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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

Happy Anniversary, Footprints! (Or, “that’s not a knife, this is a….book”)

Happy Anniversary, Footprints!

Footprints wasn’t born in a day.  Before the website went live a team of planners, coders, and researchers spent years preparing.  But the website made its first appearance on November 13, 2014 with the upload of a Shehitot u-vedikot (owned in Beirut in 1862).

In honor of our fifth anniversary, we decided to advance the entries on that very first item.  The Shehitot u-vedikot has been of interest to me for some time now.  First composed in the fifteenth century by Jacob Weil (d. ca. 1456, a student of Jacob Molin), the book outlines the laws of kosher slaughtering, and was first printed in Prague in 1533.  It was something of a bestseller of the early modern period in Europe, gaining layers of commentary in subsequent publications in Krakow, Venice, Prague, Basle, Amsterdam, and beyond.  A search in the bibliography of the Hebrew book for this title yields 174 results, with 130 of those books printed before the year 1800.  That’s nearly an average of a printing every two years!

Opp 4o545 copy of Shehitot u-vedikot (Basle, 1611), held by the Bodleian Libraries.

I first grew interested in these books when I came across multiple copies of them in the Oppenheim collection of the Bodleian Libraries (the full story of that collection is the subject of the recent book Prince of the Press), and found them to be rich with signatures, certificates, and even the occasional doodle, perhaps at the hand of a student whose attention wandered during his training (the trainees would have almost always have been young men).  My favorite “footprint” appears in Opp. 4o 605(1), and is reproduced here (it also appears in the book, on p. 31).

Opp. 4o 605(1), copy of Sefer Tikkunei Zevah (Prague, 1604), held by the Bodleian Libraries.

Copies of Shehitot u-vedikot can be found in numerous library collections, and evidence of their historical use appears in inscriptions, the observations of Christian Hebraists, and the catalogs of modern booksellers.  Tracking copies of the book offers a tantalizing example of the quantitative power of Footprints to complement, enhance, and shine a different light on our understanding of bibliography, book culture, and Jewish life more generally.  Following this work we can see the power of a single author to become the authority on the topic of kosher meat production, and we can witness different centers vie for domination over the market (both economically and intellectually).  We also get to see the use of books designed not for elite figures but for communal functionaries, and we can see the travel of those books beyond the centers of scholarship and publication into smaller (often rural) communities of limited resource and cultural capital.  Most importantly, the rich accumulation of inscriptions in the books reveals the ongoing negotiation between the printed text and the spoken and manuscript word, that regularly intervened in and dialogued with the never-quite-canonical text.

A couple of weeks ago I uploaded information about 40 additional imprints of the work, with approximately 250 footprints accompanying those imprints, in preparation for a longer scholarly article.  All of those examples were drawn from the Oppenheim collection, but I’ve been working through other collections in the US, Israel, and Europe to identify copies of the book, and am almost overwhelmed by them.  And that’s a good thing.  Because Footprints is all about overcoming the limits to a single individual’s capacity, and transcending that capacity through aggregated findings that are, in turn, made intelligible once more through the recombinant power of the visualization tactics of the site.

In fact, not long after those 250 footprints went live, Chaim Meiselman, Judaica Special Collections Cataloger at UPenn libraries and friend-of-Footprints discovered multiple footprints in a volume of the Shehitot u-vedikot, including one from 1719 in colonial America, leading him to wonder if this is perhaps one of the earliest to be discovered so far for the young Jewish community of North America!

In this project, as in so many others, we invite our colleagues and friends around the world to upload and share information about the historical movement of Hebrew books by recording material you may come across about the Shehitot u-vedikot (or any other Hebrew book).  This incidental data from individual research will take on a new life when aggregated with others.  And along the way, you may find something that advances your research as well!

So Happy Fifth Anniversary, Footprints, and thanks to all of the planners, programmers, questioners, and contributors.  Looking forward to seeing what the next five years bring!

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:

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!


Call for Applications: 


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:

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:

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.


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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