming a Jesuit I leaned toward a major in chemistry. . . . Some of my professors urged me to go on for a Ph.D. in Theology. But I wanted to be a historian. I applied to doctoral programs at University of Chicago and the three top history programs in the Big Ten. I was accepted in all four. I went to UW, to be close to home.

Also, I had heard that Robert Kingdon at Madison was a good expert in the Reformation and a good man to work with. This was one of the best choices I ever made.

Kingdon was a fine teacher and had a reputation of getting his Ph.D. students out in good time. I made the best choice. I could also take a bus from Madison to Milwaukee and spend weekends with my mother.

I was lucky—Kingdon’s seminar, which we had to take every semester, had several excellent members; Lynn Martin, Bob Kolb, Jerry Friedman, Ray Mentzer, Fred Baumgartner, Hans Gustafson, Maryanne Cline Horowitz, Luther Peterson and Bob Richgels. Kingdon’s best doctoral student came some years later. She is being honored [this week at the Sixteenth Century Society meeting]:  Merry Wiesner-Hanks, [of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee].

In my first week at Madison, Kingdon asked what I might want to do for a dissertation. I said I had a good background in Catholic theology, maybe I should do a dissertation on a Protestant theologian who was writing in Latin and was understudied. He suggested I consider Peter Martyr Vermigli. For better or worse I have been with Vermigli ever since. Right now I have a 1000-page manuscript in press on his Genesis commentary, and I am working on his commentary on 1 Corinthians. But my last three books have been about the Jesuits, mainly St. Ignatius.

Some guys get lucky. I am one of them.”

Fr. John Patrick Donnelly, SJ, retired in 2011 after nearly forty years of service to Marquette. He has written, edited, or translated nearly twenty books; served on virtually every committee at the university (including many years on the University Promotion and Tenure Committee); and taught the large sections of western civilization in the Varsity Theater for many years (which earned him the Lawrence G. Haggerty Award for Teaching Excellence in 1988). You can find out more about From Rome to Zurich at Brill’s website:

A Medievalist in the Italian Archives

By Lezlie Knox

For the past three years I have been hunting for a manuscript. “Giaccherino, Codice GH” is one of three copies of the so-called Vite dei Santi Frati Minori, a collection of biographies of pious Franciscan friars compiled by Fra Mariano of Florence during the first quarter of the sixteenth century.  The reasons I needed to see this particular manuscript and the ways I tracked it down reflect some of the differences in how historians work.  Last July, this blog shared Cory Haala’s reflections on what he means when he says “he is going to the archives” to conduct his research on recent Midwestern politics.  I want to follow up on his remarks to discuss how a medievalist proceeds.  Following his example, I will start with access and then address my own research and search for Codice GH.


In planning a trip to a public or private archive, you are expected to contact them in advance to seek access and present your specific research project (although confirmations are infrequent). You also need proof of your credentials to gain access once you are there in order to secure a reader’s card.  At this stage of my career, I bring a letter of introduction from our college’s dean.  When I first started working in Italy, though, I also had a letter from my dissertation adviser that went into more details about my specific training as a medievalist, as well as a document confirming my status as a Fulbright scholar, i.e. the holder of a prestigious research grant that allowed me to spend a year in Italy researching my project.  One of the things that has changed over the years I have worked in Italy is that I am treated with more respect when I come to the archives—it is partly due to experience, but it is also a product of time and, frankly, age.  As one friend has commented, it is easier to do research in Italy when you transition from being a dottoressa (a younger woman with a university degree) to being a signora (a mature woman).

You earn respect, of course, by demonstrating your skills. For medievalists, a fundamental task is learning how to evaluate manuscripts—both how to read these hands, as well as to assess the physical status of the material on which they were written. Medievalists refer to these skills broadly under the heading of paleography.  This term literally means old handwriting.  It thus refers to our training in how to identify and read different scripts, skills which can help us date and locate a manuscript, as well as assess who wrote it.  But when I first call out a manuscript (more on how I do that in a moment), I begin with a physical assessment of the entire volume.  I will examine the binding (contemporary or a modern), its physical material (vellum or paper), quiring (how the manuscript is physically collated or put together), indications of previous ownership, the state of preservation, assess its various hands, look at its abbreviations, review its decoration, and look for marginalia.  I also survey the contents before I start reading it.  I do this even if the manuscript has been catalogued, both because I may be interested in other details and since it helps orient me to the volume.

Knox 1#1For example, I called out this manuscript both because it had a text in which I was interested (Giaccherino’s constitutions) as well as a marginal note indicating that it was once owned by the friary at Monte Alverno, which Mariano of Florence had visited (noted in the hand on the bottom right). When I opened it, though, I was delighted to discover both the pastedown (a fifteenth or sixteenth century liturgical book that was cut up to help strengthen the binding) as well as this beautifully decorated vernacular translation of Gregory the Great’s Dialogues (BNCF ms Palatino 45).  Other texts included other Franciscan rules, an interesting combination.

My basic archival tools are a laptop, pencils, and some note taking materials, usually the only items you can bring into the manuscript room. A new law (August 2017) now also allows you to use a cell phone or camera to take photographs of most materials for personal study in public archives (as this notice from the Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale in Florence—BNCF—describes).  This policy is a major game changer!  Previously, I had to order microfilm or more recently a digital copy, but both were prohibitively expensive (about $2/page for the latter).  Private archives will have different rules about access.  Generally, I have found them more willing to allow personal photographs but with more limited hours.  Part of planning a trip to Italian archives always requires plotting out the days and hours different collections are open, as well as the hours when you can request materials.

To request manuscripts or other documents, you will need a “call number,” generally referred to as a shelf mark. To some extent, medievalists still reply on published finding lists or catalogues of the archives, although recent digital projects have made the process of identifying manuscripts and their shelf marks much easier (see for example MANUS which focuses on digitalized manuscripts, CASVI for vernacular codices, and CODEX for Tuscan manuscripts, as well as Mirabile, which catalogues digital projects focused on medieval culture more broadly).  These databases can make searching for other characteristics easier, too—for example, CODEX helped me identify a manuscript that was once owned by Mariano of FlorencKnox 3ae and its helping me identity books that were in the communities where he lived.  But you should not think of this as a catalogue on par with a university one like Marqcat or that of the Library of Congress.  Like other European institutions that have grown over the centuries, Italian collections can be quirky and the cataloguing reflects that.  For example, shelf numbers may indicate previous ownership or where it was created.  I once called out a folio of charters and other economic records from the convent of Corpus Domini in the Archivio di Stato in Bologna.  I received a stack of records roughly organized by date—but the range was from the late fourteenth century to 1798.  While I might have thought this was the entirety of the archive’s holdings related to this community, an exhibit on notarial hands in the townhall showed me such an assumption would be incorrect.  Other Corpus Domini documents came to the archive through the notary who created them and were kept together with his other records.  Finally, while some manuscripts in a collection might be appear in these databases, others will not.  And that is the situation I was facing with Codice GH.

My recent research trips to Italy have focused on the manuscripts connected with Mariano of Florence (d. 1523), who is the subject of my current book project. He was a prolific author, leaving us with fifteen treatises in both Latin and Italian.  These range from a short devotional prayer (2 folios, or 4 manuscript pages) to lengthy accounts of his religious order (300+ folios).  One of the things I find so striking about Mariano is that despite his prolixity (because of?), he was relatively unread by his contemporaries.  Several of his works exist in only one copy and another friar who consulted Mariano’s chronicles in the 1580s lamented that many of his works were already lost.  None of his writings were printed during his lifetime (although some passages were taken by later authors and incorporated into their works).  Some of his texts subsequently have been edited by modern scholars, although four treatises remain only in manuscript. This list includes the Vite dei Santi Frati Minori, which preserves stories about contemporary communities and brothers, many of whom otherwise would be forgotten.  I am arguing that we should pay more attention to his historical writings as they offer an important insight into the most successful religious movement in medieval Europe on the threshold of the Reformation.

Mariano’s Vite survives in t2 knoxhree copies.  Florence, BNC, ms. Landau Finaly 243 is the oldest copy and includes some sections in Mariano’s own hand (its shelf mark indicates that it came into the library through the collection of Baron Horace Landau, a wealthy nineteenth-century bibliophile).  Due to its date, multiple vitae, and Mariano’s own notations, it is the most interesting of the three to me.  My own favorite page includes this marginal note that tells us he was still working on the text. Questa legenda non est bene ordinata et pertanto non sia lecta in publico: this life is not well organized and therefore should not be read in public!   (NB—to respect copyright on these manuscripts and their reproduction, I have cropped all pages and left them in lower resolutions.)

Rome, BNC ms. Sessoriano 412 dates from 1541 and was copied by sisters at Sant’Orsola in Florence at the direction of Fra Dionisio Pulinari who drew on many of Mariano’s biographies for his own chronicle of the Franciscan Order in Tuscany.  The order of the lives differs from the BNCF text.  It does have a table of contents, which tells us that some biographies are missing.  These are the biographies of Pier Pettinaio, a fourteenth-century lay Franciscan, and John of Capistrano, the fifteenth-century leader of the Franciscan Observance, as well as (in)famous inquisitor and leader of a crusade against the Ottoman Turks in Belgrade.  Pulinari was also probably responsible for Codice GH, which also dates from the mid-sixteenth century.  This copy contained the only surviving copies of these two vitae missing in the Florence and Rome libraries.  Reading them is an obvious reason for wanting to see it, but I also hoped I could photograph it in its entirety since the mid-sixteenth-century hands tend to be more legible, especially when the copyists were nuns.  Compare below Mariano’s autograph with the opening of his Life of Saint Francis prepared by a nuns at the convent of San Lino in Volterra.  Mariano’s hand is described as a bastarda, that is a combination of a Gothic textura (book hand) with cursive writing.  The image on the left (Tractatus de origine, nobilitate, et de excellentia Tusciae, Biblioteca Provinciale di Frati Minori di Toscana ms. 334) shows that this unique treatise was very much a work in progress compared to the polished book hand represented in volume on the right (Vita di San Francesco, Volterra, Bib. Guarnacchi ms. 5966).

But to read it, I had to locate it. The manuscript’s shelf mark indicates that it had been housed at the library of the important Franciscan friary at Giaccherino, located near Pistoia (now available for wedding rentals and other festive occasions). In 2005, what was left of the Giaccherino library was donated to the Biblioteca Comunale Forteguerriana in Pistoia (which already had other Giaccherino volumes due to the Napoleonic suppressions, although a 1907 article apparently indicates that the Vite manuscript had remained in Giaccherino—I say apparently as I have not been able to obtain a copy of that article through ILL or in Italy, and know its details only from a summary in a later article).  I emailed the archivist in Pistoia to arrange a visit, but she replied that they did not have that manuscript.  She suggested perhaps it was with the Franciscans in Florence?  I then emailed them, hoping they had it as I had already done research there and had a good relationship with the librarian.  But alas, she too replied they did not have Codice GH from Giaccherino.  When I did research there in June, we found no references.  Back to the hunt.

Searching the manuscript databases listed above remained fruitless, as did searches for the shelf mark in research databases, Google Scholar, and (the latter is particularly useful for medievalists as European scholars regularly post articles, information about smaller conferences, etc.). An article on the 2005 Giaccherino donation had been published in 2007, but ILL also could not access the journal Storia Locale (Local History).  I had continued to scour footnotes on John of Capistrano’s biographical tradition hoping to find a reference to the manuscript’s current location, but was having no luck.  Pier Pettinaio—Peter the Combmaker—is considerably less well known and previous searches had also turned up nothing on his hagiographic record.  But in August I looked again and I found it.

In 2016, Lucy Donkin published an article on Pier Pettinaio’s visions that referred to the Giaccherino manuscript, including the information that it had a new shelf mark: Biblioteca dei Frati Minori, Fondo Giaccherino, MS I.G.2. It was in Florence at the provincial archive, but it had been renumbered (without an easy reference to its old numbering). An email confirmed they had it and I made an appointment to see in early October.

As expected, the Giaccherino manuscript was both less and more than I hoped. First, it is not really a third copy of Mariano’s Vite dei Santi Frati Minori (which is really interesting!).  While a biography of Bonaventure overlaps with the other two manuscripts and it does have John of Capistrano and Pier Pettinaio, the other lives instead overlap with a different treatise by Mariano focused on the Franciscan Third Order.  This is where the physical layout of the manuscript raises important questions.  The binding is modern—when was the volume compiled?  There is no contemporary table of contents, so what was the principle of organization?  And most interestingly, why does the manuscript begin rather abruptly with the vita of John of Capistrano with the first folio numbered 134r (see below).   Does that mean there were another 133 folios that were once considered a part of this work?  If so, were there other lives by Mariano now bound in a different volume or were they something else (this manuscript has two texts that are not his work)?  I do not have an answer yet to any of these questions.  The other manuscripts ‘adjacent’ to this codex in the numbering do not seem to be connected to it and we have not otherwise located this putative volume.

6 knox

This situation—more questions than answers—is typical of my experience working with medieval manuscripts and in Italian archives. Medievalists generally tend to have significantly fewer materials with which to work compared to our modernist colleagues, so each manuscript carries more weight as evidence (even as we must address the vagaries of survival).  These volumes also may not appear interesting at the start—I admit that reading a collection of pious lives or sermons and jet lag can be a bad combination.  However, once you start assessing the physical object and considering its relationship to the text, it often raises new questions and suggests new manuscripts to explore.  Now that I have seen all the manuscripts of Mariano’s texts known to me, I want to learn more about the books—both manuscripts and early printed volumes—that were in the communities in which he lived, as well as to keep looking for evidence of how Mariano’s contemporaries may have read his work.

A possible way of thinking about this problem came from the unique autograph copy of Mariano’s Compendium Chronicarum (Florence, Biblioteca Moreniana ms. 97).  This text is basically an abridgement of his longer Franciscan chronicle, the Fasiculus Chronicarum (a work which has been missing since the end of the eighteenth century 7 knoxwhen it was sent to Rome for use in a canonization process) and it ends on a poignant note.  After writing his last entry concerning the 1521 General Chapter, Mariano switched to red ink and wrote: Omnia in hoc volumine conscripta sunt per me Fratrem M[arianum] edita que fratribus meis corrigenda relinquo—everything in this volume was written by me, Brother Mariano, and I leave it to my brothers for correcting.   Did they?

Lezlie Knox is associate professor of history at Marquette University.  She is the author of Creating Clare of Assisi: Female Franciscan Identities in Later Medieval Italy (Brill, 2008) and co-editor of the just published Visions of Sainthood in Medieval Rome: The Lives of Margherita Colonna by Giovannie Colonna and Stefania (Notre Dame Press, 2017).

A Quarter Century (and counting) of the Frank L. Klement Lectures at Marquette

By James Marten

I find it a little hard to believe that Monday’s talk by Kathleen M. Brown of the University of Pennsylvania on “Undoing Slavery: Abolitionist Body Politics and the Argument Over Humanity” was the twenty-sixth Frank L. Klement Lecture!  The series was conceived long ago by a former colleague, Lance Grahn, and myself, as a Phi Alpha Theta project—Frank had been president of Phi Alpha Theta, the international honor society for history.  Encouraged by our then department chair, Tom Hachey, we started to think bigger.  A year-long fund-raising effort by the College of Arts and Sciences alumni group raised enough money—from hundreds of different donors, mostly Frank’s former students—to fully endow the series.

The man we honored was born on the banks of the Embarrass River in northeastern Wisconsin. After spending some time as a country school teacher, he enrolled in the frank_klement04History PhD program at the University of Wisconsin. Frank often told of the first day he walked into the seminar run by William B. Hesseltine (a famous curmudgeon), when, Frank claimed, three young men who would eventually become leading historians of the Civil War era turned to look at him: T. Harry Williams, Richard Current, and Kenneth Stampp (who was my dissertation director’s dissertation director at Berkeley). Although he always felt like a bit of an underdog, he completed his degree in 1946 and taught at Lake Forest College and at Eau Claire State Teachers College before joining the history department at Marquette University two years later. By the time he had retired twenty-seven years later with the rank of Professor Emeritus, Frank served as department chair from 1956-1958 and received the Award for Teaching Excellence in 1965. Frank’s scholarship focused on the Civil War era, particularly on northern dissenters. He authored over fifty articles and chapters in books and dozens of book reviews, but his best-known works are The Copperheads in the Middle West (1960), The Limits of Dissent: Clement L. Vallandigham and the Civil War (1970), and Dark Lanterns: Secret Political Societies, Conspiracies, and Treason Trials in the Civil War (1984).  Frank died at the age of eighty-six in 1994.

The first Klement Lecturer, Mark Neely, spoke a few months after he won the Pulitzer Prize for The Fate of Liberty: Abraham Lincoln and Civil Liberties, which was, appropriately enough, on dissent in the North during the Civil War.  The second lecturer was one of Frank’s old grad school friends, Richard Current; his rather iconoclastic lecture on “Abraham Lincoln and Multiculturalism” (he argued that Lincoln would not have been a fan) was by far the best-selling Klement Lecture from the days when MU Press published a booklet by each lecturer.

The first sixteen lectures were on the Civil War era, broadly defined; over the last decade we’ve brought in scholars of many other fields in US history, from the New Deal to the Old West, and from foreign policy to race relations. It’s a spectacular lineup; at least seventeen held or would go on to hold endowed chairs.  Two were Pulitzer Prize winners, while another two were finalists for the Pulitzer.  Nine have won the $50,000 Lincoln Prize from Gettysburg College (five more were finalists).  And their books have won scores of other prizes from professional organizations.

I would not call the following lectures my “favorites,” but I do think they stand out because they took on big, bold topics, or because they were particularly attractive to undergraduates, or simply because they were interesting:

Steven Hahn’s assertion that the Civil War and the subsequent campaigns against Native Americans were part of the American “Imperial Project” (“The Dimensions of Freedom: Slave Emancipation, Indian Peoples, and the Projects of the New American State,” 2012);

Fitz Brundage’s startling lecture on the ways in which American officials have engaged in torture—in the context of American soldiers being accused of torture in Iraq (“The American Tradition of Torture,” 2011);

Lesley J. Gordon’s and Bill Blair’s  (“‘I Never was a Coward’: Questions of Bravery in a Civil War Regiment,” 2005, and “Why Didn’t the North Hang Some Rebels? The Postwar Debate over Punishment for Treason,” 2004, respectively).

Along the way, Ed Ayers talked about one of the first major online archives on the Civil War (the Valley of the Shadow Project ), while Gray Brechin spoke on a new archive of New Deal sites that still exist (the Living New Deal: Still Working for America); Catherine Clinton and Nina Silber delivered lectures on women during the Civil War. Joe Glatthaar explored Robert E. Lee, Joan Waugh Ulysses S. Grant, Frank Costigliola the Milwaukee native and diplomat 41UoMsfnVzL._SX328_BO1,204,203,200_[1]George Kennan, and Stephen Berry Edward Allan Poe. A complete list of a quarter century of Klement Lecturers—many of which have been recorded and can be watched or listened to—can be found here. The first fifteen lectures were published by Kent State University Press as More Than a Contest Between Armies: Essays on the Civil war Era, ed. by A. Kristen Foster and James Marten (Kent: Kent State University Press, 2007).

Although it makes me feel very old to know how many Klement Lectures we’ve had, I think I speak for the entire history department when I say that we’re proud that we’ve been able to bring to our faculty, students, and the larger community such an outstanding array of scholars on so many different topics.

James Marten is chair of the history department. Find out more about Frank Klement in a slideshow prepared for a memorial dinner commemorating his death.

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