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Sacra et Profana: Music in Medieval Manuscripts - Education & Exhibits

"Nothing exists without music, for the universe itself is said to have been framed by a kind of harmony of sounds, and the heaven itself revolves around the tone of that harmony."

- Isidore of Seville

Education and Exhibits: The Importance of Collaborative Efforts

For students, working closely with original materials – in this case, medieval manuscript books and leaves – taking part in a highly collaborative, inquiry-based learning experience involving hands-on building of an exhibit is, quite possibly, a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Today, academic special collections departments work to provide as many of these sorts of learning opportunities as possible because of the clear benefits provided to students professors, and librarians alike.

Professor Steinhoff agrees,

"This exhibit was produced in the context of a seminar entitled 'Art Exhibition: Music in Medieval Illuminated Manuscripts,' which engaged the students in all aspects of the creation of an art exhibit. The resources, facilities, and staff of the UH Libraries' Special Collections were indispensable. For many students, this was their first direct experience with illuminated manuscripts. Working with such materials first-hand is an educational experience of rare value; designing and executing an exhibition allows students to further explore thoughts about the ways works of medieval art and culture can be presented to engage and educate others.

"In addition to UH Libraries' Special Collections, the students visited Rice University's Woodson Research Center, another local core collection with significant holdings in medieval music manuscripts. It is a testament to the positive working relationships between UH's and Rice's libraries that the latter's staff members were so helpful in allowing UH students access to the collection and granting all requests for loaned materials for the exhibit. Rice also provided copies of their archived documents for some of the manuscripts."

In addition to these universities, other institutional collections within the City of Houston have graciously lent original materials or facsimiles, thereby strengthening what the exhibit has to offer. The Houston Metropolitan Research Center at the Houston Public Library also counts important medieval manuscript books and leaves among its collections, and four examples enrich this exhibit. The Museum of Printing History owns an important collection of materials relating to the history of the development of print media. A book of Gregorian chant, as well as printing tools from their collections are on display.

While the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston has only a small collection of medieval art, the manuscript leaf facsimile in this exhibit has not been on view at the museum for several years, due to its fragility. Thanks to the Menil Collection, this exhibit offers a special opportunity to see a high quality facsimile of two of it gems. And while houses of religion don't immediately come to mind when thinking about manuscripts, Houston is fortunate to count among its treasures the Kaplan Collection of Judiaca at the Congregation Beth Yeshurun, one of the largest and highest quality Judaica collections – including several Esther scrolls – outside the major U.S. Jewish museums.

Dr. Steinhoff's students are indeed fortunate not only to be in a location with several institutions that hold important medieval manuscripts, but that these institutions have been so generous in granting access to their collections for study and loaning materials for the University of Houston Libraries' Fall 2012 exhibit, Sacra et Profana: Music in Medieval Manuscripts.

Photos from the Class

Blog from the Class

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