Past Event

Columbia Material Texts Seminar: Alexis Hagerdorn (Columbia Libraries)

November 27, 2018
5:30 PM - 7:00 PM
Butler Library 523

TITLE: "Writing on Parchment/Reading Parchment: Reconstructing Historical Practices from Text and Material"

SPEAKER: Alexis Hagadorn (Columbia Libraries)

ABSTRACT: Parchment is rarely used as a writing support today, but was ubiquitous in Europe from the early medieval period until the nineteenth century.  While the nuanced work of parchment makers created an enormous variety of textures, thicknesses, and opacities for the many purposes for which their output was required, these artisans did not personally record their manufacturing techniques.  The most thorough descriptions of parchment making were produced in the eighteenth century by non-practitioners as treatises on the mechanical arts. Despite some very deliberate efforts, most of these treatises are still incomplete as instructions.  The work of later manuscript scholars has sometimes also contributed a confounding influence on the understanding of a complex product. Sifting the eighteenth century treatises for meaning, and scanning the surviving physical evidence for clues and confirmation, creates a parallel “reading” that enhances interpretation of this common writing material.

Following the presentation and discussion, participants will have the opportunity to examine examples of parchment documents and manuscripts from the Columbia Rare Book and Manuscript Library.

If you would like to attend the seminar, please email the seminar rapporteur, Sierra Eckert ( for a copy of the paper and details on how to RSVP.

Following both meetings, we will be having dinner afterwards at Pisticci at 7:30pm. Dinner attendees will be responsible for the costs of their own meal.  If you would like to attend, please make sure to RSVP at least one week in advance to the seminar rapporteur ( It is necessary to RSVP even if you are attending the talk only, since rooms are assigned based on the expected number of attendees.