French Paleography Workshop

Call for Applications


JUNE 9-27, 2014

This paleography workshop will provide intensive training in the accurate reading, editing,
and interpretation of a manuscript in Middle French, in this case a complex and intriguing
late-Renaissance compilation of a practical and proto-scientific nature. Participants will work on a collaborative transcription and translation of the manuscript using new digital tools and methods.

The manuscript, Bibliothèque nationale de France, fr. 640, written around 1580 by an
anonymous French-speaking craftsperson, covers some 170 fols. with detailed instructions, including first-hand observations and illustrations, for a number of processes that we would now classify as part of fine arts and technology, such as drawing-instruction, pigment-making, metal-coloring, counterfeit gem production, cannon-casting, tree-grafting, land-surveying, a practice of taxidermy to manufacture monstrous composite animals (kittens and bats), making paper mâché masks, and much more. The margins are filled with comments on experiments, an indication that the book was most likely a record of practice. The manuscript thus offers exceptional insight into how natural materials and art objects were made, collected, appreciated, and circulated in the late Renaissance. It also provides a rare view into attitudes to nature out of which modern science eventually emerged.

The workshop, directed by Prof. Marc H. Smith (École nationale des chartes/École
pratique des hautes études) and Prof. Pamela H. Smith (History, Columbia University) is part of a larger interdisciplinary research and pedagogical initiative that aims to support the transcription, translation, annotation, and experimental reconstruction of the technical processes described in the manuscript, with the final goal being the publication of an electronic critical edition of the manuscript.

The three-week course, held on the campus of Columbia University, will begin with
general instruction and bibliographical information concerning the historical context of the manuscript, French Renaissance paleography, Middle French, and principles for transcription and translation, as well as instruction in digital methods, such as collaborative editing, annotation and versioning methods. Then, for five days a week, morning sessions will be devoted to reading, annotating, and translating the text collectively. In the afternoons, students will be able to work in groups on selected sections of the text to be discussed on the following day.
Up to 15 participants will be enrolled from the U.S. and abroad. First consideration is
given to PhD students, but applications will also be accepted from professional staff of
libraries and museums, and from qualified independent scholars. Advanced French-language skills are required. PhD applicants selected for admission will receive a stipend to help defray the cost of attending the workshop. The workshop is offered tuition free.
Applicants should submit a CV containing names and addresses of two references, a 3-
page letter explaining their reason for application, and transcripts showing successful
completion of coursework or other evidence of competence in the French language.
Experience and interest in the digital humanities will be an advantage.
Applications, along with supporting documents, should be emailed to Claire Sabel
( by February 21, 2014. Inquiries should be directed to the same
address. Successful applicants will be notified by the beginning of April.

This entry was posted in Archival Research, Early Modern Europe, Early Modern World, European History, European Wars of Religion, French History, French Wars of Religion, Graduate Work in History, Grants and Fellowships, History of Science, Information Management, Lectures and Seminars, Reformation History, Renaissance Art and History. Bookmark the permalink.

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