About People in the Books

A printed book and a manuscript codex may contain the same text, but one can argue that the latter is inherently richer. The printing press produced a multitude of identical copies, but each manuscript is unique and individual. In a manuscript, each page had to be carefully prepared and every letter required painstaking work. Ultimately, each manuscript contains more than just the text within it. Isaac Mendelsohn, author of the first catalog of the Hebrew manuscripts at Columbia, wrote, "An old Hebrew book is...more than a mere collection of bound sheets on which a given text is [written]. The notes on the flyleaves, the remarks on the margins the names of its various owners, and the countries in which it saw service actually make it into two books - one containing the text, the passive part, and the other the history of the persons who owned and used it. This exhibit attempts to show the second kind of book: the book that tells a story about its authors, its owners, and its users. Occasionally, the story is found within the main portion of the text, but it is also found in the paratext: in the wine stains on a Passover Haggadah, in the candle wax in a prayer book, or in an odd notation on a title page or in a colophon.

Browse content »