Category Archives: Digital History

First Monday Library Chat: Heidelberg University Library

Welcome back to the First Monday Library Chat! Today we travel to Germany with Elaine Leong and feature library of the oldest German university – The Heidelberg University Library. We’re delighted to be talking to Dr. Karin Zimmermann, Deputy Head of the Department of Manuscripts and Early Printed Books.

Heidelberg University Library has large collection of printed and manuscript recipe books. Can you give us an overview of some of the rare and unique items in your collection?

Heidelberg University Library (HUL) is the central library of Heidelberg University in the south-west of Germany. The University was founded in 1386 and is the oldest University in Germany. In the late 14th and early 15th centuries, three libraries were part of the university. They consisted of the book collections of the liberal arts faculty, of the higher faculties – with medicine – and of the collegiate church (Holy Ghost Church). The core of the collections in the faculty libraries consisted mostly of the books left to the university by professors. In this way by 1396 the university managed to build up a collection of over 600 books. In the 16th century Elector Otto-Henry combined this library with the Electors Palatine’s private book collections creating the ‘Bibliotheca Palatina’ – the Palatine library. In 1556, the library consisted of about 6,400 titles, including 4,800 printed books, 500 parchment manuscripts and 600 paper manuscripts. The sack of Heidelberg during the Thirty Years’ War, in 1622, brought a temporary end to what was at the time most renowned and important collection of books in Germany. At the beginning of the 19th century, the German manuscripts were returned to HUL. However, the Latin and Greek manuscripts and all printed volumes still remain in the Vatican Library.

The main source of ‘old’ books, however, was the purchase of tens of thousands of volumes – about 450 manuscripts and thousands of printed books – from the library of the Cistercian Abbey Salem at the Lake Constance in 1826.

Today HUL holds about 3.12 million books and periodicals, about 495,000 non-book-media and about 6,800 manuscripts. Nearly 980,000 of its volumes are printed before 1900. The library counts 42,200 active users and about 1.6 million loans per year.

Most of the recipe books in the Heidelberg University Library are within the ‘Bibliotheca Palatina’ collection. There is a longstanding and fascinating research and digitisation project centred on this collection, could you share some details with our readers?

In 1970, due to the outstanding importance of the Bibliotheca Palatina collection, the HUL began cataloguing the Latin manuscripts now in the Vatican Library in Rome. That project is financed by the DFG (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft), the largest independent research funding organisation in Germany. From 1996 until 2014, the 848 German manuscripts in Heidelberg were catalogued. With the help of third-party funds, this part of the library was digitized in the Digitization Department of HUL by different projects and made available on open access. Additionally, from 2012 onwards, a team from Heidelberg has worked to digitize onsite also the circa 2,030 Latin manuscripts in Rome. Every week we digitize at least 10 additional manuscripts! Find out more here.

Can you give us an idea of the scope of the recipe texts within the ‘Bibliotheca Palatina’ collection? How many are there? What kinds of knowledge are represented?

Let’s talk about the manuscripts, here we have to distinguish between Latin and German ones. Nearly all medical texts that had been used at the university to teach medicine were written in Latin. These 272 volumes transferred mostly ancient knowledge from authors like Hippocrates, Aristotle, Galenus, Avicenna or Averroes.

A text from Galenus for the treatment of glaucoma in a manuscript from 9th/10th century (HUL, Cod. Pal. lat. 1080, fol. 1v)
A text from Galenus for the treatment of glaucoma in a manuscript from 9th/10th century (HUL, Cod. Pal. lat. 1080, fol. 1v)

The German manuscripts of the Bibliotheca Palatina, the Codices Palatini germanici, consist mostly of the vernacular part of the library at the castle, that belonged to the Electors Palatine and their families. The character of a court library can be seen in the topics covered by the books. Most of the manuscripts, about one-third of the stock (ca 300), consist of medical and alchemical texts (, reflecting the interest of some of the Electors Palatine who were particularly fascinated by medical prescriptions.

About 220 of these medical manuscripts date from the 16th century and nearly 75 originate before 1500. Approximately 50 of these manuscripts, written before 1500, transmit late medieval, to a small extent ancient Arabic medicine and tracts – that means ‘old’ texts. Another 20 of these older codices are alchemical texts. This kind of text usually consists of a plurality of recipes, practices or alternative instructions that are in a more or less fixed context of tradition, that is, they were to be preserved as a unit and therefore often passed on together (e.g. the ‘Arzneibuch’ [Book of Medicine] by Ortolf von Baierland).

The so called ‘Speyrer Arzneibuch’ [Speyer Book of Medicine], the oldest German medical manuscript in HUL from 1321 (HUL, Cod. Pal. germ. 214, fol. 49r)
The so called ‘Speyrer Arzneibuch’ [Speyer Book of Medicine], the oldest German medical manuscript in HUL from 1321 (HUL, Cod. Pal. germ. 214, fol. 49r)
By far the most comprehensive group consists of about 220 handwritten collections of recipes with unknown authors. To give you an idea of the immense extent number of texts included in this group, I will give you some numbers. Extrapolated, there are approximately 193,000 recipes written down on about 40,000 sheets of parchment and paper.

Finally, for those of us who living afar, could you tell us a little about we might be able to consult your rich holdings both via digitization schemes and via virtual exhibitions?

You can find all digitized manuscripts – German and Latin ones – on the constantly updated website of the project. To search inside of the manuscript descriptions you can use the database ‘PalatinaSEARCH’ (only in German). The virtual exhibitions can be found on a special website. The catalogue of the Latin medical manuscripts is digitized as well as the descriptions of the German ones. If you have any questions, feel free to contact Karin @

Watch this space! In a later post, Karin will take a more detailed look at some highlights of the library and introduce to the fascinating group of collectors and compilers who created the recipe books within the Bibliotheca Palatina.

Quantities in Recipes

In my post last month, I discussed an online course in which students contributed their transcriptions of Lady Frances Catchmay‘s recipe book to the Textual Communities site.  Two of these students from Fall 2013 continued their work in the spring, and this post and the next are the results of some of their research.  – Rebecca Laroche

By Kayla Perkins

While transcribing a rather long recipe, “A good Receyte to make matheglin” from Lady Frances Catchmay’s manuscript, I came across a peculiar phrase, “. . .toe hundred gallans of fayre water or more. . .” Two hundred gallons?! Even now that would be quite a feat.  Why so much water? This question drove me to discover what Metheglin is and if using such amounts of water was common practice.

Metheglin is a spiced or medicated variety of mead, originally popular in Wales. Starting with the Wellcome’s amazing cache of recipe manuscripts, I first compared Catchmay’s recipe to six others. Each recipe I read through made Catchmay’s preparation more unique, and they were all variants of each other. Despite the variants, however, there are aspects that each of the recipes share.

For instance, in preparing Metheglin, the two main ingredients are equal parts honey and water boiled together. They are continually boiled until the mixture can ‘bear an egg.’ Catchmay does not include this step within her recipe, which places hers in the minority. For each recipe, the quantities of honey and water vary quite a bit. Where Catchmay calls for two hundred gallons of water, the recipes of Mrs. Carr call for just five gallons, and another recipe calls for just a few quarts.

An assortment of herbs and spices is then added to the brew, the most common among the recipes being ginger, nutmeg, and cinnamon. Catchmay is again differentiating here; her preparation does not call for just a handful of herbs. She has the longest, most detailed list for ingredients required. Not only does she advise when it is best to gather these herbs;[1] she also provides directions on how to clean and prepare said herbs.

While the Metheglin is fermenting one has to periodically skim barm off the top. The liquid is then stored in a variety of containers with directions on how long it keeps and when it should be consumed. Thanks to the honey, Metheglin keeps for quite a while. I believe that is why Catchmay chose to prepare such large batches.

Each recipe shows the different levels of what the compiler expects from her reader. Catchmay is extremely detailed with her ingredients, how they should be prepped, and gives an almost exhaustive description of Metheglin’s preparation. The Jacob recipe, however, is not overly detailed. While, one would like to assume that Catchmay was able to read through and gain inspiration from the others. This is not the case as Catchmay’s manuscript dates to around 1625 and the earliest (Elizabeth Jacobs) of the other recipes is dated at 1654. The six recipes in the Wellcome catalog that I read through share too many similarities for it to be coincidence. I believe Catchmay’s recipe was either isolated from or improved on by others. Either way, it is fascinating to see the uniqueness of the recipes and how each preparer made it her/his own. After becoming familiar with the ingredients, I can see Metheglin being a comforting beverage for these coming winter months. Bottoms up!

[1] Catchmay advises the herbs be picked around the time of Michaelmas and Lammas. Lammas takes place around the 1st of August and is celebrated by baking bread taken from the first harvest. Michaelmas takes place near the end of September, for the feasts of St. Michael. I can see this period of the year being used to stock up for the cold months ahead.


Teaching Recipes Online: Building Community and Purpose

By Rebecca Laroche

Screen Shot 2014-09-02 at 12.17.58 PMI started teaching an early modern survey of women writers online in 2002.  My reasons were many, not the least of which were feminist.  Serving a largely military community, the University of Colorado Colorado Springs had more than its share of military spouses, mainly women, who had suddenly found themselves single parents as their husbands were deployed in Afghanistan, then Iraq, and online courses provided the means to continue their education in a flexible manner. The fact that extensive research in early modern women coincided with the establishment of online databases meant that the course’s content was also in line with its form.  Our primary “textbook” was Women Writers Online, then recently released by Brown University. My position at a rapidly growing research university serving a large geographic region meant there were resources for teaching online, and we were in many ways ahead of the national trend. I was able to experiment with different discussion formats and social media manipulations that spoke to the need for intellectual community and deep inquiry within the format.

It wasn’t until a necessary hiatus from online teaching while chairing the department and a sabbatical in 2012 that I came to a profound realization about this aspect of my teaching self, however. Many professors who are teaching online, including myslef, have gone about it all wrong.  The online environment is not simply an update of the classroom to which one translates what you’ve already taught, approximating in the virtual that which we’d come to value in the real. Rather it is its own sphere with its own pedagogical aims and outcomes.  And in this realization, I have developed Early Modern Women Writers Point Two.

You see, during 2012, I also became a founding member of the Early Modern Recipes Online Collective (EMROC), an international group of scholars committed to creating a database of English recipe manuscripts 1550 to 1850, transcribed and searchable. With hundreds of these manuscripts extant, the task was huge, yet we had all come to recognize the importance and richness of the work.  And with women’s key roles in the genre, it was feminist work, clearly. In our first meetings, it became apparent that this work could sustain generations of scholarship, but it also became certain that it could sustain teaching.

Before becoming chair, I had begun to incorporate “online edition” assignments into ENGL 3200, as one challenge to having Women Writers Online as one’s textbook was the lack of editorial mediation for students.  They could not understand the texts, not because they were incomprehensible, but because they were early modern and had not been “Nortonized.” I wanted students to see that, in line with the theorization of Margaret Ezell, the problem of women writers in the Renaissance was not that there were so few but that there were so few made accessible to modern readers.[1]  Having students make their own edition not only helped to make the works more accessible to students it also made them to realize the work of making things accessible, work from which the male canon had benefited for a century and which still remained to be done for many early modern texts.

From this assignment, recipes were an easy leap, and in the last two manifestations of the course I have made EMROC’s mission the work of the second half of the course.  In these months, students learned to transcribe (currently I use the Cambridge University transcription site and various handouts from Textual Communities), read entries from the Recipes Project blog (to learn about the extensive scholarship at play), performed group work in transcription, transcribed a page of the text themselves, took on the basics of XML, and submitted the document either directly to the database (making them a contributing member) or to me to be submitted with a note to their work. It is difficult scholarship, and at first quite daunting, but the group support meant that the task that first seemed impossible suddenly (often magically) became recognizable.  With the help of the OED (introduced during the online edition portion of the course), they were developing early modern vocabulary and became enmeshed with early modern concerns.  The early modern period, and the labor women did in that time, was alive to them in ways never before experienced.

After two semesters of teaching the course this way, I have had several students catch fire with this mission and with their roles as undergraduate researchers. In October, you will be able to read the research done by two students who continued their coursework on Catchmay in an independent study. One of these young women is even looking into her MLS degree so she can continue to work in the archive.  As they contribute to the database a year after their coursework, I will be teaching two sections of the course in the Spring of 2015.  As my students are transcribing in tandem with other face-to-face courses across the country (see Amy Tigner and Jen Munroe later this month), the online medium underlines the future of collaboration.  You see, to this day, the steering committee of EMROC continues to meet bimonthly on Google+.

[1]. Margaret Ezell, Writing Women’s Literary History (Baltimore:  Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993).

Teaching Recipes: A September Series

By Amanda E. Herbert

Classrooms in 1897 at the Francis M. Drexel School.
Classrooms in 1897 at the Francis M. Drexel School. Courtesy of Wikipedia Images.

In January of 2014, I wrote a post called “Chocolate in the Classroom,” which described a special lesson that I’d designed for my undergraduate Tudor and Stuart Britain course: to learn about the aesthetic and cultural changes accompanying the “Consumer Revolution” of the seventeenth century, students taste-tested chocolate that had been made according to an early modern recipe.  Most of the students really disliked the flavor of the chocolate – which featured spices such as chili, cinnamon, and nutmeg – but the response to my post on The Recipes Project was enthusiastic, with teachers from around the world writing in to talk about the ways that they used recipes in their own classes, seminars, and tutorials.

Recipes are wonderful pedagogical tools.  Deceptively simple, they encourage students to dig beneath and around a seemingly straightforward list of ingredients and directions, provoking conversations about historic foodways, linguistics, conceptions of race, socioeconomics, praxis, and religious and cultural prohibitions.  They require students to become close readers and sensitive, careful thinkers.  And they enliven discussion, as students and teachers alike imagine how a food or medicine might smell, look, taste, or feel.

During the month of September, The Recipes Project will feature a special series of posts on teaching recipes.  Our contributors will demonstrate the many excellent ways that recipes can be used in a variety of classrooms – from university lectures to elementary school classrooms – and in a range of disciplines, including classical studies, composition, history, literature, and the histories of medicine and science.  A particular strength of the series will be the use of recipes in the digital humanities, as several of our contributors are teaching students about web-based transcription via manuscript recipe collections and household account books.  Look for posts by Rebecca Laroche, Jennifer Munroe, Amy Tigner, and Hillary Nunn on the many exciting ways that students are digitizing and analyzing recipes for the Early Modern Recipes Online Collective (EMROC).  But the series will also feature the work of those who have taken a more “practical” approach to teaching recipes, as Amanda Moniz, Valerie Korinek, Laurence Totelin, and Tovah Bender talk about their efforts to recreate and remake historic foods, medicines, and supplies, and how modern students experience the sensory worlds of the past.

We hope that our readers will be both impressed by the work of this group of scholar-teachers, and inspired to incorporate recipes into their own syllabi and lesson plans.  Please let us know how you’re using recipes in the classroom!  To contribute to the discussion, just hit the “comments” button below.  We look forward to hearing from you.