Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Manuscripts and Naked Hands

  It's been a long time between drinks, But hopefully I can get back on the airwaves again. Well sometimes reality interferes with your cyberlife.
  I was intrigued by the latest newsletter from e-codices, the totally fantastic and amazing manuscript website from Switzerland which not only lets you look at a vast array of medieval manuscripts in great detail, but allows others to use them through a Creative Commons licence. Truly sharing our cultural heritage. But this item was a little intriguing.
  The ultimate iconic image of a manuscript researcher has long involved a pair of white gloves. This is supposed to show how much we care for the conservation of the precious artifacts that we are handling. Valuable manuscripts and white gloves; like bread and butter, horse and cart, love and marriage (well, perhaps that last is a dated reference). Now the conservators of Switzerland are telling us that it is actually a bad thing to wear gloves while handling manuscripts, as it reduces the sensitivity of the fingers, thereby making it more likely that the manuscript might be damaged. As well, dirt and muck from manuscripts is actually transferred to the white gloves and can be spread to other items. Just regularly wash your hands, they say - just like doctors and nurses.
  This opinion is corroborated by no less an institution than the British Library, as described in a blog posting. It seems the white gloves thing is just a bit of spin. Mind you, I have experienced the difficulties of this many years ago, when attempting to photograph a medieval manuscript in a library where they insisted on white gloves, but I was unable to work the camera with them on. A compromise deal had to be worked out in which one person wore the white gloves and turned the pages and I took the pictures, promising not to touch the manuscript. Funny thing is, it was a book of hours, which had probably been handled every day with naked fingers in the course of somebody's daily devotions.
  Those people who work with the less luxurious class of manuscripts, such as legal documents, often prefer to wear white gloves because the things are so filthy that otherwise they get muck all over their hands. There is something a little bit worrying about medieval grime.
  Anyway, having broken the ice, I will see if I can get back to some work on Medieval Writing. A diligent user has found a couple of minor typos in my transcripts, so I had better start with those and then progress to something new.


Anonymous said...

Thank you. I couldn't help but follow the link to the link to the link, up to the really detailed article in the December 2005 issue (n° 37) of International Preservation News (from IFLA-PAC), titled “Misperceptions about white gloves” (""). The authors debunk several myths, including that the use of white gloves is an old and well-established tradition; in their view, it is likely to merely be the result of savvy marketing by vendors of library supplies!

As an aside, e-codices is phenomenal.

Thank you for an interesting post and, of course, for everything you have been doing on your Medieval writing website.

Unknown said...

Since my first visit to the National Archives at Kew, some five years ago, the practice of handling original manuscripts has been clean hands and no white gloves for the reasons you have already given. Thank you for the Medieval Writing site.