While conducting independent research in the special collections of BU libraries, a former student discovered unpublished medieval manuscripts.
A Binghamton University alumnus has discovered ancient medieval manuscripts hidden in the bindings of books in the university library collection.
Zack Ben-Ezra, 22, currently a freshman law student at the Carey Law School at the University of Pennsylvania, discovered pieces of paper in two incunabula during his independent studies as an undergraduate student at BU – where he majored in history. Incunabula are the first European books that were printed between around 1450 and 1501. Ben-Ezra discovered these fragments in the gutter, or seam in the center of a book, of the first incunabula he examined.
The research will be uploaded to the Material Evidence in Incunabula (MEI) database to track and catalog ancient European literature, as experts from the Rochester Institute of Technology analyzed medieval manuscripts using multispectral imaging.
Ben-Ezra made this discovery during his independent study under the direction of Bridget Whearty, assistant professor of English and medieval studies at BU, and Jeremy Dibbell, special collections librarian at the University. His inspiration to begin his independent study, according to Ben-Ezra, came after taking classes with Whearty.
“After taking two courses with Professor Bridget Whearty in the fall and spring of 2020-2021 on the history of medieval manuscripts and early printed books, I decided that I wanted to continue studying the subject, but at the level practice,” Ben-Ezra wrote in an email. “I approached Professor Whearty with the idea of independent study the following semester, and she was open to it. From there she looped into Dibbell’s Library Special Collections, and we came to the idea of studying and cataloging the [University’s] incunabula.
Dibbell praised Ben-Ezra’s accomplishments and said his work continues to help history majors at BU. Ben-Ezra’s digs into centuries-old library volumes are key to understanding how to think about early printed texts, according to Dibbell.
“We were delighted that [Ben-Ezra]Careful examination of these volumes has brought to light so many fascinating elements of their stories,” Dibbell wrote in an email. “These aspects of the books will be very useful as teaching points in the future, and I have already spoken at several guest class sessions of [Ben-Ezra’s]and what he revealed about these volumes that we did not know before.
Cate Archibald, an undeclared freshman, said she thought the find was important for future historical research.
“I believe discoveries like this are key to understanding how people interacted in the past,” Archibald wrote in an email. “[Ben-Ezra] finding these unidentified medieval manuscripts provides historians with a huge springboard to appreciate encounters from the past.
The BU Libraries’ Special Collections are an accessible resource for all students, according to Dibbell, and contain ancient historical materials that encourage research and independent scholarly study.
Sam Johnson, an undeclared sophomore, said he was impressed the discovery was made at BU.
“I actually think it’s really cool, especially after two years of [COVID-19]”, Johnson said. “It’s a really practical discovery. For history students this is really important because I don’t think many other schools have found medieval manuscripts and we have such close access to them.
Ben-Ezra beginning his first semester at law school this fall, he offered advice to other undergraduates majoring in history at BU, stressing the importance of learning outside the classroom .
“Get involved in something that interests you,” Ben-Ezra wrote. “There are so many amazing opportunities the University has to offer, and the most memorable and valuable lessons you learn may be right outside of the conventional classroom. Second, enjoy every moment you have in college, especially those with friends. [BU] is a special place with special people – savor every moment.