Reconstructing a Tree of Dead Manuscripts

Corpus Christi College, University of Cambridge

My research brought me to Corpus Christi College at the University of Cambridge this week to examine a manuscript written nearly 600 years ago.  Some of you may wonder what on earth might be the importance of digging through old books full of information which has very little relevance to our daily lives in 2011.  I, on the other hand, would like to argue that only through knowing what has come before us can we truly understand where we are to go in the future.  I love learning from the past and understanding why certain things are the way they are today. So, I found myself sitting in the Corpus Christi manuscript reading room working over a manuscript which was beautifully and carefully written and preserved for so many years.

As a part of the large task for my PhD, I am specifically looking for signs of usage within these precious manuscripts; indications that people actually might have read and worked with the text rather than being something which simply sat on the shelf of a library belonging to some important scholar.  These manuscripts would have been considered very important at the time, and quite expensive.  So it is not often that one can find scribbles or marks within them.  In this case, and to my great delight, I found several signs of usage.  The way I can tell that they were read and used is through such things as amendments made by a later scholar.  After carefully turning pages through the manuscript, I found several instances of scribbles and corrections.  One scribe had corrected what the initial scribe had completely left out - most probably because of something as simple as a distraction from outside his workshop (perhaps a pretty girl walked by!).  Another scribe had corrected a ligature, a form of notation from the time which connects two notes together.  Another crossed out a section of a sentence which must have been considered unimportant.

It is through these small, but vitally important, scribal 'markings' that we can be assured that the manuscript was actually in use.  If scholars in the 14th and 15th centuries did not read and know the contents of the manuscript, they would not be bothered to take the time to correct it in the manner which I found in this manuscript.  This also means that there must have been multiple copies of the manuscript from which the corrections could be made.  Although many of the manuscripts of Odington's De speculatione musica were destroyed, it is amazing how much one can glean from the smallest little traces of activity and ultimately reconstruct a tree of dead manuscripts.


Powell DeGange said…
We have recently learned that the American Musicological Society is hosting their upcoming conference at the Hyatt Regency San Francisco. On June 8, 2010 employees at the Hyatt Regency San Francisco went on strike and called for a boycott of their hotel. We write to inform members of the AMS about the dispute and respectfully ask your organization to relocate the event to a different venue and to not eat, sleep or meet at the Hyatt Regency.

The members of Local 2 have been struggling to renegotiate a contract that secures affordable health care and retirement benefits. In San Francisco, and in cities around North America, Hyatt Hotels is squeezing housekeepers, dishwashers, cooks, bellpersons, and others harder than ever, trying to lock in ever-higher profits as the hotel industry grows. In wage and benefit agreements over the last several decades, we have forgone larger wage increases to keep our medical benefits affordable for ourselves and our families. Now Hyatt is pushing proposals that would lock workers into a permanent recession even as Hyatt benefits from the economic recovery.

Recent multi-city strikes represent a major escalation in a labor dispute involving Hyatt and its billionaire owners—the Pritzker Family—who have been the target of a number of major demonstrations in more than a dozen cities across North America this summer. Hotel workers have endured months of chronic understaffing and excessive injury rates. Now Hyatt has become an obstacle to the recovery of working families. While many hotel workers live in poverty, the Pritzker Family cashed out over $900 million in their sale of Hyatt shares in November 2009.

On January 18th, 2011 Hyatt workers took to the streets to defend their Legal Fund from Hyatt hotel management. The Legal Fund protects members from evictions and foreclosures and facilitates legal immigration (citizenship, work permits and family reunification).

In recent negotiations, Hyatt went backwards in their pension proposal and it has become abundantly clear that this labor dispute is going to continue well into next year.

The AMS and its convention patrons are caught in the middle of this contentious labor dispute. The dispute will continue to escalate as will demonstrations, strikes, civil disobedience actions and the on-going boycott, until workers secure a fair contract. AS members of the larger Bay Area Community we ask you to respect SF Hotel Workers and encourage your organization to avoid the labor dispute and meet at an alternate venue.

For more information about hotel labor disputes in San Francisco, you can visit our website at Please contact us to address any questions and so that we may assist you in moving to a hotel not subject to a labor dispute.


Powell DeGange

415.864.8770, ext. 759

Meetings and Conventions Department