An English/Greek terminology for the structures and materials of Byzantine and Greek bookbinding

Research problem:
To compile a definitive bilingual glossary to describe Byzantine/Greek bookbindings by combining both the existing partial and conflicting terminologies and the new terms necessitated by the St. Catherine's library survey.

Aims and objectives:
The overall objective of the project is the production of a bilingual glossary to describe the structure and materials of Byzantine/Greek bookbinding. Several secondary aims must be achieved for the project to be successful. These are:

* inputting the collected data from the St. Catherine's library survey into a database,
* grouping and structuring the data in the database to produce meaningful entities (terms),
* describing each term with text and drawings,
* reviewing the terminology with recommendations of a group of scholars during organised workshops,
* translating these terms into Greek and
* publishing the complete glossary.

Research context:
Relatively few medieval manuscripts survive in their original bindings. Most have been rebound over the years as result of fashion or wear and tear, with the original bindings removed and replaced with new ones. This is especially true of Byzantine/Greek manuscripts in western collections such as that in the Vatican Library, where scarcely 2% of their Greek manuscripts retain their original bindings [Houlis, 1989]. Surviving manuscripts with their original bindings are therefore historically extremely important. Several orthodox monasteries (e.g. Vatopedi and Iviron monasteries on Mount Athos), where the larger collections of such manuscripts survive, are beginning to catalogue their manuscripts in detail and a major digitising project has also been established (Mount Athos Manuscripts Digital Library). All such projects will need access to a consistent terminology.
The importance of the proposed project is shown by the growing demand internationally for consistent terminologies to support manuscript studies in general, and bookbinding studies in particular (e.g. the international conference La reliure médiévale. Pour une description normalisée organised by the Institut de Recherche et d' Histoire des Textes in May 2003).

Existing studies:
Research into Byzantine/Greek books has hitherto been largely carried out by experts with little knowledge of bookbinding, on specific books selected based on their palaeographic value. Research into the structure of the bindings on these manuscripts has been concentrated on the small numbers which have survived in accessible western collections, and has looked for the most part at the decoration of the bindings [Canart 1991, Goff 1975, Grosdidier 1998, Regemorter 1953, 1967]. The scattered nature of much of this research and the fact that, to many scholars, the bindings have been thought of as somewhat peripheral to their main interests, has led to the use of divergent and sometimes contradictory terminologies. With the exception of a pioneering work in Italian which only describes the 93 surviving Byzantine bindings in the Vatican Library [Houlis, 1989], most of the published research has not concerned itself with the structure and materials of more than a handful of these books, which means that many of the physical features found in these bindings have never been described. Therefore, there is no single terminology which would allow the complete description of a Byzantine/Greek binding. If this is true of the English language, in which much of this research is carried out, it is especially true of Greek, where the lack of a comprehensive terminology is keenly felt.

This project will contribute to the field of Conservation as it will attempt to produce an accurate terminology for Byzantine/Greek bookbinding through the systematic examination of the largest and most important collection of Byzantine/Greek manuscripts in early bindings to have survived, that of the Monastery of St. Catherine. By having such a glossary available:

* descriptions of Byzantine books will be consistent and accurate,
* terms will be defined visually and verbally by the use of both text and drawings,
* the complete vocabularies describing the materials, structures and decoration found on Byzantine/Greek bindings will become a resource for defining the range and diversity of such bindings.

The above will have a significant impact on the conservation of Byzantine/Greek books. The vocabularies will be used as reference material for conservators to describe and explain their work. As well as conservators, the outcome of the project will be extremely useful to other audiences working in relevant fields (palaeographers, archaeologists, librarians, etc.) as it will help to establish a common reference terminology across these fields. Finally the outcome will be useful for experts who use Byzantine books in their studies (including the Fathers) as knowledge of the structure of the book is essential for appropriate handling.

Principal investigator
Professor Nicholas Pickwoad
Principal project staff
Professor Nicholas Pickwoad; Dr Athanasios Velios
Start date
Sunday, May 1, 2005
Completion date
Friday, August 1, 2008
Source material
Bookbinding records from a relational database.