The Research Group Speaks: The Series

A New Series of Events
(Beginning in 2021)

In 2021 the Research Group on Manuscript Evidence launches a new series of online Events, in quarterly sessions to take the forms of interviews, lectures, webinars, round-tables, workshops, and more.  It joins the diverse range of our Activities & Events over the years, which take place at conferences and in other settings, as Seminars, Symposia, Workshops, and other formats.

2020 Symposium "From Cover to Cover" Poster 1

2020 Symposium Poster 1

This new Series was inspired by our first online event, the Pre-Congress Business Meeting in May 2021, which adapted to the conditions of the 2021 International Congress on Medieval Studies (ICMS), taking place wholly online this year after a one-year hiatus in 2020.  Customarily, in recent years, we hold Open Business Meetings in person at the Annual Congress, but the changed circumstances of the 2021 Congress encouraged a new tradition.

And so, before the Open Business Meeting later in May at the online Congress, we prepared the ground for it with a Pre-Congress Business Meeting in early May.  See our Business Meetings.  Available for download, the 2021 Agenda and 2021 Agenda Report tell the story, and help to set the scene.

The Pre-Congress Business Meeting was hosted by our Associate, Barbara Williams Ellertson.  At the Meeting, plans arose for more online events. It seemed clear that the Research Group could progress with gatherings by such means, to consider a variety of subjects, already before the chance could return to resume meetings in person — like our 2020 Spring Symposium, “From Cover to Cover”, which had had to be cancelled.

The suggestions for specific subjects allowed for a fuller series of events online than one or two on their own. Then came the title, for which we thank our Associate, Linde Brocato.

“The Research Group Speaks”

The gatherings are intended to consider textual and other materials in various forms.

As the series begins, we reflect upon images of books in various forms.  A specimen, suggested by our Associate. Barbara Williams Ellertson, as we prepared to launch the first Episode in an interview with her, forms a partial set of mid-15th-century panels surviving in Lisbon from a larger polyptych, formerly displayed in the Cathedral there.

Books on Display

Here is a Group Portrait with Books of various kinds, to set the scene.  As we prepared the series, our Associate Barbara Williams Ellertson drew our attention to this image.  A set of panels, surviving from a larger set, depicts multiple human figures, male and female, from far and near, in collective aspects of dedication, books included.  The suggestion led to a closer look.

Lisbon, Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga: The six surviving mid 15th-century Saint Vincent Panels, attributed to Nuno Gonçalves. Image via Creative Commons.

The Saint Vincent Panels in Lisbon (see also Panéis de Sâo Vicente de Fora).  Six surviving oak panels from a polyptych of more than twelve panels, attributed to the Portuguese painter Nuno Gonçalves (circa 1425 – circa 1491).  Image via Creative Commons.

Formerly displayed at the Cathedral of Lisbon, these survivors are preserved at the Museu Nacional de Arte Antiqa in Lisbon. Depicting scenes of the Veneration of the Deacon Protomartyr Saint Vincent of Saragossa (died circa 304 CE) by 58 men and women of different ages and social stations, both secular and religious, the Panels (from left to right at present) represent: the Friars and Monks, the Fishermen, the Infante, the Archbishop or Bishop (facing forward at upper left), the Knights, and the Relic (a skull-bone fragment resting reverently on a cloth).  The short-haired saint, richly robed as a Deacon in red and gold, appears twice, full-length.  In these views, he holds a book either open, with both hands, or closed, wrapped in cloth, under his arm.  On the proposed identifications of the persons depicted and the script of the double-columned book held open at the far right, see, for example, Saint Vincent Panels and The Saint Vincent Panels in high-definition.

The scenes gather men and women with different backgrounds and functions in specific moments of communal focus.  The figures’ accessories or attributes include some books, shown both opened and closed.  Their detailed depictions indicate specific forms, formats, and bindings; their openings show lines of text in one or two columns per page and approximately legible texts, as might be recognizable as individual or idealized specimens which may have existed in the known world.

As our new series advances, other images may come to the fore as we prepare and report the individual Episodes.  The set of panels at Lisbon accord with the theme of the first Episode, focused upon the long-term development of a project dedicated to the images of books in works of art in various media (paintings and more) in the late medieval and early modern periods.

Episode 1 (July 2021):
Interview with Barbara Williams Ellertson
The BASIRA Project and a Timeline

The Series began with an Interview with our Associate, Barbara Williams Ellertson.  (See also Ellertson.)

The Event took place via Zoom in July 2021, with a small invited audience, and with scope for questions, comments, and discussion. Barbara spoke about the BASIRA Project, its background, and her other interests.  For information about the Project on Books as Symbols in Renaissance Art, its subjects, its scope, and its aims, see

Barbara and Milly meet at a conference.

Barbara described key stages in her education, upbringing, and career, as she offered an illustrated Timeline for the origins and development of the BASIRA Project.  She presented a selection of images to exhibit aspects of her own work, the work of creating the project, several key stages in its evolution, and some favorites among the subjects which it covers. The Timeline takes the form of an 8-page Booklet, laid out in RGME Bembino, in the style of our recent Publications. The questions and discussion addressed a wide range of interests in the subject matter, the approaches to its structures in the database and metadata, the expanding coverage of the project, and its future work.

The recording of the event is being edited for presentation and wider viewing as a podcast.  It will take two Parts, with the Interview and the Question-and-Answer portion.  It should become available soon.  Watch this Space.

See Barbara Williams Ellertson and BASIRA, with a Timeline.

We thank Barbara for her generous preparation and presentation. We thank the participants for joining the online gathering and offering feedback and encouragement.  The informal, but structured, Event gave a superb beginning to our new Series. Congratulations!

Episode 2 (September 2021):
Southern Italian Cuisine before Columbus

For an invited audience on Saturday, 18 September, 2021, the food historian Linda Civitello, PhD, talked about the early history of Italian cuisine, especially Cuoco Napolitano, and its ingredients, sources, and influences — for Southern Italian cuisine and beyond.   Inspired by the 15th-century sources in manuscript and early printing, Linda described approaches to the subject and gave a demonstration.  A recording of the event will soon become available.

For information about Linda‘s accomplishments and publications, see, for example,
Reference points for her talk:
Vernacular Italian sources for Cucoa Napolitano include
Studies include
  • Terence Scully with Rudolf Grewe, Cuoco Napoletano:  The Neapolitan Recipe Collection (Ann Arbor:  The University of Michigan Press, 2000).

Invitation Card to Linda Civitello’s presentation on 18 September 2021

See Southern Italian Cuisine Before Columbus, with Linda Civitello.

Episode 3 (November 2021):
Tales from the Library Crypt

On 20 November 2021, with an invited audience, we explored ‘secrets’ and ‘treasures’ in bibliographical quests during a time of pandemic.

Worcester Cathedral, Crypt. Image from via Wikimedia Commons.

The plan:

Over the past year and more, under exceptional circumstances, there are doubtless to be encountered challenges and disappointments through closures of libraries, access to library resources, and other factors.  But there can be successes, through serendipity, resourcefulness, friendship, and solidarity across institutions and wider readership. Comparing notes might offer tips and guidance.  Commiseration can come in handy.  And there are successes worth celebrating.  There are stories to tell.

Speakers include Jessica Savage and Pamela Patton at the Index of Medieval Art at Princeton University; David Porreca at the University of Waterloo; and Linde Brocato at the University of Miami.

The recording might become available.  We will confer with the participants about permission, just because that is the right thing to do.

See Tales from the Library Crypt.

Episode 4 (December 2021):
“How to Be Indiana Jones in the Catalog”

Planned for December 2021:

Linde Brocato, “How to Be Indiana Jones in the Catalog:  Treasure and Power in/of the Bibliographical Record”

Understanding the dynamics and rules of cataloging gives strong insight into how to search:  When to use the basic search box, i.e. keyword search; when to use advanced search, i.e. the indexes.  I will discuss the bibliographic record, the kinds of decisions catalogers make about how to encode information, and tools to release and enhance your power to find the bibliographic treasure you seek!

See Indiana Jones in the Catalog, with Linde Brocato.

Episode 5 Etc.

Further Episodes are being planned.  Watch this Space.

Florence, Galleria degli Uffizi, Anonymous, Still Life, German school of the XVI century, circa 1510, oil on wood, 70.2 × 65 cm. Opened book with fanned leaves showing pages of text and music set out in double columns and adorned with decorated initials and illustrations. Image via Wikimedia, public domain.


Do you have suggestions and comments for the Series?  Please leave your Comments here, visit our Research Group Facebook Page, or Contact Us.