Students will learn about the 15th century medieval manuscripts. They discover the hidden text of the century

Using images of ultraviolet fluorescence, RIT students unveiled the XV edition of RIT’s Cary Graphic Arts Collection. A leaf of the century manuscript was actually a palimpsest, a manuscript on parchment with multiple layers of writing. The image on the left shows the document as it appears in visible light, while the image on the right is created by an image system built by the student. Credit: RIT

The image system built in new students shows new information about the Otto Ege Collection.

Rochester Institute of Technology students XV. They found the lost text on the leaves of the manuscripts of the century using the image system they had developed as new students. Using images of ultraviolet fluorescence, the students revealed that a manuscript leaf from RIT’s Cary Graphic Arts Collection was actually a palimpsest, a manuscript of a multi-layered writing parchment.

It was expensive to make parchment at the time the manuscript was written, so the leaves were regularly scraped or removed and reused. While the deleted text is invisible to the naked eye, the chemical signature of the initial writing can sometimes be detected using other areas of the light spectrum.

“Using our system, we took several parchments from the Cary Collection here at RIT and when we placed one of them under UV light, it showed this amazing dark French cursive underneath,” said Zoë LaLena, a second-year image science student. Fairport, NY, who worked on the project. “It was amazing because this document was in the Cary Collection about a decade ago and no one noticed. And since it’s in the Ege Collection, which is another 30 well-known pages in this book, it’s fascinating that the other 29 pages we know of the location have palimpsests.”

The imaging system was initially built by 19 students enrolled in the Chester F. Carlson Center for Imaging Science’s Innovative Freshman Experience, a year-long project-based course. Image science, film science, and photography science programs are a problem that can solve their talents.

Lisa Enochs

A group of multidisciplinary students, including Lisa Enochs, created an image system left for her Freshman Experience class. The group began the project last fall, before RIT switched to remote instruction in March 2020. Credit: Gabrielle Plucknette-DeVito

When RIT switched to remote instruction due to the outbreak of the coronavirus in March, students were unable to finish building it, but thanks to a grant from Jeffrey Harris’75 (photographic science and equipment) and Joyce Pratt, three students received funding to work on the project over the summer. . These three students – LaLena; Lisa Enochs, a sophomore with a major in film science and image science from Mississauga, Ontario; and Malcom Fans, a second-year film science student at Mass Mass in Milford, finished assembling the system in the fall when classes resumed and they began studying documents from the Cary Collection.

Steven Galbraith, curator of the Cary Graphic Arts Collection, said he was pleased to discover that the leaf of the manuscript was palimpsest, as researchers across the country have studied many similar leaves, but have never tested them with UV light or fully imaged.

Otto Ege, a collector, educator, and historian made collections of leaves with damaged or incomplete medieval manuscripts and sold or distributed them in libraries and special collections throughout North America, including the Cary collection. Galbatth said he is excited because it means that many other cultural and academic organizations that are now leaving the Ege Collection may have palimpsests to study in their collection.

“Students have provided at least two incredibly important pieces of information about our manuscript in the collection and have somehow found two texts that we didn’t know were in the collection,” Galbrait said. “Now we need to guess what these texts are and that’s the strength of the spectral image of cultural institutions. To understand our collections well, we need to know the depth of our collections, and image science helps us reveal all of that.”

Students are interested in whether more manuscript leaves from Ege collections across the country are palimpsests. The Ege Collection Public Library in Buffalo and Erie County depicted another leaf from the Aegean Collection, which was a palimpsest, and is being approached by other curators across the country. When they start re-sewing the lost text, paleographers can analyze the information they have.

Students have been selected to share the results at the 2021 International Congress of Medieval Studies and also plan to present the project at next year’s Imagine RIT: Creativity and Innovation Festival.

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