Or my favourite local manuscript, anyway. LET ME TELL YOU, O internets, about MS University of Sydney RB Add.Ms. 358!* Today I am almost certainly going to get to see Add. MS 358 again, because I’m taking my tutorial group on an excursion to the Rare Books collection.
Add.MS 358, folks, contains the first European picture of a turkey. Or, at least, a picture of a turkey which the Rare Books librarian tells us is the first but which the catalogue more conservatively calls “certainly one of the earliest illustrations of a turkey”. I don’t suppose anyone’s done a thorough comparative dating of early European pictures of turkeys, which is what we’d need to confirm that.
We do have some pretty nifty manuscripts in the Rare Books room here – there are a couple of gorgeous Hebrew texts, including Ms. Nicholson 37, a 13th c. Yemeni Pentetuech scroll, which the Rare Books Librarian brought out to show my class (no touching!) last semester. And, y’know, we have lots of exciting and important Australian stuff, one of the largest Handel collections outside of the UK, the Chadwick collection (interesting Celtic stuff), and the Deane Erotica Collection (aka. quite lot of Victorian porn)**.
Add. Ms 358 is my favouritest, though, because it’s both very pretty, and yet the kind of thing you only find exciting when you can’t wander into a local church and find the oldest codex in your area just lurking around in a basement.
It’s a processional – a songbook for choristers to carry when processing about, in this case, at Christmas time (and the Feast of the Crown of Thorns, apparently). The catalogue tells me it’s from Spain, ca. 1535-1540; in person, though, Neil Boness (the Rare Books Librarian and indeed, compiler of the MS catalogue) said it was from the Spanish Netherlands. *shrugs* SPANIARDS, anyway. Thus, the turkey. Our friend the turkey is tucked into the corner of the first leaf, along with other christmas-y type images. Which tells you not only that turkeys were known, but they were associated pretty quickly with Christmas! Exciting.
And this is why, when explaining to my students about the expedition – find out about manuscript production, maybe handle some manuscripts, no we don’t have originals or even facsimiles of manuscripts of anything you’re studying, but hey, some of the stuff down there’s pretty cool – I also tell them, with great enthusiasm, that we might get to see a picture of a turkey! And they think I’m a bit weird, but, by this stage in semester, they know to expect that from me.
* Is that how one forms the citation for Sydney MSS? Should ‘Fisher’ (the name of the actual library) be in there somewhere?
** Is it just me, or would it be completely awesome to have that digitised? I’ve only ever seen a few pieces, which they put on display as part of a mini-exhibition on Victorian eroticism, which was mostly taken up with novels and other things which wouldn’t shock people walking past. Geez, why aren’t I doing a thesis on Victorian-era smut, that’d be a brilliant resource to have around!