Two W&M Undergrads Leave Their Mark in Study of Spanish Manuscripts

[Original article by Courtney Langley; for the full article, click here]

In November, Greenia took two undergraduate Hispanic Studies majors to the Hill Museum & Manuscript Library at St. John’s University in Collegeville, Minnesota, to begin examining some of the more than 50 Spanish manuscripts he and another professor discovered in the 1990s.

The find, quite literally, fell into Greenia’s hands during a 1994 visit to the library, which is generally considered to be the world’s leader in the photographic preservation of manuscripts. While in the rare books vault, Greenia innocently asked about a roll of sheepskin teetering on a top shelf and leapt to bat it down. It turned out to be a legal document relating to a 14th-century Spaniard suing a monastery over a land dispute. […]

This semester, he took two students from his class on the Medieval Book to explore the collection. James Sylvester ’17 and Alexandra Wingate ’18 had both obtained Student Research Grants through the Roy R. Charles Center for the trip. […]

Sylvester is studying the Leyes de Moros, the law code used to govern Muslim communities in late Reconquest Iberia, as part of his senior honors thesis.

He said he’s long been interested in Islamic culture and has visited Turkey a number of times as well as the Alhambra in Granada during a trip to Spain.

W&M Hispanic studies majors James Sylvester '17 (left) and Alexandra Wingate '18 (right), along with Hispanic studies professor George Greenia, study Spanish manuscripts from the 14th through 19th centuries at the Hill Museum & Manuscript Library. Photo courtesy George Greenia

W&M Hispanic studies majors James Sylvester ’17 (left) and Alexandra Wingate ’18 (right), along with Hispanic studies professor George Greenia, study Spanish manuscripts from the 14th through 19th centuries at the Hill Museum & Manuscript Library. Photo courtesy George Greenia

“It was just incredible to see the Islamic influence on Spanish society,” he said. “Even though the Reconquista is seen as [Christians] taking back what was theirs, it’s interesting to me that the Muslim people had been living there for about 800 years before they were united with Christians under this Moorish law code.”

So Sylvester jumped at the chance to study the Leyes de Moros in real life. The copy in Minnesota is one of only three in existence, with the other two in Copenhagen and Stockholm. […]

Wingate, who is a double major in Hispanic studies and linguistics, focused the bulk of her time in the library on a book of miscellany that had been compiled by a certain Blas Osés in the early 1800s. The manuscript is representative of the time when people copied by hand items they wanted to remember and later bound them into books.

Osés’ book is a true miscellany, containing descriptions of war with Apaches, a history of Napoleon, accounts of fires, poems and an ode to Spanish lieutenant general Antonio Gutiérrez de Otero y Santayana after he defeated British Admiral Horatio Nelson at Santa Cruz de Tenerife, among other entries.

Also in Osés’ book is an account of a 1779 voyage from San Blas, Mexico, to points some 5,000 miles up the West Coast to Alaska, with attending descriptions of the native populations. This intrigued Wingate, she said, because of her research interest in colonization and contact linguistics.

Wingate worked on transcribing Osés’ table of contents, even catching a few errors that Greenia had made years before.

“It was my first big-kid, professional research experience,” she said. “I was looking at a manuscript that few scholars have looked at since 1817.” […]

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Both James Sylvester and Alexandra Wingate kept an account of their research trip in respective blogs: “Manuscripts in Minnesota” (Sylvester) and “Manuscript Research at the Hill Museum and Manuscript Library” (Wingate).

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