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7 posts categorized "Polonsky"

01 September 2018

A calendar page for September 2018

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Spears to the ready! It’s time to go on a hunt. So says a calendar page for September, made over one thousand years ago. You can read more about this calendar in the first of our series of posts about it this year, and soon you can come to see it in person at our Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms exhibition.

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Detail of a scene with hunters and pigs: Cotton MS Julius A VI, f. 7r

This calendar is one of only two calendars from Anglo-Saxon England that are illustrated with scenes of daily life (the other is in Cotton MS Tiberius B V/1). For the preceding months these scenes have tended to focus on agriculture, but for September the artist has drawn a hunting scene. Two men with spears, a hunting horn and a dog follow a group of boars or possibly domestic pigs into a forest of sinuous trees. The oblivious pigs, meanwhile, munch on items hanging near the base of the trees. This scene nicely matches a description in an Old English riddle from the Exeter Book on Creation/the World/the Universe:

‘I am bigger and fatter than a fattened swine,
a swarthy boar, who lived joyfully
bellowing in a beech-wood, rooting away …’ (translated by Megan Cavell)

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Calendar page for September: Cotton MS Julius A VI, f. 7r

This page is also notable for containing the only depiction of a woman to feature in this calendar. She represents the astrological sign Virgo and appears in a roundel at the top of the page. She is shown holding a plant. Her dress seems to be that of an 11th-century English woman: she wears a veil on her head and has flowing sleeves.

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Detail of a roundel depicting Virgo: Cotton MS Julius A VI, f. 7r

The absence of women elsewhere in the calendar is puzzling, since women would have participated in many agricultural activities. For example, notes on farming equipment, produce and workers from early 11th-century Ely mention dairymaids and other women working on farms. Women also attended feasts, such as the one depicted in the calendar page for April. Even the poem Beowulf â€” not noted for its gender representation — mentioned women attending a feast, including Queen Wealhtheow and her maidens.

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Farm records mentioning female agricultural workers: Add MS 61735

The absence of women elsewhere in the calendar is perhaps puzzling. The only other surviving calendar from Anglo-Saxon England that is illustrated with agricultural and pastoral scenes (Cotton MS Tiberius B V/1) does not include women, either. Perhaps these artists were working from models that did not feature women. Additionally, it is tempting to speculate that these images conveyed a spiritual meaning as much as depicting contemporary activities: scenes of ploughing and harvesting were well-known Biblical metaphors. It is therefore possible that female figures were excluded not because women did not play a role in 11th-century agriculture, but because women’s participation in preaching and spiritual teaching was being curtailed in some circles by the 11th century.

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Detail of a verse on the feast of Michael the Archangel: Cotton MS Julius A VI, f. 7r

In addition to the artwork, this calendar features tables for calculating the day of the month, the day of the week, and lunar cycles, along with a poem with a verse for every day. Three major feast days have been marked out with gold crosses in the margin: the Virgin Mary’s birthday (8 September); the feast of St Matthew the Evangelist (21 September); and the feast of the Archangel Michael, or Michaelmas (29 September). Michaelmas continued to be an important feast throughout the Middle Ages, and its date still affects several institutions that originated in the medieval period. For example, law courts in England and Ireland and several universities in England, Wales and Scotland use Michaelmas as the start date for their terms.


Alison Hudson

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01 August 2018

A calendar page for August 2018

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It’s August and time for the harvest. Don’t know what to do? Never fear! This 1000-year-old calendar provides step-by-step instructions for cutting and collecting grain in the form of an illustration at the bottom of the page for August. This calendar is one of only two surviving calendars from pre-Norman England to be illustrated with agricultural scenes. To learn more about it, please see our earlier blogpost.

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Page for August, from a calendar made in southern England in the 1st half of the 11th century: Cotton MS Julius A VI, f. 6v

Step 1: Cut the stalks with your sickle. We recommend an iron sickle, available in any good medieval emporium.

Cotton_ms_julius_a_vi_f006v sickle

Step 2: Pass the loose stalks to a friend who has rope to tie them together.

Cotton_ms_julius_a_vi_f006v bundling

Step 3: Carry the stalks to a nearby cart.

Step 4: Toss the stalks to the man with a pitchfork next to the cart.

Step 5: The man with the pitchfork will collect the harvest in the cart.

Cotton_ms_julius_a_vi_f006v tossing

 

In this image, the harvesting is being overseen by a figure with a spear and a dramatically billowing cape who blows a horn. The horn was written over by some of the Greek letters used in calendrical calculations that are listed in columns in this calendar. 

Cotton_ms_julius_a_vi_f006v horn

The original users of this calendar would have appreciated this image for more than its literal depiction of the harvest. This calendar was probably made for a monastic community, and many of the agricultural tasks coincided with metaphors used in the Bible. There were many Biblical stories about harvesting grain with sickles, particularly in the Old Testament and the Book of Revelation. The first users of this calendar may have seen a deeper meaning in this illustration, as well as a reflection of daily life.

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Detail of harvesting: Cotton MS Julius A VI, f. 6v

The month of August was not all work and no fun. The users of this calendar marked out four feast days with gold crosses. These were probably not the only feast days celebrated in August, as the verses next to each day in the calendar were composed at least a century before this calendar was made, and new feasts had been popularised by the time the calendar was being made in the 11th century. On 10 August, a gold cross singles out the day 'St Laurence caught fire'. Laurence was said to have been roasted on a gridiron by his tormentors. 

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The martyrdom of St Laurence, from the Caligula Troper, western England, 11th century: Cotton MS Caligula A XIV, f. 25r

The Assumption of the Virgin, when Mary was taken into Heaven, was commemorated on 15 August and marked in gold. 25 August is also marked out, but this may be a mistake for 24 August, the feast of St Bartholomew. St Bartholomew's feast is marked in other 11th-century English calendars, including the Tiberius Work Calendar (Cotton MS Tiberius B V/1), which includes the same poem as and similar illustrations to the Julius Work Calendar. St Bartholomew was martyred by being flayed, but the calendar says merely 'on 24 August, Bartholomew migrated to eternity'. The last feast singled out on this page was the beheading of St John the Baptist, commemorated on 29 August. The text notes that John's head was cut off 'with a sharp sword'. 

The whole calendar has been digitised thanks to the The Polonsky Foundation England and France Project. Happy harvesting! 

Alison Hudson

Follow us on Twitter @BLMedieval

 

Part of the Polonsky Digitisation Project

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19 July 2018

Leeds in July: The Polonsky Foundation Pre-1200 Project

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For the past twenty-five years, thousands of medievalists from around the world have travelled every July to the Leeds International Medieval Congress. This is the United Kingdom’s largest academic conference and one of the largest global gatherings of medievalists. With nearly 3,000 participants this year, the IMC provided the perfect opportunity for The Polonsky Foundation England and France Project team to showcase their work ahead of its official launch in November.

On the morning of 3 July, the project’s cataloguers, Laura Albiero and Francesco Siri from the Bibliothèque nationale de France, and Cristian Ispir from the British Library, presented research on manuscripts in the project, highlighting aspects which have benefitted particularly from the availability of digital images. Thanks to The Polonsky Foundation, everyone will soon be able to access 800 medieval manuscripts online.

Laura’s paper gave examples of the project’s liturgical manuscripts, and discussed how the names of different saints in the calendars help us to trace the origin and movement of individual manuscripts across the Channel. Erasures and additions tell their own tale of changing ownership through analysis of the veneration of particular local saints.

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Laura Albiero discussing a calendar originally from 12th-century Tewkesbury, now Paris, BnF, Latin 9376.

Cristian followed with an overview of author portraits and decorative elements in manuscripts containing Classical Latin texts. Francesco’s presentation focused on diagrams and their use in texts such as philosophical works, and defined the different functions they perform.

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Cristian Ispir and Francesco Siri presenting on the visual content in some of the project manuscripts.

The second session presented by the team gave an overview of the project itself. Tuija Ainonen, The Polonsky Foundation Project Curator at the British Library, drew attention to The Polonsky Foundation and the roles of the two project partners. She highlighted the various goals of the project: the full digitisation of 800 manuscripts (400 from the British Library and 400 from the BnF); the publication of a book highlighting selected manuscripts from the project; and the building of two websites — one hosting all 800 manuscripts, with 260,000 digitised images in total, and another bilingual interpretative site for a wide public audience which will present a selection of manuscripts in the project. Even interoperable image viewers, annotations, and the plan to allow image downloads had their few minutes in the spotlight: see this earlier blogpost for more details.

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The project’s coordinators Tuija Ainonen and Francesco Siri at the discussion and question time.

The audience then saw the different stages in the digitisation of 800 manuscripts and online publication in various forms. In this evening session Francesco Siri discussed the demands and challenges of cataloguing and conservation in digitisation projects. Alison Ray, Curatorial Web Officer at the British Library, discussed the workflow, from photography and image processing through to presentation in various online environments including social media and the bilingual interpretative website that will launch in November. She also reminded the audience that 600 project manuscripts are already fully digitised and available via Digitised Manuscripts for the British Library and Gallica for the BnF.

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Alison Ray discussing the various digital environments for showcasing selected manuscripts.

As the project is ongoing, the IMC presentation was very much a sneak preview of things to come. Our readers will be able to see the full outcomes at our project conference in Paris in 21–23 November 2018. Attendance is free but registration is required.

You will also be able to see some of the project’s manuscripts in the Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms exhibition that opens at the British Library on 19 October: tickets are available here. To hear more about Manuscripts in Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms, you can also attend a conference and early career symposium at the British Library on 13–15 December: please book tickets here.

 

The Polonsky Pre-1200 Project Team

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01 July 2018

A calendar page for July 2018

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Growing up in Pennsylvania, one of the sights and sounds I associated most strongly with summer was the sound of lawnmowers. Mowing was already a common sight a thousand summers ago, judging from the line drawings in this 11th-century calendar (Cotton MS Julius A VI). However, the sound of scythes depicted here would have been rather different from the noise their motorised descendants make.

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A calendar page for July, from a calendar made in southern England, mid-11th century: Cotton MS Julius A VI, f. 6r

Each page of this calendar contains an image of agricultural or social life, so it is sometimes known as the Julius Work Calendar. (For an introduction to this calendar, please see our posts for previous months.) The people mowing appear at the bottom of the page for July.

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Detail of mowers, from Cotton MS Julius A VI, f. 6r

This group of six figures has given the artist a chance to show off his virtuosity. Detailed, vivid line-drawings were prized in 11th-century English art, and the artist of this calendar uses this technique at its height to create distinct characters for each of the six men.

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Detail of men with scythes and a pitchfork, Cotton MS Julius A VI, f. 6r

Starting on the left, the artist has drawn a short-haired, balding man sharpening a scythe, possibly with a stone. Next to him, a dark-haired, bearded man collects material with a pitchfork, while a light-haired man, with his back to the viewer, bends down to make a cut with his scythe.

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Detail of mowers, from Cotton MS Julius A VI, f. 6r

On the right side of the image, the artist has created another three characters. A dark-haired man with a short beard has hitched up his tunic to keep it out of the way while he mows, while the balding, clean-shaven man next to him wears his tunic loose. It swings as he steps forward. Fluttering hemlines were a recurring theme in 11th-century English drawings, and this artist made sure to include some frills even when depicting a worker's tunic. My favourite figure in the group, though, is the balding man with a forked beard on the right. He holds a whetstone in his left hand and taps or scratches his head with his right hand. Some days, we all know how he feels!

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Detail of the zodiac sign Cancer, from Cotton MS Julius A VI, f. 6r

In addition to the mowers, this calendar page also features a depiction of the constellation Cancer, the crab. Cancer was one of those zodiac symbols that was subject to many different artistic interpretations throughout the medieval period, as we have discussed in previous calendar pages on this Blog. In the Julius Work Calendar, Cancer is portrayed as a very round creature with pincers, 8 legs and round eyes. Here's how other medieval artists represented Cancer.

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Detail of the zodiac sign Cancer, from the Bedford Hours, France (Paris), c. 1410–1430, Add MS 18850, f. 6r

Add_ms_36684_f007r Cancer
Detail of the zodiac sign Cancer, from a Book of Hours, St Omer or Thérouanne, c. 1320, Add MS 36684, f. 7r

Add_ms_24098_f024r Cancer
Detail of the zodiac sign Cancer, from the Golf Book (Book of Hours, Use of Rome), workshop of Simon Bening, Netherlands (Bruges), 
c. 1540, Add MS 24098, f. 24r

The rest of the page for July contains the usual calendrical information: guides for calculating lunar cycles and the days of the week, as well a poem with a verse for every day. Only one feast day is marked out in July: the feast of St James, ‘the brother of the Lord’, on 25 July.

Cotton_ms_julius_a_vi_f006r St James
Detail of the verses for 25 July and following, from the Metrical Calendar of Hampson, Cotton MS Julius A VI, f. 6r

So, this July, if you are mowing your lawn, remember you part of an ancient July tradition. If you don't have a lawn, there’s always the Digitised Manuscripts site to brighten your day, where you can see this manuscript and over 300 other manuscripts digitised by the The Polonsky Foundation England and France Project.

Alison Hudson 

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30 June 2018

Things you may have missed

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Summer is well and truly here: "Sumer is icumen in, Lhude sing cuccu", as this medieval manuscript so rightly proclaims. As well as enjoying the London sunshine, we have been beavering away on our many projects. Here are some of the announcements you may have missed this month.

Sumer

"Summer has come in, Loudly sing, Cuckoo!": Harley MS 978, f. 11v

Registration for our Manuscripts in the Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms conference is now open. The conference runs from 13–14 December 2018, followed by a graduate symposium on 15 December. The conference runs alongside our exhibition, Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms (19 October 2018–19 February 2019).

Conference

Opening page of the Gospel of St Mark, from the Bury Gospels, c. 1020–1030: Harley MS 76, f. 45r

Sir Robert Cotton's collection of manuscripts has been added to the UNESCO Memory of the World UK Register. Cotton's library, cared for at the British Library, contains many historical and literary treasures of national and international significance, such as Magna Carta, the Lindisfarne Gospels, the only surviving copies of Beowulf and Sir Gawain and the Green Knightand the autograph papers of a number of British monarchs.

Gawain

Some of the greatest works of medieval English literature are preserved uniquely in the Cotton library, among them the only surviving copy of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight: Cotton MS Nero A X/2, f. 94v

600 manuscripts have now been published online by The Polonsky Foundation England and France Project. Together with the Bibliothèque nationale de France, we are also producing a new online viewer, a new interpretative website, and a book about the illuminated manuscripts we have been digitising, among other exciting ventures.

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St Benedict and monks, in the Eadui Psalter: Arundel MS 155, f. 133r 

Our Manuscripts Reading Room is also becoming very busy, If you are travelling from far afield, we always recommend that you check the availability of the manuscripts you wish to see in advance (by emailing mss@bl.uk). Here is some information on how to obtain a reader's pass and on how to access our manuscripts and archives.

 

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21 June 2018

A midsummer milestone

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To mark midsummer, that most magical of days, we have another exciting update from The Polonsky Foundation England and France Project. In a ground-breaking collaboration, the British Library and the Bibliothèque nationale de France have now digitised and published online 600 out of the selected 800 manuscripts. The remaining 200 manuscripts will be made available later this year. To get an idea of the range of manuscripts included so far, we have compiled a list (available in PDF and Excel formats) containing shelfmarks and titles, along with links to view the manuscripts in either Digitised Manuscripts at the BL or Archives et manuscrits at the BnF.

PDF format: Download BL_BnF_600_PolonskyPre1200Project_MSS

Excel format: Download BL_BnF_600_Project_MSS

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St Benedict and monks, in the Eadui Psalter: Arundel MS 155, f. 133r

 

Coming soon:

Our project explores five hundred years of intellectual activity and manuscript production in both France and England. As we move rapidly towards the grand finale in November, here’s a brief recap of what is still to come. In November we launch:

A new joint project viewer to all 800 manuscripts: The project manuscripts will be presented in a new Mirador based viewer being developed by the BnF. The images will be presented in an internationally agreed standard format known as IIIF (International Image Interoperability Framework-format). This means that it will be easier to view and share images from different collections. In the new viewer, you will be able to view multiple manuscripts from either library side by side and therefore virtually unite manuscripts from the collections of the two libraries. You will also be able to download an individual image or a pdf of an entire manuscript. 

A new interpretative website, Medieval England and France, 700-1200: We are also developing a new website, hosted by the British Library, which will feature articles and short films about the manuscripts. These will focus on a wide range of themes, such as history, medicine, music and art. We’ll include interviews with leading experts and several short clips on the various stages of illumination, commissioned from a modern artist and calligrapher. This website will be a virtual exhibition area to explore a selection of our collections, and everything will be presented in both English and French.

Medieval Illumination: Manuscript Art from England and France 700-1200: In addition, we are preparing a book that will present some of the most impressive illuminated manuscripts in the project, illustrated with over 70 full-page colour illustrations. In Medieval Illumination we will alternate between manuscripts made in England and in France in order to present the similarities and differences between the art produced in each country. This book too will be translated and published in French. Both versions will be available by the opening of the Library’s Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms exhibition on 19 October (see below), as a number of project manuscripts will be featured in both the book and the exhibition.

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Rabanus Maurus, De Laudibus sancte crucis: BnF MS latin 11685, f. 5v

 

Other Upcoming Events:

International Medieval Congress 2018, 2–5 July, Leeds: We will be presenting a live update of the project at the Leeds IMC 2018. On Tuesday, 3 July, members of the project teams from both libraries (Laura Albiero, Cristian Ispir and Francesco Siri) will present new research on selected project manuscripts (session 638 at 11:15am). In the evening round table session (with Tuija Ainonen, Alison Ray and Francesco Siri) we will discuss the project itself, the work we do and the different resources we are in the process of creating. This will also be a great opportunity to ask questions or offer comments on this historical collaborative venture (session 938 at 7pm).

Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms: Our readers will also have an opportunity to view some of the original manuscripts in person as a number of them will feature in the upcoming Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms exhibition. The exhibition will be open from 19 October 2018 to 19 February 2019 in the PACCAR gallery at the British Library (tickets are available here).

France et Angleterre: manuscrits médiévaux entre 700 et 1200 conference: We’ll also be holding a three-day conference in Paris to celebrate the project launch, and to present more new research on manuscripts included in the project. Mark your calendars for 21–23 November 2018 in Paris at the Auditorium Colbert (2 Rue Vivienne, 75002 Paris). Free but mandatory registration will be available here.

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The entry into Jerusalem and the Last Supper: Arundel MS 157, f. 8v

 

Manuscripts in the Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms conference, London: To coincide with the British Library’s Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms exhibition, on 13–14 December 2018, the Library is holding a two-day international conference with papers by leading scholars in the fields of history, literature and art history. This will be followed by a one-day symposium for early career researchers on 15 December 2018. Several of the manuscripts digitised as part of the project will be featured in the conference and symposium papers. Delegates are invited to a reception and private view of the exhibition on 13 December. Registration is available here.

Blogs: We will be continuing to blog about interesting manuscripts in the project on both the Medieval Manuscripts Blog, and on ManuscriptaFor inspiring glimpses of individual manuscripts check out the Project on Twitter (using the hashtag #PolonskyPre1200).

 

The Polonsky Pre-1200 Project Team

Follow us on Twitter @BLMedieval

 

Part of the Polonsky Digitisation Project

In collaboration with

BnF logo from BnF website

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27 April 2018

Medieval manuscripts internship

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Thanks to external funding, the British Library is pleased to be able to offer an internship for a doctoral or post-doctoral student in art history, history or other relevant subject to work on The Polonsky Foundation England and France Project: Manuscripts from the British Library and the Bibliothèque nationale de France, 700-1200. As part of this project, 800 illuminated manuscripts made in England and France before 1200 have been digitised. The internship is a six-month position based in the Ancient, Medieval and Early Modern Manuscripts section of the Western Heritage Department at the Library in London.

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The eagle, in a medieval bestiary: Harley MS 4751, f. 35v

The focus of the internship will be to assist the curatorial team in all aspects of the project, particularly in the promotion of it to general and academic audiences in preparation for its launch later this year. Duties may include researching, creating and enhancing our Explore Archives and Manuscripts online catalogue records, and publicising them in blogposts and other interpretative material. This may involve writing or researching short descriptions of manuscripts and groups of manuscripts. During the internship at the Library, the intern will enjoy privileged access to printed and manuscript research material, and will work alongside specialists with varied research interests.

This internship is designed to provide an opportunity for the intern to develop research skills and expertise in medieval history and manuscripts, and in presenting manuscripts to a range of audiences. Previous interns have given feedback that they felt a valued member of the team, gained professional confidence and developed their career by carrying out a ‘real’ job with specific duties.

The programme is only open to students who are engaged actively in research towards, or have recently completed, a PhD in a subject area relevant to the study of medieval manuscripts and who have a right to work in the UK full time.

The term of internship is full time (36 hours per week over 5 days) for 6 months. The salary is £10.20 per hour, which is the current London Living Wage. The internship will start on 30 July 2018 or as soon as relevant security checks have been completed.

To apply, please visit www.bl.uk/careers. Full details of this internship (reference 01982) can be found here.

Closing Date: 20 May 2018

Interviews will be held on 4 June 2018 and it is hoped that the successful candidate will start on 23 July 2018. The selection process may include questions about the date and origin of a particular manuscript to be shown at the interview.

 

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