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Houghton Exhibition Studies ‘Books in Books’

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One of the 10 medieval manuscripts which will be on display as part of the 'Books in Books' exhibition. Houghton Library. MS Typ 143. De divinis institutionibus.


April 2, 2010 – In the Middle Ages, books were more than mere objects – for those who possessed the wealth or status to own books, they played a central role in virtually every aspect of daily life. Books were used to record history, helped spur the development of new literary traditions, offered religious instruction and, quite literally, were the word of God in the form of Bibles.

Books in Books: Reflections on Reading and Writing in the Middle Ages, a new exhibition which opens April 5 at Houghton Library, examines the roles of books in medieval society through the study of 10 medieval manuscripts. Ranging from the early 12th to the early 15th centuries, each manuscript depict books being written, presented, studied, and sung from. Among the items which will be on display are several leaves from the Noyon Missal, a 13th century Mass book made in Noyon, France, which depict Pope Gregory writing a Gregorian chant and the earliest known manuscript of the Polistorio, a world history which focused on the city of Rome.

The exhibition is a joint project of the Houghton Library and Jeffrey Hamburger, Kuno Francke Professor of German Art & Culture, and Chair of the Medieval Studies Committee, and was designed as a complement to the General Education Program course “Aesthetic and Interpretive Understanding 16, Openings: The Illuminated Manuscript” taught by Professor Hamburger.

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“We are always happy to work with faculty to mount these types of exhibitions,” said William Stoneman, the Florence Fearrington Librarian of Houghton Library. “Accompanying General Education courses with exhibitions is an excellent way to introduce students to the library, and supplement their education by giving them the chance to work with primary sources.”

As part of the exhibition, the manuscripts, which range from liturgical books to private prayer books to literature, were also digitized, and links to the digital images were added to the HOLLIS records for each item, Stoneman said. The digitized manuscripts were also used to create an online exhibition, with the same name as the Houghton exhibition.

Books in Books: Reflections on Reading and Writing in the Middle Ages, will be on display in the Amy Lowell Room of Houghton Library from April 5 through June 25. Hours, Directions