The Mayan Written Word: History, Controversy, and Library Connections

The ancient Mayans were an extensively literate culture, yet there are few Mayan books, or codices, that have survived into the modern era. What has endured is the writing found on Mayan temples and tombs and in a handful of remaining Mayan codices. This article is a history of specific Mayan codices: the Paris Codex, the Madrid Codex, and the Dresden Codex, including a discussion of the controversial Grolier Codex and its rediscovery. Included in this article is an overview of the ancient Maya, describing their culture and history, a background on the Mayan language and writing system, and a short history of Mayan book and papermaking. The microhistory of the Mayan texts lends to a discussion of the significance and value of historical documents in libraries, and the usefulness of facsimile reproductions in libraries and research institute collections. This article also includes a discussion of how libraries have contributed to the history and preservation of the Mayan codices.

Issues in the Rebinding of Medieval Illuminated Manuscripts: Facing the Future, Conserving the Past, and Creating Useable Objects for Today

Illuminated manuscripts present unique conservation problems due to the fragility of their illustrations, both in terms of preservation and accessibility. This article explores the issues inherent in the decision to rebind or keep intact a medieval illuminated manuscript, and generates a rebinding model based around these issues. The article evaluates the conservation policies of a university, a museum, and a private collector in order to compare and contrast their approaches to rebinding, which depend on how they see the work being used in the future. In addition, firsthand accounts and views from the decision makers and the conservators who actually carry out the projects are considered. By synthesizing the evaluations and accounts, a widely applicable binding model is developed, and its structure outlined. An illuminated manuscript is then evaluated using this model as a case study.

"Collect, Preserve, and Communicate”: Jeremy Belknap’s Republic of Letters and the Problems of Early American History Writing

This article focuses on Jeremy Belknap’s design of an archival network in early national America. When Belknap founded the Massachusetts Historical Society in 1791, its mission was “collecting, preserving, and communicating the Antiquities of America.” The early history of archival institutions showed that paper documents were susceptible to damage and loss at any moment, and saving endangered documents was foremost among other historian’s projects. The whole idea of Belknap’s “Republic of Letters” was not to stash away documents in the vaults, but to publish and share their duplicate copies as widely as possible, and thereby to preserve the documentary contents communally. Once the materials were shared and secured, the next step was to unify them into a narrative whole. With an ever-increasing number of printed copies, the task of historians was to reimagine history over and over. The same goes for today’s hyper-diffusion of digitized information. The benefit of online archive is blessing to modern scholarship to be sure, but its immensity somehow overwhelms individual efforts to manage the data overload. The task is to weave one story after another out of growing gigabytes of documents.