A lecture by Alexis Hagadorn (Columbia University Libraries)
Cosponsored by the Institute for Ideas and Imagination
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.
Alexis Hagadorn is the Head of Conservation for the Columbia University Libraries. where she has worked as a rare books and special collections conservator since 1997. She is on the visiting faculty of the Pratt Institute School of Information and Library Science and the Conservation Center of the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University. She has a BA from Barnard College, a Master of Science in Library Service and an Advanced Certificate in Conservation from the Columbia University School of Library Service, and she has worked in rare book conservation at Trinity College Library, Dublin. From 1993 until 1997 she was a Rare Books Conservator and Collections Conservator at Yale University Library. She serves on the visiting faculty of the Mellon Library and Archive Program in the Conservation Center of the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University and has been a Visiting Assistant Professor at the Pratt Institute. Since 2012, she has been a partner in the Ancient Ink Laboratory, a research center within the Columbia Nano Initiative.