Author: Michelle Chesner (page 1 of 3)

Guest Post: Revising Popper: Some Considerations (Fabrizio Quaglia)

Ed. note: When we began our work on Footprints, we quickly realized that William Popper’s Censorship of Hebrew Books was going to be critical to identifying expurgators, and the places and dates where they operated.  Although over one hundred years old, Popper’s seminal work identifies many censors by their dates and locations, and includes images of their signatures in printed books. Kate Cornelius, a student at the University of Pittsburgh, thus created a spreadsheet of the censors found in Popper, and we refer to it constantly in Footprints research. Over time, though, we have found errors and omissions in Popper, and have been able to correct them in the spreadsheet. Fabrizio Quaglia has been a tremendous help in updating our “digital Popper,” and below writes about what he has discovered along the way.

A book is a physical object but not an isolated object. Beyond its content there may be a treasure trove, breathing with the air of time and exuding with the hands of its readers whose written or stamped traces are visible on its pages. The study of provenance of a book can reveal a way of thinking and even dreaming. In case of Hebrew and Judaic books it also assumes the peculiar value of testimony; a faded name in a purchase note written on a torn page can be the only persisting legacy of a lifetime, and library stamps and bookstore stickers often hide stories of suffering and painful migration. Examining such a paper heritage provides new sources to historians of Jewish communities, to scholars in general, to private collectors, and to paleographers, archivists and librarians. All of them should unite their skills, sharing their findings so to get better results.

A particular example of this kind of collaboration can be given by the centuries-long censorship of Hebrew texts, whose traces have come down to us. A historian of Jewish communities of Italy can take advantage of these annotations, discovering the reading habits of indidivuals and movements of a text from one nation to another. Ironically, “thanks” to censorship I detected the presence in Piedmont of an interest in Kabbalah often neglected or even denied. For this reason, it is important to determine correctly the date of a censor-mark.

Reading the signature of a Giovanni Antonio Costanzi or a Domenico Gerosolomitano we must remember that these revisors of Hebrew books were often converted rabbis that abandoned their faith and congregation for a zealous work of censor, sometimes combined to a teaching post where their task was to give to the Catholic church learning enough to convert Jews. The same Gerosolomitano, and also Renato da Modena and others, compiled manuals for the emendation of Hebrew books, where “dangerous” titles and words were detailed. The handwritten Sefer ha-ziqquq is a known example, but there are others as well. I detected a reference to a similar index used in Asti, Piedmont, in a signature belonging to friar Vincenzo de Matelica (born circa 1549), another apostate revisor (and former rabbi).

Some of these expurgators were reported in a fundamental book: The Censorship of Hebrew Books, published in New York in 1899. The work was the doctoral dissertation of William Popper (1874-1963). He was a student at Columbia University where he received degrees of A.B. in 1896, A.M. in 1897, and his Ph.D. in 1899. Professor of Semitic Languages at Berkeley, Popper was one of the greatest figures among American Orientalists, specializing in Hebrew and Arabic studies. The Censorship of Hebrew Books is the fruit of a deep research inside the collections at Columbia, and using the work of other Hebraists, putting in the appropriate context of the signatures he found. It is still deservedly used today as a primary reference book for scholars and librarians in USA, Europe and Israel, but it was written in a period when study of censors’ inscriptions was unavoidably limited to some libraries where photocopying (let alone scans) was not yet possible and few articles and catalogs circulated on Hebrew censorship; in addition his survey was restricted to the signatures he directly or indirectly knew. Above all, he worked in a definitely pre-Internet era. Year after year biographical information on censors has increased:  to name a few examples, we have since learned that:

Petrus de Trevio is also known as Pietro Pichi;

Renato da Modena’s name before he took religious orders was Renato Corradini;

“Gio. Monni” is friar Giovanni da Montefalcone, General Inquisitor of Modena, born Giovanni Ghermignani (d. 1599).

Sometimes we are able to add additional information about expurgators based on material that Popper did not see.  For example, Popper informs us of the stay of the monk Antonio Francesco Enriques as censor in Urbino in 1687.  But he was also in Alessandria as the censor in 1688I found his signature ending with “Aless[andri]a 1688” on several Hebrew manuscripts and books.

Most significantly, perhaps, Popper listed few Italian sources among the authorities he cites (mainly Abraham Berliner, Adolf Neubauer, Moritz Steinschneider and Leopold Zunz). The exceptions are Giovanni Bernardo De Rossi and Isidoro Bianchi’s book Sulle Tipografie Ebraiche di Cremona (printed in 1807). This might explain why his readings of censors’ notes are not always accurate. He studied and traveled in Europe and Near East, but perhaps he never learned Italian. Moreover, the Italian script of XVI-XVIII centuries is not simple to understand because of certain features in calligraphy and abbreviations, a fact that still causes difficulties. Lastly, some censor-marks he included did not belong to expurgators, as I will explain.

All this being said, we contemporaries are all dwarfs on the shoulders of Popper, because he explored an almost unknown land with few companions. Today one just presses a button on a keyboard to send a photos overseas with a blink of an eye. In a digital world it is much easier than before to decipher obscure words comparing and editing images and surfing the internet in search for related information. And websites like Footprints record and connect information on Ashkenazic, Sephardic, Italian and Oriental Hebrew ownership, on Italian, Russian and Polish censorship, as well as owners’ notes in French, Latin, German, and so forth.

For this reason, at the suggestion of Michelle Chesner, I have been compiling short bio-bibliographic records correcting several mistaken names in Popper.  I have been collecting information from published sources at my disposal (mostly in Italian and not well-known to the international scholarly community), checking the original signatures on scanned books and manuscripts, and adding some information on the activities of censors themselves. In some cases I discovered their real identity hidden under the religious dress. Here I will present only some abridged instances of my research among the revisors, inquisitors and notaries that Popper discussed (sometimes erroneously). Many of these findings also have been added to Footprints records.

Sometimes Popper’s interpretation of names comes quite close to the correct reading. Alexander Caius (per Popper) is Alessandro Cari. The correct reading of “Alexandro Cari” was already in The Jewish Encyclopedia, V, p. 652, s.v. “Censorship of Hebrew Books.” Antonio Maria Biscioni, Bibliothecae Mediceae-Laurentianae. Catalogus […] Tomus Primus codices orientales complectens, Florentiae, Ex Imperiali Typographio, 1752, p. 13, had already printed the Latin signature “Alixandro de Cari revedetor [revisor]” that he saw at the end of Cod.Plut.I.15. Moreover A.M. Biscioni, p. 57, indicating Cari’s approbation to Cod. Plut. I.57. In this case it had previously been noticed by Bernard de Montfaucon, Bibliotheca bibliothecarum manuscriptorum nova, I, Parisiis, Briasson, 1739, p. 242. Others have had readings that followed or echoed Popper’s:  Carlo Berneimer, Paleografia ebraica, Firenze, Olschki, 1924, pp. 180 and 399, called him “Alixandro de Cavi.”In Giulio Busi, Edizioni ebraiche del XVI secolo nelle biblioteche dell’Emilia Romagna, Bologna, Analisi, 1987, nos. 63 and 340, he is indexed as “Alixandro de Caij.”

Joseph Ciantas (who Popper inadvertently also called Cronti) is the Dominican friar Giuseppe Ciantes (1602-1670). A similar slight misinterpretation concerned the eighteenth-century friar Paracciani, who Popper read as “Parcicciani.” This name was already correctly reported in A. Berliner, Censur und Confiscation hebräischer Bücher im Kirchenstaate, Frankfurt a. M, J. Kaufmann, 1891, p. 30 (a source that Popper used). In Popper’s entry on “Girolamo da Durallano” the place of origin should be corrected to Durazzano (hence Girolamo da Durazzano), a small town in the province of Benevento in Campania (South Italy). It is an understandable mistake due to the way Girolamo wrote the letter z almost identical to the letter l. This has been corrected by Mauro Perani, Confisca e censura di libri ebraici a Modena fra Cinque e Seicento, in L’ Inquisizione e gli ebrei in Italia, a cura di Michele Luzzati, Bari, Laterza, 1994, pp. 312 and 319, note 75, but even recently I have seen online catalogs with “Durallano”. An image of his signature appears in Footprints. A few others:  “Hier. Carolus” is Girolamo Caratto, inquisitor at Asti from 1566 to 1589; Dionysus Sturlatus is Dionisio Sburlato, “Vic[ariu]s” (meaning “deputy”) of inquisitor Alessandro Longo in Mondovì (in the province of Cuneo in Piedmont). Bartolomeo Rocca di Præterino is Bartolomeo Rocca di Pralormo, inquisitor of Turin from 1588 to 1598 (as well as of Cuneo, Fossano and Nizza Monferrato, all Piedmontese towns).

Rocca di Pralormo’s censorship is often linked to that of friar “Paulus vicecomes”, whose Italian name was Paolo Visconte. He was born in Alessandria, or in some nearby towns in the diocese of Alessandria. “Vicecomes” is his surname and does not mean “vicarius” as Popper thought (p. 89, note 327).

A geographical mistake regards the above-mentioned Alessandro Longo. Popper wrote that he was revisor at Monreale, a place in Southern Piedmont near Asti. So he read in Friedrich H. Bischoff und Johann H. Möller, Vergleichendes Wörterbuch der alten, mittleren und neuen Geographie, Gotha, 1829, p. 763; where, however, it is called Mons Regalis – namely Montreale! Unfortunately the fact that Popper had turned the real name of this town into Monreale has created confusion with the Sicilian town where in truth in the years 1570-1606, when Longo was inquisitor, there were no Jews with books to be censored. For this reason I specified that “Montiregalis” is the old Latin name of Mondovì. This kind of misunderstanding generates a funny situation with respect to Vincenza Suppa. Vincenza is a female name and expurgation was a man’s world. In fact it is Vincenzo Suppa, a man who was “Regio censore in Livorno” from 1825 until 1832, when he was fired from his job for lack of zeal in censoring Italian political texts.

In other cases a well-known name hides under an invented one: Domenico Cacciatore is the 17th-century expurgator Giovanni Domenico Carretto, whose censor’s marks can be found in many Hebrew texts. Popper, who suspected what his true identity was, referred to an article in “Hebräische Bibliographie”, V, 1862, p. 76, note 13, which in turn referred (with similar doubts) to Die handschriftlichen hebräischen Werke der K.K. Hofbibliothek zu Wien, Wien, K.K. Hof- und Staatsdruckerei, 1847, no. 13. Indeed, Popper and the author of the 1862 article were correct in being suspicious of the 1847 catalog which had mistaken the original “visto per me Gio. dominico carretto 1618” in Cod. Hebr. 28 of Austrian National Library, folio 400v. The correct reading can be found in Arthur Zacharias Schwarz, Die hebräischen Handschriften der Nationalbibliothek in Wien, Leipzig, Karl W. Hiersemann, 1925, no. 19.

It is understandable that Popper had troubles with some of the signatures that were more difficult to decipher like “Bernard[us] Nucetus not[ariu]s. SS. Officii Parmae”. Bernardo Noceto was an ecclesiastical notary who endorsed expurgation of Hebrew texts on behalf of the Inquisition in Parma, but Popper read him “Heuesas”. In fact, it was so misinterpreted in recent years as well: see Christie’s, New York, auction catalog Hebrew Printed Books. Duplicates from the Library of The Jewish Theological Seminary of America, Thursday 22 May, 1986, lots 38, 43, 44 (but without certainty in identification); and Edizioni ebraiche del XVI secolo del Centro Bibliografico dell’ebraismo italiano dell’Unione delle comunità ebraiche italiane. Catalogo, a cura di Amedeo Spagnoletto, Roma, Litos, 2007, nos. 30 (signed on 1619), 96a, 240. Another case concerns the preacher to the Roman Jews Gregorio Boncompagni degli Scarinci (d. 1688 at 77). Popper, at p. 139, no. 48, indicated him as Boncampagno Marcelleno, and at p. 145, no. 118, as Marcellino.  His signature “Gregorius Boncompanius expurgator deputatus” is abbreviated, however, in Casanatense Library of Rome, Ms. 2925, f. 162r; see Gustavo Sacerdote, Catalogo dei codici ebraici della Biblioteca Casanatense, no. 61 in Cataloghi dei codici Orientali di alcune Biblioteche d’Italia, VI, Firenze, Stabilimento tipografico fiorentino, 1878. Even more complex is “Nico. de Sorzone.” Popper misread, as did A. Neubauer, Catalogue, I, no. 655, the censorship in Ms. Oxford, Mich. 8. They reported it as “Nico. de Sorzome 1602.” But I have been able to see, thanks to a scanned reproduction, the correct inscription. Thus, on f. 168v, partly blurred, I read “corretto p[er] me gio[vanni] domi[nico] di comissione del M.[olto] R.[everendo] P.[adre] uic:o [= vicario] de sarzana a li 12 feb.[brai]o 1602”; below, partly crossed “Ita e[tiam] fr’ Ang[elu]s Capillus vic[ariu]s s[anc]ti officij”. Hence I found out that the real censor was the unknown Giovanni Domenico da Lodi (Lodi is in Lombardy). He wrote “a” in a very similar way to “o”, consequently Sorzome/Sorzone was intended for Sarzana. Sarzana is a town near La Spezia in Liguria, a seat of a vicariate of Holy Office, whose person in charge (a priest collaborator of the bishop) evidently ordered Giovanni Domenico to expurgate Hebrew texts. The aforementioned Holy Office deputy Angelo Capello was probably the man who had to supervise the expurgations made by Giovanni Domenico in that diocese.  Capello was from Brescia as we learn from his declarations of his birthplace–“de Brixia” in other censored Hebrew manuscripts.

Some censors named by Popper simply never existed, but were created by misunderstanding: Clemente Carretto was actually (once again) Giovanni Domenico Carretto, and Jacob Gentiline was a wrong reading of Jacob Geraldino. In other cases, Popper names real people as censors who were not: the very famous French essayist Michel de Montaigne actually existed but he was not a Hebrew expurgator; Popper wrongly put him in his alphabetical list of censors at the end of his volume. Apparently he read Hermann Vogelstein and Paul Rieger, Geschichte der Juden in Rom, II, Berlin, Mayer & Müller, 1895, p. 172, who read Montaigne’s Journal de Voyage en Italie. Montaigne actually wrote that he attended “a sermon [by Andrea De Monti – he really was a censor] on the Jews on a Saturday afternoon in the Lent period of 1580 in S. Trinità de’ Monti on a Saturday afternoon. He praises the preacher’s keen reasoning, his knowledge of rabbinical literature and the languages used for it.” (Translation from the German is my own).

Popper also twice names a figure named “Mesnil” but knew nothing about him. I was able to discover that he was not an expurgator but a French lawyer at the court of Louis XIV: Gabriel-Jacques Mesnil (1717-1769). The annotation affixed by the official in charge of confiscating the assets of the Jesuits in their sites in Paris, “Paraphé au désir de l’arrêt du 5 Juillet 1763. Mesnil” (“Signed to the desire of the judgment of July 5, 1763. Mesnil”) can be read, although with difficulty, on many manuscripts (I saw some where the note was marginally and vertically inscribed). That sentence did not refer to their expurgation but simply attested that a thousand Western and Oriental (some of them in Hebrew) manuscripts had been taken away to a new destination (abroad).

In MS Oxford-Bodleian Canonici, Or. 90, I read the Italian inscription: “Jo Leone”, followed by the Latin sentence “die 13 Jan[ua]rii 1567 Heb[raeo] Leo recog[nov]it” on f. 2r. Popper found this entry in A. Neubauer, Catalogue of the Hebrew manuscripts in the Bodleian Library, I, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1886,  no. 634, and assumed that Leo was a Jewish censor. But more likely, this means that a Jew named Leone owned the Oxonian manuscript that he “corrected [recognovit],” thus obeying the order of an Inquisitor who in turn reviewed this manuscript during the winter of 1567.  The Inquisitor’s signature immediately follows that of Leone.

Many examples here show the interaction among written sources and scanned images of censors’ marks described at the beginning of my contribution to this blog. Bringing together these scattered sources allowed me to discover the identity of Popper’s “Jos. Parius.” In a sixteenth-century book at Columbia, Popper read “P[ate]r Jos. Franc. Pari[us] Carpi s[anct]ti officij 1604.”  Instead, the correct reading is “Fr[ater] Jo[anni]s Franc[iscu]s Mala[za]pius s[anct]ti offici Vic.[ariu]s”, followed by an unreadable date. Some time ago G. Busi, Libri ebraici a Mantova. I. Le edizioni del XVI secolo nella biblioteca della comunità ebraica, Fiesole, Cadmo, 1996, no. 25, read another footprint of this censor on f. 62v of a 1552 Venetian Hebrew book: “Fr[ater] Io[anni]s Franc[iscu]s Mala[…] Carpi […] 1613”. I ordered a photo of the original page from the Teresiana Library of Mantua and so I found out that it says “fr.[ater] Io[anni]s Franc[iscu]s Malazapius Carpi s[anct]ti  officij Vic.[ariu]s concedit ut […] Carpi [… …. … …] 1613”. It helped me to identify “Parius” as the Minorite Giovanni Francesco Malazappi. He was not properly a Hebrew censor but a theologian, guardian and deputy of Holy Office in Carpi (Modena). In March 1600, Malazappi compiled an inventory of books of his convent in order to to control what friars read, proving his presence in the field of the ubiquitous ecclesiastical censure.

I hope that one day a network will be created, as wide and open as possible to every scholar of involved disciplines, that will bring together databases such as Footprints and also connect them to the institutions that own the material, so that all records can be updated with current research and discoveries.

Footprints and the Study of Early Modern Paleography

Participants in the workshop on early modern Ashkenazic paleography

Over the course of our work on Footprints, we have found many inscriptions that we could not read.  Where possible, we turned to more advanced colleagues for help, and when not, we simply added “can you help” to the footprint record, so others might be able to help us decipher the writing.  We realized, though, that if the reading of early modern Hebrew handwriting was something that was difficult to us, it might be difficult for others as well.  It was with this in mind that we decided to initiate a workshop series on early modern Hebrew paleography.

We decided to begin with Ashkenazic script, with a focus on Central and Northern Europe.  We were very fortunate that the master teacher Dr. Edward Fram, of Ben Gurion University could come from Israel to teach our class, and our call for applicants was met by a wonderfully positive response.

A quill and ink ready for writing

The workshop took place this past Sunday through Tuesday, at both the Jewish Theological Seminary and Columbia University, and it was co-sponsored by many organizations that recognized the deep need for this training, including both Jewish Studies programs and larger institutions (the full list is noted at the end of this post).

Day 1 began with an unexpected note: Dr. Fram handed out quills and ink to all of the participants and asked them to write the aleph bet.  Writing with the same tools as were used hundreds of years ago taught us how and why certain letters would appear in the way that they did.

We then moved straight into the texts, reading and deciphering the various forms: from the “blotchy mem” to the “descending kuf,” the participants learned the key factors in identifying letters written in early modern Ashkenaz.

Dr. Fram describes how to decipher a particularly difficult section of a pinkas, or record book.

Sunday evening featured the four Footprints co-directors discussing “From Scroll to Screen: Revolutions in Jewish Book History,” which addressed the past, present, and future of the Jewish book. (A video of the discussion is available at the link above.)

Monday morning we continued reading the texts. We learned about abbreviations and the best resources to decipher them, as well as common phrases that are peppered throughout the text. Also important was the frequent mixing of Germanic terms with Hebrew ones, and the fact that Hebrew spelling and grammar was certainly not standardized in the way that we might expect it to be today.

The participants then learned about the Footprints project, and got a chance to try out their new skills by working directly with books from Columbia’s Rare Book and Manuscript Library.  After learning how to use the database, participants entered footprints directly into the system, working with each other to identify difficult inscriptions.

Tuesday was the final day of the workshop, when we reviewed the concepts that we had learned, and everyone got a chance to read directly from the manuscripts, showing just how much we had learned in a short time.

We wish to acknowledge the generous support of this event’s co-sponsors:

  • American Academy of Jewish Research
  • Andrew W. Mellon Society of Fellows in Critical Bibliography at Rare Book School
  • Center for Jewish Studies at the CUNY Graduate Center
  • Center for Jewish Studies, Fordham University
  • Department of Jewish Studies, Rutgers University
  • Department of Hebrew and Judaic Studies, New York University
  • Jewish Studies Program, University of Pennsylvania
  • Jewish Studies Program, University of Pittsburgh
  • Jewish Theological Seminary Library
  • Program in Judaic Studies, Princeton University
  • Rabbis Ben Zion and Baruch Micah Bokser Memorial Fund

Guest post: Of Auctions and Collaboration (Anna E. de Wilde)

The below post is by Anna E. de Wilde, PhD candidate within the ERC-funded MEDIATE project based at the Radboud University Nijmegen in The Netherlands and Footprints collaborator. It is also cross-posted on the MEDIATE blog.

For the last few months I was a visiting scholar at Columbia University, under the wonderful guidance of Michelle Chesner. This emerged from a collaboration between Footprints and MEDIATE. Like Footprints, MEDIATE is a Digital Humanities project focusing on book ownership. It seeks to study the circulation of books and ideas in eighteenth-century Europe by drawing on a unique database of eighteenth-century private library auction catalogues. Within this project I focus on auction catalogues that were printed in the Dutch Republic and list private book collections of Jewish owners.

Both projects seek to collaborate with other projects around the world to expand their knowledge and to increase the available data. First of all, we can learn from each other’s challenges in developing and constructing a database. Whereas Footprints focuses on Jewish books, within MEDIATE Jewish books are a small part of a broader project. This different focus results in other questions. It was thus a great opportunity for me to be involved in a Digital Humanities project grounded in Jewish scholarship. For example, I was interested to learn how Footprints tackles the issue of Hebrew books that are known by different titles and how to find pragmatic solutions to issues of title variants. This was especially true concerning she’elot u-teshuvot, pirushim, and Bibles – which Footprints organized under the umbrella of a literary work.

To familiarize myself with the database and understand its fundamentals, I searched Columbia’s collection in search of unknown owner’s marks to add as footprints. Going through this rich collection was a real treat and I would like to share two interesting finds. First, in a copy of Tseror ha-Hayyim (Amsterdam, 1738) I found the handwritten annotation by Barukh Almanzi stating that he bought this book from rabbi Raphael Isaiah Azulai of Ancona – and what’s more – it tells us that he purchased it in the year 5576/1816. This is an important detail, because until now, no date had been known for this transaction of books that once belonged to Raphael Isaiah’s father Joseph David Azulai  (also known as the HIDA), and of which Columbia’s Judaica collection has many more books. [Ed. Note: Yisrael Dubitsky at the National Library of Israel pointed out that Benjamin Richler’s Guide to Hebrew Manuscripts, 1st edition, cites Meir Benayahu’s book on the HIDA from 1959 which lists the date of the sale.  I (Michelle) did not know of this article until after Anna’s find.]

Another interesting find was in a copy of Midrash Shoher Tov (Prague, 1613). While this book has several owner’s marks on the title page, it got especially exciting when I encountered an annotation on fol. 7r. It states the following: אני מרים בת הרב המופלג מהורר אברהם יצו שליען, loosely translated as ‘I Miriam daughter of rabbi  Abraham Schlein’. It is a rare Footprint for the fact that Miriam, as a woman, left a mark on the book that passed through her hands. Did Miriam own this book or should we list her as a viewer of the book that might have belonged to her father?

Although these finds are a side note of my own research, it was relevant to work in Footprints for another aspect of our collaboration: the exchange of data. Whereas MEDIATE’s database is created around a single set of sources – that is, private library catalogues – Footprints uses a large variety of sources. While both projects have their own focus, they also complement one another. The sources for my research are also a rich source for possible Footprints. The eighteenth-century auction catalogues I study provide us with the lists of the books collected and owned by (mostly) Dutch Jews. So, it does not concern owner’s marks in physical copies of book, but rather ownership based on another historical source, i.e. auction catalogues. These Footprints are therefore indicated as ‘historical copies’. Thereby, I should note that most of the lot descriptions state very little information – with often only a title of a work. To have sufficient information for a Footprint, I have been trying to match those lots to imprints wherever possible.

From another perspective, the books listed were sold at auctions and through this second hand book market scattered over The Netherlands and the rest of Europe. Therefore we might be able to find traces of these books after these auctions through Footprints, and thus can link certain lots of eighteenth-century auctions to physical copies. For example, in the most recent blog post by Chaim Meiselman, I was delighted to see the name of David Nunes Torres, rabbi of a Portuguese Jewish community in the Dutch Republic. He owned a rich collection that was auctioned in 1728 in The Hague. While we encounter him in this case not in the capacity of an owner, it shows great potential for other connections.

And, indeed, in the database I came across several Footprints that can be linked to specific lots within an auction catalogue listing the collection of the famous poet and scholar Solomon ben Joel Dubno (1738-1813). On the 13th of July 1814, his collection was auctioned in Amsterdam, where he had lived for the last two decades of his life. One of these Footprints can be found in a copy of Levi ben Gershon’s commentary on the Torah (Venice, 1547), held nowadays by Eli Genauer. The upper part of the title page bears the signature of Solomon Dubno, which shows how he referred to himself in Hebrew: שלמה מדובנא, Solomon of Dubno, the place he was born.

Accordingly, I found in the catalogue of his collection under Folio lot 349 (p.10) the following entry:

דיטא [פירוש רלב”ג על התורה] ד”ו [דפוס ויניציא]

Although only the place of imprint is stated, and not the date or any copy specific information, I would argue that it most likely concerns here the above copy. The auction catalogue, in turn, also has handwritten annotation of buyers and prices. Lot 349 was bought by a certain I. Grobety for 1.16 [florins]. Accordingly, two additional Footprints can be linked to this specific copy; for the sale of the collection at Amsterdam, and for I. Groberty’s acquisition of the book.

In conclusion, a collaboration between projects like Footprints and MEDIATE not only provides us with the opportunity to enrich the databases, but it also makes it possible to reconnect historical collections that only exist in an early modern catalogue to physical copies scattered around the world, and vice versa.

Guest post: Of Printers and Footprints (Chaim Louis Meiselman)

The below post is by Chaim (Louis) Meiselman, Judaica Special Collections Cataloger at the University of Pennsylvania Libraries and a Footprints contributor.

Printer’s signatures and marked copies are something which needs attention, and through the Footprints project I have been able to see signatures and marks – something usually reserved for manuscripts and manuscript culture – from the printers of the books – those whose mark is usually left only via the press.

Print culture and manuscript culture differ mainly in this way – print culture disseminates similar or identical items, while manuscript culture is a focused, unique item; the bridge between them is provenance marks, creating a unique copy and an object for study as a singular item.

However, what if a volume has manuscript inscriptions from a printer? This appears to be its own genre of printed work – that of a printer’s association copy.  Additionally, we know printers through their printed work; for example, we know the Soncinos through the renowned volumes printed in Rimini and Naples. However, are there printers that are known through a manuscript sort of mark, like a signature, colophon, note, or other marking?

Here are a list of some which I’ve seen through the Footprints project:

The signature and long poem of Paulus Fagius. Fagius printed in the town of Isny im Allgäu in Bavaria in Germany. he is well known in the history of Hebrew printing as the publisher and printer who worked with Elia Levita in Isny to print Levita’s works (including the meturgeman and the Bovo Bukh). A volume of the Meturgeman now held at the University of Pennsylvania Rare Book and Manuscript library has a manuscript poem written by Fagius in 1541 just after the copy came off the press, gifting the volume to his teacher, Wofgang Fabricius Capito of Strasbourg. Fagius uses an Ashkenazic cursive hand typical of the 16th century; I think that his dedication shows that he had learned (almost certainly from Levita) how to write a Latin-esque dedication in rabbinic Hebrew. Capito died in November 1541; I’m not certain he received the volume or ever got to see it; but here we see an example of manuscript writing from a famous character in the history of Hebrew printing.

The signature of David Nunes-Torres. Nunes-Torres was an editor, scholar, and type corrector who worked with Joseph Athias in Amsterdam. Torres corrected a set of Shulhan ‘arukh and Maimonides’ Yad ha-hazakah during the first years of the 18th century. He also was a hakham and had a large library of his own, which sold the year after he died. A copy of the Bible printed 1700-1705 in Amsterdam, has his signature under a printed poem; this volume is now in the collection of Archbishop Marsh’s library in Dublin.

The signature of Samuel d’Archivolti. R. Samuel ben Elhanan Ya’akov d’Archivolti (1515-1611) was a grammarian, poet, and scholar who served as a type-corrector and editor on a number of volumes. He worked at the de Gara, Parenzo, and Bragadin printing houses between 1565 and 1602. He was the author of many works, including  Ma’ayan Ganim and ‘Arugat ha-bosem, and a teacher of Leon de Modena. In a copy of the Sefer ha-‘ikarim (printed in Venice, by Cornelius Adelkind, 1543; today in the Brisman Collection at Washington University in St. Louis) d’Archivolti signs and dates his signature to 1548.

The signature of Shmu’el Böenft Shnur : Schnur was the printer of Fürth before 1728.  He began printing during the later 1680s. He was a Talmud hakham, a respected Torah scholar, and had the title of מו”צ (Mo”ts; Moreh tsedek) in addition to being a printer. He mostly printed editions of great rabbinic works: the editio princeps of the Beit Shemuel on the Shulhan ‘arukh Even ha-‘ezer (1726); a reprint of a commentary on Shulhan ‘arukh Hoshen ha-mishpat called Me’irat ‘enayim in 1691; other rabbinic works such as Naftali sova ratson, sermons on the order of the parshiyot (written by Naftali Hertz Guenzberg) printed 1713; Ma’aseh Hiya by R. Hiyya ha-Rofe of Safed (1726); and an expanded edition of the Nahalat shiv’ah, halakhic novellae on the halakhot of Gitin and Kidushin (1724). His printer’s device was a lone tree in a field. A copy of R. Avraham Saba’s Tseror ha-mor (printed in Venice, 1567, by Giorgio de Cavalli), now at the Baltimore Hebrew University Collection at Towson University, is inscribed by Schnur’s son, Zalman Schnur, and indicates the volume was inherited from his father.

The signature and deed of sale by Gershom Soncino. Gershom (also known by Hieronymus or Girolamo) Soncino is the most prominent printer of Hebrew incunabula. Soncino printed in (Italy) Soncino, Naples, Barco, Pesaro, Brescia, and Rimini (among others); (Greece) Saloniki and (Turkey) Constantinople. A bill of sale on a volume of the Sefer mitsvot ha-gadol at The Library of Congress Rare Book Collections, printed in Soncino in 1488, is written and signed by Soncino on the occasion of his selling the volume to a Mosheh Diena, with the stipulation to not resell the volume within 2 years of his signature.

Finally, two small other items from families of printers. A poem by a Moses Benjamin Foa appears on a volume of Mahzor minhag Roma, printed in Bologna in 1540, now in the collection of Columbia University Libraries. This may have been a relative of the Foa printers of Venice, including Isaac Foa, who printed there during the 18th century.

A miniature printing of the Mahzor, printed in Prague during the 1830s (the exact date of printing is unknown), a signature appears across multiple leaves – that of Yedidiah Shelomoh Bak of the Bak family in Prague. This volume is today in the Baltimore Hebrew College collection at Towson University.

Non-printed marks that printers left in printed books is a field that still needs more attention, and as more examples of this genre are added to the Footprints database, we will have a broad range of primary sources to draw upon for this work.

Guest Post: A Stick Plucked From The Fire (Eli Genauer)

Eli Genauer is a collector and contributor to Footprints.

There is a fellow in my synagogue named Menachem who travels the world as a software consultant. He loves talking to me about my old books and even helps me with inscriptions which are in Polish or Russian.

Menachem was recently in Warsaw and decided he wanted to bring me a book as a present. He found an antiquarian bookstore, and asked (in English) if they had any old Hebrew books. The owner said no, so he asked again, but this time in Polish. A sales person overheard and she thought they might just have one. It took them about 15-20 minutes of looking but they finally found the one Hebrew book in the store. It was down in the basement. What a book it was! It was missing the title page, but it had this colophon at the end of the first section.

As you can see, it is the ספר הלבוש, the portion called לבושׁ התכלת on the first part of אורח חיים. The book also contained לבוש החור on the latter portion, and it included the commentary of אליה זוטא. The book was printed in Prague in 1701 and is the first time אליה זוטא appears.

I was able to access the missing cover page which was scanned from the holdings of the Columbia University library.

I checked some of the earlier editions of the Levush and all contain wonderful printed diagrams especially concerning the laws of ראש חודש and עירובין. This edition did away with the diagrams and left blank spaces in their place.  Someone drew in the missing diagrams in my copy from 1701 but they are lacking some of the detail of the printed drawings contained in the first edition (Prague 1609)

Here is an example from סימן תכ״ז הלכות ראש חודש

1701 edition

1609 edition

There are two ownership marks inside the book.

One is handwritten:

ספר הלבוש הלז שייך למו״ה צבי שרגא וויינדיצקי פה ק’ק מלאווע

“This book, Sefer HaLevush, belongs to Zvi Shraga Vynditzki of Mlawa” (Mława – is a town in north-central Poland, capital of the Mława County, situated in the Masovian Voivodeship.)

The second ownership mark is a stamp:

שמואל דוד יאקובאוויטש

לובלין, שעראקא 16

Szmul Dawid Jakubowicz

Lublin, Szeroka 16 – Book Number 657

Who was Szmul Duwid Jakubowicz?

From the Yad Vashem website:

Szmul Duwid Jakubowicz was born in Biala Podlaska, Poland in 1892 to Chaim and Tzivie. He was a Contador (accountant/bookkeeper) and married to Chawe. Prior to WWII he lived at 16 Szeroka street in Lublin, Poland. During the war he was in Lublin, Poland.

Szmul Duwid was murdered in the Shoah.

This information is based on a Page of Testimony submitted by his daughter. According to her testimony, Shmuel Dovid was killed in Majdanek in 1942.

Shmuel Dovid did not survive the Holocaust. This book that belonged to him that he so lovingly catalogued, ended up in the basement of an antiquarian bookstore in Warsaw. It was found due to the efforts of a man who persisted in trying to find a lost Hebrew book in Poland. Hopefully, bringing its story to light will give a sense of life to Shmuel Dovid and the other millions of lives lost in the Holocaust.

Editor’s note: A week later, Chaim Meiselman, another collector and contributor to Footprints, reached out to let me know that he has a record of the same man in his own collection!  The footprint is here: https://footprints.ctl.columbia.edu/footprint/3630/

Ed. note March 6, 2020: Eli Genauer was able to identify an heir to the book! Dr Samuel Jakubowicz Of São Paulo, Brazil is named after Shmuel Dovid, the owner from whom the book was stolen.

Footprints updates 2018-2019

We are pleased to report on the progress of Footprints over the last year.  The past year has been full of scholarly, professional, and technical activity that has continued to propel Footprints forward. Here are some highlights:

First and foremost, the scholarly agenda of Footprints is proceeding apace.  The number of footprints in the database continues to grow, furnishing students and scholars with a larger source for inquiry and analysis. The ongoing growth of the database is due in large part to the partnerships with libraries in North America, Europe, and Israel and their staffs, as well as the work of individual researchers at different stages of their academic trajectories who continue to engage with the project. Beginning this fall, Dr. Lucia Raspe is bringing her expertise in early modern book culture to the University of Frankfurt Library to collect footprints from the world-renowned collection.

You may recall that in a  previous letter we announced that we would be directing our energies toward capturing as much information as possible about a finite set of books: incunabula. Our Footprint count for incunabula alone comprises 20% of the total dataset, (interestingly, the same percentage as last year, which means that the entries for other publications continue to grow steadily as well). We are working with the dataset compiled by our partners in the MEI project and should be able to ingest that data soon.  There are still fascinating incunabula held in small numbers in collections across the US, Israel, and Europe, and we are continuously working to make sure our dataset is as comprehensive as possible.

Engagement of students and wider audiences remains a priority for us.  We are looking forward to bringing together a select group of applicants for training in paleographical skills to work both on their own projects and to contribute to Footprints. In February 2020 we will be conducting a three-day workshop on early modern Ashkenazic paleography that will be led by Dr. Edward Fram from Ben Gurion University.  Following the workshop in February 2020, we plan a series of webinars, bringing in additional experts to train people in other scripts from different regions of the world. The call for applications is already up and we are starting to hear from interested applicants.

Our programming and growth are supported in part by external funding measures and in-kind donations. The American Academy of Jewish Research,  the Rare Book School at the University of Virginia, The Jewish Theological Seminary, CUNY Graduate School, Fordham’s Center for Jewish Studies, and additional Jewish Studies programs are supporting our paleography workshop.

Our programmers are hard at work at making the site more efficient and user-friendly.  A partnership with DICTA at Bar-Ilan University is working to enhance our search capabilities to allow for results in multiple character sets and languages, and will go a long way toward making our search interface accessible to international audiences.  Additionally, the staff at Columbia’s Center for Teaching and Learning are preparing a new visualization interface which will depict the riches of the database on maps that can be used in classrooms and for individual research projects.  We look forward to its unveiling in the coming months!

EARLY MODERN HEBREW PALEOGRAPHY WORKSHOP, Feb 9-11, 2020 

Call for Applications: 

EARLY MODERN HEBREW PALEOGRAPHY WORKSHOP, Feb 9-11, 2020 

Footprints: Jewish Books through Time and Place, in conjunction with the Jewish Theological Seminary, invites applicants to participate in a three-day workshop in New York City devoted to the study of early modern Hebrew paleography . 

This three-day intensive workshop in New York (February 9-11, 2020) will train students as well as early career scholars of early modern Jewish history in paleography and the analysis of manuscript annotations in printed books. 

During this workshop, participants will engage in an intensive study of early modern Ashkenazic Hebrew hands. They will also be introduced to Footprints provenance project. The first workshop will be led by Dr. Edward Fram (Ben-Gurion University of the Negev) and will take place in the newly re-opened rare book room at the Jewish Theological Seminary. Fram is a specialist in early modern European Jewish history and focuses on Eastern and Central Europe.  

This workshop is the first of a series of sessions for training in reading handwriting in Hebrew characters from the early modern period.  We are hoping to build a cohort that will participate in webinars and a second follow-up workshop covering additional scripts in 2020. There is no charge for the workshop for those accepted to the program. Those accepted should commit to full attendance for the three days. Participants must also be willing to become (if they are not already) participants in the Footprints project as contributors of incidental findings to the database as they do their own research (trusted scholar-sourcers). For more information on the Footprints project, see here: https://footprints.ccnmtl.columbia.edu/

Participants are responsible for their own travel and lodging, but subsidies are available for students and early-career scholars as funds allow. Kosher meals will be provided during the workshop. Space is limited.

Support for this workshop and training program has been provided by the American Academy of Jewish Research, Rare Book School, Columbia University Libraries, the Center for Jewish Studies at the CUNY Graduate Center, the Department of Jewish Studies at Rutgers University, Fordham’s Center for Jewish Studies, the Institute for Israel and Jewish Studies at Columbia University,  the Jewish Theological Seminary, the Program in Jewish Studies at Princeton University, and the Ben Zion and Baruch Michah Bokser Memorial Fund.

To apply, please send a brief letter of interest including current and future research projects; and a current CV.  Those requesting subsidies should also send an itemized budget for travel and lodging, including other funds available and applied for. Graduate students, please list the name and e-mail for one reference. Send material (and questions about the program) to: footprints@columbia.edu

Deadline for applications:  Friday October 11.   

Guest Post: Rare Volumes in the Towson University – Joseph Meyerhoff Collection

Examples of Inscriptions, Censorship, Provenance, and Reconstruction
By: Chaim Meiselman

In this forum I hope to share some of the items and history I’ve uncovered at the Meyerhoff Collection at Towson University.

Along with my work of cataloging and describing the items in this collection, I have been collecting data about each books to add to Footprints. Below, I will share a selection of the items from this collection that I’ve shared with the Footprints project.

The Joseph Meyerhoff Collection is the product of the decades-long building of a rare Hebraica library: first at an institution known throughout the years as the Baltimore Teachers College, Baltimore Hebrew College, and Baltimore Hebrew University, and as of 2009, in its current location at the Towson University-Meyerhoff Collection.

  1. In April of 2018, I added a volume of Tseror ha-Mor by Abraham b. Jacob Saba, printed at Venice in February 1567 [1] by Giorgio de Cavalli. This is the third printing of this literary work.

There is much evidence on this volume. Its footprints describe almost the entire life of this copy of the Tseror ha-Mor until its assumption into the Meyerhoff Collection.

The book includes the inscription of three generations of Parnasim and publishers of Hebrew Books in Fürth at the opening of the 18th century. Beginning with the ownership of Shmu’el Böenft Shnur (perhaps derived from the French “Bon Fit”, a translation of the Hebrew name “Yakar”), this volume was passed to his son Zalman, a prominent cantor and preacher at Mainz. Joseph son of Zalman received the volume after his father. A further Footprint with a long inscription describes a later owner who also carried the surname of this family of printers.

  1. The Meyerhoff collection includes books which carry the inscriptions of the “שלש קהלות”, the Tripartite Communities of Altona-Hamburg-Wandsbek; these inscriptions provide insight to the literary and bookselling environment of these communities.

Here is the inscription on the title of our copy of ‘Livyat Ḥen’ by Efraim b. Shmu’el Zanvil Hekscher, printed in Altona 1732-33 [2]:

The author of the volume, Efriam Hekscher, was a prominent figure on the Altona Bet-Din, along with the head of the Tripartite Community, Yehezkel Katzenellenbogen.  The former was the publisher of the latter’s responsa. Katzenellenbogen’s books were printed at Altona, and because of this evidence within this copy, we can see them traveling to the other communities of the Tripartite.

Here is the Footprint describing the movement of the volume: from the author to his son to a Parnas in Wandsbek. The inscriptions indicate that the receiver gave it to his son as an inheritance.

  1. Our copy of Menorat ha-Maor, published in 1824 in Slavuta, Ukraine by the Shapira brothers, was among  the books at the Offenbach Archival Depot during the Second World War. Previous to that, it was a gift (as a newly printed volume) to the Av-Beth-Din of “Brisk” (Best-Litovsk, Belarus), Avraham Katzenellenbogen.

  1. Our copy of Maʻaśeh ḥoresh ṿe-ḥoshev, published in 1711 in Frankfurt, begins on its page of Haskamot (approbations)[3]. This volume is a small Yiddish book written to teach mathematics and arithmetic, and carries tables of the exchange rates and some prices of items that would’ve interested a Jewish merchant.

Our copy is bound in its original boards and heavy leather binding, which withstood travel and heavy use.

It contains two inscriptions by the same owner: one in German at the rear and one in Hebrew at the front. These inscriptions record the buyer’s purchase of the volume for a friend, or perhaps for his father. The buyer records his travel from Poland to Peckelsheim, then a hamlet in Westphalia, Germany, using sentimental (and maybe once accented) German; it is noted in his inscription that he traveled from Poland to Germany.  Perhaps he was a merchant, interested in exchange rates for Frankfurt and Holland (shown).

  1. Finally, I cataloged a copy of Jacob b. Asher’s Arba’a Turim, published in Augsburg in 1540, by Hayyim Shahor. Our copy is white and fresh, and the beautiful fonts and inks are in excellent condition.

There are pages in this volume which are censored, and some heavily, such as on  these leaves in Hilkhot ‘Avodah Zarah:

Appended to the end of the Towson copy are manuscript leaves roughly contemporary to the imprint. These leaves are water damaged; they have a stab-opening which pierced through all of the manuscript leaves. At the heading of the leaves is a damaged leaf in Polish script, which once belonged to a ledger, likely of a bookseller.

The volumes which make up the collection of rare books in the Joseph Meyerhoff – Towson University Collection have journeyed through many paths to reach their present home. Evidence of travel, war, the Holocaust, and American Jewish Studies has traveled with the volumes and continue to accompany them; the Footprints Project has given us a platform to trace and organize the provenance of these volumes.

[1]   The exact date of printing is contradictory between the title information and that on the colophon. The title reads ’Shevat 327’, i.e. Feb. 1567, while the colophon reads ’ … today, sixth day (Friday), 5326 (1566)’ but does not include the month.

[2] Work started at the beginning of Elul (August-September) 1732, finished “Bekhi-Tov” Shvat (January) 1733. Likely “Bekhi-Tov” is referring to the closing of the month.

[3] It carries the approbations of Naphtali ha-kohen Katz (1649-1718) of Frankfurt, dated Tuesday 8 Tevet 1710;  Samuel ha-kohen Schotten of Darmstadt, dated Friday, parashat Vayigash, 1710; and Hirsch Spitz Sega”l of Worms, dated Thursday 10 Tevet 1710.

Guest Post: Footprints as an Effective Collaborative Crowd-Sourcing Project

Miryam Gordon is a student in Johns’ Hopkins’ Museum Studies program.  Miryam completed a digital curation internship, during which she worked on all aspects of Footprints.  She has generously shared her final thoughts and feedback on the project, and has allowed us to reproduce a portion of it here.

Collaboration is a necessary ingredient for effective scholarship and creation of new knowledge. While collaboration has long been in use, the innovation behind Footprints is the digital aggregation of multiple bodies of data regarding Jewish book circulation into one location. Libraries and information that have been scattered around the world are being virtually reunited through the project. Footprints has managed to become an effective model due to its community approach, transparency, accessibility, and flexibility. While the project may not yet be perfect in all areas, it had been set up with systems and policies in place that are causing it to be effective in each of these areas.

  1. Building an Engaged Community

Success in Digital Humanities comes from an understanding that scholarship is a social undertaking. Current technological advances can be used to “share and exchange skillsets, continuous change, and collective decision making” (Chesner, Lehman, Shear, & Teplitsky, 2018). From its founding, Footprints has been a collaboration between scholars at Jewish Theological Seminary, Columbia University, University of Pittsburgh, and Stony Brook University. The advisory board consists of historians, scholars, librarians, and other experts from institutions such as Queens College, Oxford University, University of Pennsylvania, Princeton University, Jewish Historical Museum, and the National Library of Israel (Footprints, n.d., “Credits”). In addition to individuals from these institutions, even before the site’s creation the directors had many conversations with other experts to gain their feedback and even conducted beta testing to ensure that everything was working appropriately. Interest in Footprints has risen due to conversations at conferences and on social media. As interested parties hear about Footprints and its purpose, they recognize its value in making previously hidden collections widely accessible.

Footprints’ success relies on a vast network of invested contributors. If only those that were initially involved were the ones contributing, the database would not go anywhere. It relies on a community of users to get to a truly valuable critical mass. Footprints has an increasingly growing list of institutions and scholars around the world that are working to add data to the site. Its directors encourage colleagues and scholars to add information, as well as encouraging professors to teach using the repository to build continued interest and involvement (Lehman, 2016). Footprints is working with libraries and institutions from all over the world to capture and upload information from their books and other resources to the site. Examples include: Leo Baeck Institute, Russian State Library, Washington University, Archbishop Marsh’s Library, Library at the Katz Center for Advanced Jewish Studies at University of Pennsylvania, Yeshiva University Library, and the Material Evidence in Incunabula Project at Oxford. There are over fifteen individual scholars and researchers listed on Footprints’ site as having worked on the project in some capacity (Footprints, n.d., “Credits”). Contributors to the project have been varied and located across the world.

Without encouraging and supporting these users and contributors, Footprints would not have seen the success that it has to this point. However, the project directors still need to work on creating a centralized method of communication between contributors. While many individuals and institutions are actively working on the project, they would benefit from a centralized place to communicate and share insights. Footprints’ blog and twitter feed are places where this does occur, but that is controlled exclusively by the project’s directors. Some user-generated content would encourage said individuals and give them a stake in the process of building the repository. Perhaps a discussion board or a comments section under the records would be helpful in this down the line. (Ed. note: We do have a Google Group for Footprints contributors, but we could do better in promoting and encouraging its use)

  1. Transparency

Footprints is touted as a scholarly project and so it is essential for it to be transparent to be trusted and taken seriously. Each footprint record cites the evidence from which it is derived. If users wanted to, they could easily view the source from which the contributor determined that information (Footprints, n.d., “How to Enter a Footprint”). To address those that are skeptical about the idea of crowdsourcing, Footprints takes its data integrity seriously by training and supervising its contributors. Once data is entered, the directors have a formal moderation structure in place to ensure quality control (Chesner, Lehman, Shear, & Teplitsky, 2018). When records have errors or do not confirm to standards in some way, they can be flagged manually or automatically for more experienced users to view and moderate. Without clean and accurate data, Footprints is nothing so this point is especially important to its founders and contributors.

  1. Accessibility

The entire purpose of Footprints is to make otherwise inaccessible data accessible to the public. Therefore, Footprints is an open-source and open-access tool. Its source code is easily available on Github and can freely be copied, distributed, and modified, as long as the changes are tracked in the source files. The data that is available on the site is held under a Creative Commons Attribution + Share Alike 4.0 License. This means that it can be freely copied, distributed, and modified. Attribution to the original author and changes must be tracked in the source code (Footprints, n.d. “Frequently Asked Questions”). Scholars are choosing to add their newly researched information to Footprints, rather than saving it for their own publications, because they see the value in the “trusted crowdsourcing model” of Footprints (ibid.). The new data is able to be put to use immediately and users are able to frame research questions as well as use the database to answer their questions. Footprints allows for an immediate give and take by scholars regarding the research they have done or want done.

While the data from individual records is available, improvements can be made to make it more easily and intuitively findable. Advances can also be made to put the material into its context, with historical backgrounds, timelines, and biographies included on the site. This would truly make the data accessible and easy to understand by those that may not be experts in the field.

  1. Flexibility

Footprints’ openness to technological experimentation with different platforms and media for ingesting content has contributed to its success since inception almost ten years ago. What grew out of a conversations among experts has become a worldwide project due to the project’s willingness to adjust as situations demanded. It is often assumed that crowdsourcing projects start out well and then stagnate, but if the developers move with the project then they can be successful for longer terms. Footprints has a focus of Jewish books that were published from the late 1400s until the 1850s, but the project is flexible with the definition of Jewish books, as well as those dates when specific situations warrant. The project directors have chosen to focus the year 2018 on incunabula to develop that area of the database, while also adding data related to other texts when pertinent (Shear, 2017). They are committed to ingesting as many footprints as possible and will look for incunabula first, but will not stop there.

Footprints is set up to allow for micro and macro data to be added to allow for as many types of uploads as possible. Larger institutions can add their data by using the batch upload option, while individual scholars may choose to input information piece by piece (Chesner, November 2016). The various methods for adding information show Footprints’ commitment to as many types of contributors as possible. They welcome contributions from these large institutions, smaller archives, private collections, as well as single pieces of data that scholars and librarians come across through their own research. By casting a wide net for contributions, Footprints is allowing the project to grow and develop organically.

Conclusion

The study of the Jewish book is a perfect example of a field that benefits significantly from a collaborative crowd-sourced model such as Footprints. The scholarship is so dispersed that a united approach to gathering that information will result in increased knowledge regarding the Jews who owned these books and the world in which they lived. Footprints has managed to continuously build an effective model for collaborative crowdsourcing by combining the best ideas for a successful model and plans for future improvements. The co-directors have developed the project by building a community around it, by ensuring that their data and its sources are transparent, that users have access to the information that is being collected, and that there is room for growth and flexibility in their future plans. As Footprints continues to develop and expand its coverage, it will be fascinating to watch the new insights that are learned about the historical time period it covers and their implications for today.

 

The missing Breslau incunable

As we have mentioned time and again in the last seven months, we have been working hard in 2018 to gather data on the movements of Hebrew incunabula (that is, books produced from the invention of moveable type until the year 1501).  As of today, we have 1226 records for books from this era, and the data continues to grow. We have already ingested data from the Jewish Theological Seminary’s extensive collection, the collection at Yeshiva University, the University of Pennsylvania, and many others.  Still more are in process, and will be added soon to our corpus.

One of our in-process batches is based on Dr. Adri K. Offenberg’s list of Hebrew incunabula missing after World War II.  Dr. Offenberg painstakingly scoured lists of pre-WWII European collections to find incunabula, and followed up with those that remained extant to find what was lost.  Unfortunately, many libraries (and their caretakers) had been destroyed, and their collections scattered to the four winds.  One of these collections was the library of Jewish Theological Seminary in Breslau (modern-day Wrocław, in Poland), and some of its items have been appearing in Footprints search results.

To my delight, one of these was an incunable, the commentary of Abraham ibn Ezra on the Bible (Naples, 1488), and one of the books listed as missing in Dr. Offenberg’s list!  The book can be found today at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, and its Breslau provenance is duly cited in Iakerson’s catalog of incunabula at JTS, number 47a.  Slowly but surely, our work on Footprints is (virtually) reuniting collections long thought lost to the world.

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