U of S students play major role in manuscript exhibit
By David Hutton
University of Saskatchewan students Amie Shirkie and Eve Townsend have been busy working at the Gordon Snelgrove Gallery, answering questions on the mysteries of the medieval page while guiding inquiring visitors through Scattered Leaves: The Otto Ege Medieval Manuscript Collection.
Their work is the tail-end of a three-year collaborative process between a group of five students and their English professor Peter Stoicheff. They’ve categorized, classified, and publicized a rare box of medieval manuscripts in the university’s possession.
The manuscript pages were put together by American collector Otto Ege in the 1920s. He compiled 40 manuscript sets in total, each containing 50 pages from 50 different medieval books dating from the 12th to 16th centuries. He removed pages from the manuscript books, divided the pages among 40 boxes, and sold the boxes around the world.
The group, which Stoicheff has dubbed the “Ege Heads,” organized and set up the U of S exhibit, and helped organize an international symposium, which attracted medievalists from around the world and received acclaim from everyone involved. “[Yale Provost] Barbara Shailor could not stop talking about how impressed she was with these students,” says Stoicheff, who credits student interest for sparking his fascination with the project.
“If the students were not there, nothing would have happened. We were truly working as equals.”
The students -- Jon Bath (Ph.D. English), Amie Shirkie (M.A. English), Bonnie Hughes (M.A. English), Craig Harkama (English), and Eve Townsend (Art and Art History) -- were in various classes of Stoicheff’s, including “The History and Future of the Book” and were recruited by him to add insight to the project.
They examined all 50 leaves and determined what aspects of manuscript culture to highlight, breaking the exhibit into four categories: making the manuscript, using the manuscript, admiring the manuscript and the end of the manuscript.
The team then wrote introductory blurbs, short descriptions of each manuscript, and edited the text, choosing which details to enlarge and display, framing all the manuscripts and putting up the exhibit.
Bath , who had studied literary hypertext under Stoicheff, headed up the design aspect of the project, creating posters, a web page and a virtual exhibit.
Townsend got involved in the project closer to the exhibit date after Stoicheff had a chance meeting with her brother while buying a snowboard for his son at Christmas.
Hughes, a Canadian literature scholar who valued the chance to work extensively in a completely different research area, credits the experience with teaching her how to curate an exhibit, apply for grants, write specifically for a non-academic audience and plan a conference. She was most impressed with the response from the public and the amount of attention the exhibit and symposium received.
The U of S symposium and exhibit are the beginning of a new chapter in the Ege story. The scholars who attended the conference are discussing possible future projects involving Ege’s collections, including a digital database of the leaves from the U of S collection.
“Academic work, especially in the humanities, is often very isolated, so to be able to involve a lot of other people in a scholarly project was really interesting,” says Hughes.
“Even if I am not directly involved with the project in the future, I will definitely keep track of what is happening with the manuscripts.”
The exhibit, which was held with the assistance of a SSHRC grant, came down Saturday, June 25. You can visit the exhibit online at library.usask.ca/ege/.
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