New Exhibition to Showcase Illuminated Manuscripts in Boston-area

If Yeats said that ‘Words alone are certain good’ then we may suppose that anything that strives to go beyond them must be doing something better. At a time when money is more and more coming to serve as the universal currency, the one of our language seems to be depreciating in value. Beyond Words has then in timely fashion sought to go some distance in reversing this by reversing time: highlights of some of the most notable manuscripts in the area have been magnificently curated and illuminated for our viewing pleasure:

The exhibition presents more than 260 outstanding manuscripts and printed books from nineteen Boston-area collections, dating from the ninth to the seventeenth centuries. The exhibit is supplemented by an extensive catalog, a three-day symposium, and public programming. Explore the website for additional information on Beyond Words.


In addition to focusing on the Middle Ages and Renaissance, Beyond Words also presents an opportunity to examine the history of collecting in Boston. Among the first medieval manuscripts to reach American shores can be found in Boston collections and elsewhere in New England. Famous American art-lovers such as Isabella Stewart Gardner, Charles Sumner, Charles Eliot Norton, Denman Waldo Ross and Bernard Berenson played significant roles in shaping local book collections, as did foreigners such as Sir Sydney Cockerell. To chart these collectors activities is to map an important chapter in the history of American taste and cultural ambition.

Ifformer patrons are in our present time too busied with accumulating monied capital while eschewing the arts, then artists and ancestors alike may feel a little less dismayed in knowing that at least our universities have assumed their mantle. Speaking of which, the exhibition has on display many manuscripts of the Bible.

Learn more at Beyond Words

Weekly Round-Up, 12-2-16

Happy December, scholars! Take a break from perishing under the weight of final papers and take a look at this week’s round-up of links.

  • Our Natural Science scholars will be interested to know that archaeologists recently discovered a 7,300-year-old human fingerprint, the oldest in the region, on a shard of pottery.

Image via the National Council for Culture, Arts and Letters Facebook page.

  • Dan Chiasson, reviewer and poet over at the New Yorker and professor at Wellesley College, examines Emily Dickinson’s “envelope poems,” fragments of verse the poet scrawled on scraps of paper.
  • A. R. Gurney’s play “Ajax,” which closed earlier last month, concerns a adjunct college professor and a student in her Greek drama class who develop Sophocles’ “Ajax” into a contemporary performance. The interesting part? The student’s original goal is a study of post-traumatic stress disorder among American soldiers. Sound familiar?
  • Did you know the Z-Closet Collection in Houghton Library at Harvard contains the death mask of Henry James cast by his brother, American psychologist William James, and a lock of hair from English Romantic poet William Wordsworth’s very head? Maybe Core can, ahem, borrow them.
  • Petrarch’s Canzoniere may now boast a Catalan translation, provided by poet Miquel Desclot. The poet also plans on publishing a volume of five Shakespeare plays in translation.
  • The Huntington is currently showing Real American Places: Edward Weston and Leaves of Grass, an exhibition of 25 photographs intended to illuminate a deluxe volume of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. On view alongside these photographs are original items related to Whitman. Closes March 20, 2017.

Edward WestonWoodlawn Plantation House, Louisiana, 1941, gelatin silver print, the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. 1981 Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

Feeling better? Now get out there and do your best (and send any news of interest that you find along the way to!

Spotlight: Devin Harvin

Today on the Core blog, we’d like to shine a spotlight on a sophomore currently enrolled in the Core Curriculum. Devin Harvin is a contributor to the Marsh Chapel Vocation Blog as well as a summer advising assistant. The Marsh Chapel blog is run by our friends over at the the ministry department at Marsh Chapel, and Devin has written quite a few posts that we think the Core community would enjoy.

We know it’s hard to believe that there are other blogs out there on the BU network that aren’t the Core blog, but hold your surprise long enough to read some of Devin’s most recent posts. We think they’re worth a read.

View more of Devin Harvin’s work the Marsh Vocation blog.

From McSweeney’s: Post-Election College Paper Grading Rubric

Dr. Daveena Tauber at McSweeney’s has found it necessary in light of the new darkness inaugurated by our jurassic president to revise her paper grading rubric. She wants to make America grade again, Trump’s way. Now, the class clown will now find himself valedictorian.If it could make Trump president and give success to all of those students coming out of Trump university, then it may certainly help you in getting an A. But wait. There are only three grades: Winner, Meh, and Loser, and three criteria. What constitutes a winner argument, Dr. Tauber?


Oh so you can get an A! But of course we should all strive for a B: Bigly. C,D,F…P? Pardon my language.

Find out more about your next assignment at McSweeneys

From The Chicago Maroon: Read it and Weep

(“Read it and Weep” might not have been the best entry into one’s column). As all of you probably know, our world has experienced a tragedy recently, and some of us are still finding it difficult to recover from the sounding of the death-knell: Bob Dylan has been awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature: Literature? Isn’t he a folk singer? Music? What does that have to do with words? In the windy city of Chicago these answers are apparently blowin’ in the wind. For some of the confused frustration was voiced recently in a column for The Chicago Maroon, a shade darker from Crimson.

Peng-Peng Liu. Image for the Chicago Maroon.

Peng-Peng Liu. Image for the Chicago Maroon.

Put aside for a minute the arrogance of a committee that demands praise for bestowing book awards on musicians. Put aside the fact that Nobel Committee ended a 25-year streak of not acknowledging American authors to honor Bob Dylan, of all people. After all, the slight isnt exactly new: Mark Twain, Henry James, Don DeLillo, Thomas Pynchon, John Updike, David Foster Wallace, and Kurt Vonnegut are just a few American giants snubbed by the Nobel committee. It would appear as though the Nobel Prize for Literature generally acknowledges excellence by ignoring it.

What really boggles the mind is how unsurprised we all are by the Dylan fiasco. Shouldnt we be more shocked? Shouldnt we care? Does anyone worry about the future of readingor is fretting over it now sort of like slapping a band-aid on a cold corpse?

Maybe Dylan is indeed a worthy recipient of such a prize in an era in which pleasure readers sometimes seem like members of an endangered species. Even here, at an elite university, pleasure reading is a chimera. Who has the time to read for fun? Ask students the last great book they read of their own volition, and youre likely to discover that theyhavent, not since high school. Ask students what their favorite novels are, and youre bound to assemble the standard curriculum of AP English. These books certainly belong in the pantheon of great literature, but it reflects a certain lack of intellectual curiosity that students only read novels when forced. But you probably shouldnt bother with these questions at all. Conversations about pleasure reading usually end with both parties feeling guilty and depressed.

Yet while putting aside all those considerations the author might also be pushing aside others that must valuably feature in any serious conversation about Dylan’s art: there’s one more reason to be guilty during conversations about reading for pleasure. For many of the great artists were in their time read for both pleasure and study. And many of these have touched us with their art in mediums other than words. Shakespeare, for example, wrote plays. Yet these are not brusqued aside as undeserving of literary study. When considering the art of musicians, then, we should be careful to assess each of these mediums on its own merits, while being careful to watch that our judgment of the art as a whole not be monopolized by the criteria of any particular one. That is, we must not let the fact that Dylan was an extraordinarily gifted musician blind us to the one that (though it might be hard to believe for those who are trying to avenge their favorite authors) the committee was able to see: first, that music uses words, and second, that in the case of Dylan, these were of tremendous imaginative power.

Read the full post at The Chicago Maroon

Weekly Round-Up, 11-25-16

Greetings, Corelings! We hope you’re filling up on pumpkin pie and turkey/non-meat turkey substitute! And what would it be without an installment of weekly links?

  • The Ashmolean, the University of Oxfords museum of art and archaeology, is currently hosting Sensation: Rembrandt’s First Paintings, an exhibition featuring early works of Rembrandt on the five senses. It closes this Sunday, November 27.

Rembrandt van Rijn, The spectacle-pedlar, circa 16241625, Museum De Lakenhal, Leiden

Rembrandt van Rijn, The Spectacle Pedlar, c. 1624-25, oil on panel. An allegory on the sense of sight.


President Obama pardons a bored-looking Abe on November 15, 2015.  (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

President Obama pardons a bored-looking Abe on November 15, 2015. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

That’s all for now. Enjoy the rest of Thanksgiving break, and be sure to send your articles of interest to

From Quartz: Women are horribly under-represented in the world’s top literary prizes

Aamna Mohdin at The Quartz has alerted her readers that female writers are not being treated fairly by the judges of the world’s top literary prizes. The apparently trite cliche that one should never judge a book by its cover seems due for renewal or revision especially now. But this itself is hardly news to anyone, which just goes to show that the persistence of the problem is all the more shameful. She writes:

"A persistent disparity. (Reuters/Ognen Teofilovsk)" Image for Quartz

“A persistent disparity. (Reuters/Ognen Teofilovsk)” Image for Quartz

Its notable that of the awards we looked at, those in English have a much higher proportion of female winners than those in other languages. This seems unrelated to how long ago they were established. (One might have expected a lower cumulative share of women in prizes created long ago, when women suffered more discrimination in general).

Right at the bottom of the gender parity list is the Cervantes Prize, the most prestigious award in Spanish literature. First established in 1976, the award has been given to men 90% of the time. Only four women have won the award so far; Mara Zambrano was the first in 1988.

In this way, she goes on to illuminate the issue by discriminating the different ways in which cultures are treating their female writers, and discusses how books that feature a women as the protagonist fare against ones that features a male. Another question that is salient in this discussion is whether there may also be discrimination against women trying to get their books published. If so, then we would expect the gender parity among those who are able to get their books published reflected in those who are selected for awards. The judges then would not be wholly culpable, and the problem would seem radical; that is, something to also be treated at the root, which is where feminists are more and more having to operate to win meaningful change. Our present time is rare in that they are having to mobilize just as rigorously against those who do not read books as against those who do.

Read her full post at Quartz

From The Conversation: Guide to the Classics–Michel De Montaigne’s Essays

Montaigne is perhaps the most widely celebrated essayist in the Western Canon. And it is his essays that have also elevated him to classic status not only in literature but also philosophy. The two are often thought to go together harmoniously, yet literature shows a tact which philosophy often brusques aside for concatenation. Montaigne is rare in his ability to reflect on the mundane without attempting to subsume it within a grand imperial theory. Matthew Sharpe at The Conversation writes that in doing so Montaigne could be said to have inspired our modern age, yet speculates also the various ways in which Montaigne himself might have been inspired to write what he supposedly invented. One possibility might not have been so much an inspiration as a recourse. Sharpe writes:

Michel Eyquem de Montaigne (1533  1592)

Michel Eyquem de Montaigne (1533 1592)

Some scholars argued that Montaigne began writing his essays as a want-to-be Stoic, hardening himself against the horrors of the French civil and religious wars, and his grief at the loss of his best friend Etienne de La Botie through dysentery.

Certainly, for Montaigne, as for ancient thinkers led by his favourites, Plutarch and the Roman Stoic Seneca, philosophy was not solely about constructing theoretical systems, writing books and articles. It was what one more recent admirer of Montaigne has called a way of life.

Montaigne has little time for forms of pedantry that value learning as a means to insulate scholars from the world, rather than opening out onto it.

He writes:

Either our reason mocks us or it ought to have no other aim but our contentment.


We are great fools. He has passed over his life in idleness, we say: I have done nothing today. What? have you not lived? that is not only the fundamental, but the most illustrious of all your occupations.

A great irony is in Montaigne’s urging the reader to go out and live while he himself remained cloistered in the library. But living in his time might have meant either witnessing or partaking in the horrors of the French Civil War. Isn’t there also the notion that life can be lived more beautifully within the mind, a reason that must also have compelledMontaigne to seclude himself? These kinds of ironies and paradoxes crop up again and again not only with Montaigne, but also with others that would be less welcoming of having them illuminated. Montaigne would embrace them.

Read his full post at The Conversation

Weekly Round-Up, 11-18-16

Happy Friday! This week’s links take a look at a festival, Jane Austen, McDonald’s in Florence, and more.

  • Remember Ecce Homo (“Behold the Man”), the fresco of Jesus that was, uh, renovated a few years back? You know what the best way to preserve this memory in the seas of time? A comedic opera, that’s what.

Spot-on. Credit: Observatorio de Restauacion via Flickr (CC BY NC ND 2.0).

  • A festival dedicated to Virginia Woolf, the first of its kind, takes place November 25-27 in Monza, Italy.
  • “Almost everything we think we know about Jane Austen is wrong,” according to author Helena Kelly, who aims to set things straight in her novel Jane Austen, The Secret Radical, published earlier this month.
  • Ronald Wimberly’s Prince of Cats, a retelling of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet that explores an early 80s inner city setting through the point of view of Tybalt, has been re-released in hardcover. It also includes this gem dedicated to an ice cream truck:

When heat doth bind gelled sandal to sidewalk, listen
For song that parts summer’s writhing miasma
And calls forth God’s wandering children
To the chariot of Mr. Soft-e.

That’s all for this week. Core hopes you enjoy your Thanksgiving and eat abundantly! (And don’t forget to send any articles of interest to

From The Business Insider: How Donald Trump Could Abolish the Department of Education

In his first hundred days as President, Donald Trumps plans to shutter the Department of Education. Top legal scholar, Laurence Tribe, has regrettably affirmed that there is no constitutional limitation against such an action. Assuming that Congress will give its consent, and that we make it past the first 100 days, this seems dangerously likely. As a Great Books course, the Core Curriculum might suggest that to make America great again might involve its more rigorously studying the Great Books again. It is nice that Donald Trump wants the United States to be a great country, but bad that he seeks to accomplish this by making it more like Donald Trump. Naturally, step one would be to do away with education, recommended first in his ominous oeuvre, Crippled America. Abby Jackson at the Business Insider writes:

REUTERS/Carlo Allegri. Image for Business Insider

REUTERS/Carlo Allegri. Image for Business Insider

This makes Trump’s pledge to eliminate the Department of Education a legally possible feat, though it would certainly not be something he could achieve on his own.

“No president could eliminate the department unilaterally, by executive order or otherwise,” Tribe said.

Education policy was largely a second-tier issue during Trump’s campaign, which focused instead on issues such asnational security,trade, andHillary Clinton’s email scandal.

Still, in the plan for his first 100 days in office, he described his intention tobring educational supervision to local communities. It remains to be seen whether he reinvigorates the call to abolish the Department of Education.

This would mean on the one hand that many states whose constituencies voted for Trump will be reading much more of the Bible, a book that must necessarily feature in any Great Books course. On the other hand, this also means that many states whose constituencies voted for Trump will be reading much more of the Bible to understand biology, physics, and if things go very wrong, Donald Trump.

Read her full post at Business Insider.