Manuscript Research at the HMML Part 2


So the last post described in a nutshell what I did. We flew to Minnesota and drove to St. John’s University on Friday, worked on Saturday, and flew back to school on Sunday. The day that I got to work with the manuscript was all too short and it was a race to get as much information out of the manuscript as possible. I don’t think I realized how long the manuscript was. My impression was that it primarily contained the diary of the chaplain in the expedition, but that was only from about folio 6 to 19 (about 26 pages). I wasn’t prepared for the diversity of topics held in the manuscript! Poems, descriptions of the war with the Apaches, troop numbers and movements, a history of Napoleon Bonaparte, dissertations on jurisprudence, instructions for the behavior of mothers; the list goes on. Think of this manuscript as your notebook of everything you wanted to remember and keep safe. Photocopiers didn’t exist at the beginning of the 19th century. If you wanted a copy of something you had to copy it down yourself or pay someone else to copy it for you. The majority of the handwriting in the book appears to be Blas Osés handwriting, but there are a few sections that have different handwriting and are on different paper. Maybe a friend copied something for him and then gave it to him later. It wasn’t a notebook in the sense that he went out and bought a book with blank pages that he wrote in like a diary. He would have had loose sheets of paper and then bound it together. You can figure this out because the words aren’t distorted close to the gutter of the book.


There are no words to describe what it’s like to really do research for the first time. I was looking at a manuscript that few scholars have probably looked at since 1817. Studying manuscripts is being like a detective and this was the first chance to try out my detective skills. When I took Medieval Book last semester with Professor Greenia, I learned codicology and paleography (study of the physical characteristics and the study of handwriting, respectively) and how to analyze books as the physical object. For example, if a hole is a page only occurs in one folio then it may just be a tear of some sort that occurred at some point. However, if the hole occurs in the same place on successive pages then it’s probably the work of bookworms eating through the pages as you can see in the picture here from MSS 27. In another case, the ink was too acidic and it was making a hole in the page. The pages were not particularly stained in the corners so the book was not handled that much. In addition because there is very little ornamentation, it indicates that the manuscripts was utilitarian. It wasn’t made to impress people; there aren’t any beautiful illuminations or diagrams.

So going forward from this experience, I’ve fallen even more in love with manuscripts. I thought they were cool when I took Medieval Book, but now they’re awesome after having done research. James and I were really sad to have to come back to William and Mary and go to class. If we had been allowed to stay for a week or more, we would have jumped at the chance! James and I are actually thinking about coming back during this coming summer to continue doing research. James wants to continue to look at Leyes de los Moros while I want to look at another manuscript in the Steiner Collection. That manuscript is a nativity play that no one has really done any research at all on it. It has not been transcribed, we don’t know if it was performed, and we don’t know who it was written by as well. There are so many unknowns about the manuscript that it seems too good of a chance to pass up to study it!

Going to HMML has changed my view on my academic future. Before going on this trip, my plan was to eventually apply to a General Linguistics program for grad school instead of a Hispanic Linguistics program. Now I know that I really want to do something that combine linguistics, Spanish, and manuscripts. I think that the best way to do that will be with a Hispanic Linguistics program that would allow me to do research and go to places like the HMML. Granted, I’m only a sophomore and grad school is at least a few years away, but my future will definitely include manuscripts after this experience!