Kelvin Smith Library hosts lecture on mid-20th century destruction of books

Kelvin Smith Library will host a lecture on mid-20th century American biblioclasm, which is the destruction or mutilation of books, Wednesday, Jan. 20, at noon in the library’s Freedman Center.

Lisa Fagin Davis, executive director of the Medieval Academy of America, will present “Picking up the Pieces: Case Western Reserve’s Otto Ege and the Beauvais Missal,” focusing on one of the best-known victims of biblioclasm.

Beauvais Missal serves as a perfect example of just how great a loss is incurred when a codex is dismembered and its leaves scattered. It also is a case study of the possibilities offered by recent developments in imaging and metadata standards, platforms and interoperability.

American industrialist William Randolph Hearst purchased the manuscript from Sotheby’s and owned it until 1942 when he sold it through Gimbel Brothers to New York dealer Philip Duschnes. Less than a month later, Duschnes cut it up and began selling leaves. He passed the remnants on to his friend and associate, former Western Reserve University professor Otto Ege, who scattered it through gift and sale.

Davis will discuss the incipient digital reconstruction of the 96 known leaves of the Beauvais Missal—spread across 26 states and five countries—and present initial findings based on an analysis of the extant portion of the manuscript. She will focus on the leaf owned by CWRU and its place in the manuscript.

Davis received her PhD in medieval studies from Yale University in 1993. She has catalogued medieval manuscript collections at Yale University, the University of Pennsylvania, Wellesley College, the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, the Boston Public Library and several private collections.