Talking skins at the Morgan

It is great to be back on the East coast for what seems to be becoming an annual Easter trip. We first visited the Morgan in April 2014 on the ‘Books and Beasts’ tour and returned last year to collect  some samples and attend the Aldus Exhibition at the Grolier club. This year we have managed to coincide with New York Book Fair and were invited by Maria Fredericks, of the Thaw Conservation Centre, to give an update on the work first showcased back in 2014.Screen Shot 2016-04-06 at 17.58.35There was much to report with the publication of two papers in 2015 which announced the new techniques which enable the nondestructive collection of both collagen and DNA from parchment through next generation sequencing. We were also able to add news concerning further research on the parchment Aldines and printed parchment books across Europe on the basis of sampling work undertaken over the last 12 months and our plans for further data analysis. The speed of development of techniques for analysing the microbial DNA contained in ancient skins through the emerging technologies of metagenomics led to considerations of what it now means to read a text as a material artefact and the implications in terms of traditional humanistic understandings of what constitutes literacy.Screen Shot 2016-04-06 at 18.01.59 We are looking forward to returning to the Morgan later this week to collect data from their collection which is so rich in printed parchment books, and thank everybody there for the invitation and their hospitality. It is always a pleasure to be working in such incredible surroundings and reflecting on the cultural patrimony amassed by the union of culture and business in the industrial centres of the late 19thC.IMG_0409

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