OUR Featured Researcher: Emma Glen '22
Emma Glen (she/her/hers) is majoring in Latin Language & Literature and Comparative Literature Physics. She conducts research in Professor Benjamin Lee's lab. Her project is titled “Oberlin Isagoge Project ".
Please describe your project:
My project studies the earliest Latin translations of a specific set of Arabic medical texts. Constantinus Africanus, a scholar from North Africa, directed the creation of these translations at the monastery of Monte Cassino in Italy in the 11th century. The texts he produced serve an important function in bringing previously-inaccessible Arabic and Ancient Greek medical knowledge into the medieval European world. In order to learn about the process by which they were translated from Arabic into Latin, I transcribed and analyzed several manuscripts of one of Constantine's translations.
I worked with a team consisting of Professor Benjamin Lee of Oberlin College, Emeritus Professor Francis Newton of Duke University, Professor F. Eliza Glaze of Coastal Carolina University, and Han Yang, another Oberlin student. By examining the changes that these manuscripts undergo as they are recopied and evolve, we hope to contribute knowledge about the translation and spread of scientific knowledge throughout the medieval world.
Share a brief summary (the elevator speech) of your research project:
The Isagoge Manuscript Project seeks to explore the earliest manuscripts of the Isagoge, an introduction to a compilation of Arabic medical texts translated into Latin in the early 11th century. By examining the evolutions and changes that the textual contents undergo in different manuscript editions, we hope to learn more about the translation and spread of scientific knowledge during the medieval period.
Why is your research important?
The Isagoge Manuscript Project highlights the interconnected nature of the communicative networks in the medieval intellectual world. Far from there being a divisive separation between Europe and North Africa in the eleventh century, there was an ongoing and rich exchange of literary, artistic, and scientific knowledge and ideas between these regions. Our research will help provide a clearer picture of the mechanisms of intellectual exchange and, more broadly, how they contribute to the development of societies in this time period.
What does the process of doing your research look like?
When possible, the entire team meets over Zoom and views a digital edition of the manuscript we are working on. We then go through the process of transcribing the text word-for-word, decoding the handwriting, expanding the scribal abbreviations unique to whatever medieval script it is written in, and noting corrections or annotations written by later hands. We then examine the content of the manuscript itself by comparing it to other versions and analyzing the significance and reasoning behind the textual differences that exist between them, both in terms of scientific information and grammatical and stylistic choices.
What knowledge has your research contributed to your field?
Because the results of the team's research have not yet been published, I cannot go into great detail about our findings. However, we have learned a great deal of interesting things about the process of drafting and editing manuscripts and the evolution of stylistic features of scientific language in medieval Latin. We were also able to establish the spatial and chronological relationship of several individual manuscripts to one another and to determine their practical uses as physical codexes via analysis of their marginalia.
In what ways have you showcased your research?
The Oberlin Isagoge team is currently writing an article on the origins of and relationships between several of the manuscripts we have studied, with longer future articles in the works as well. Additionally, various parts of the team's work are currently slated to be published in books and articles on manuscripts and medieval medicine by the professors on the team, and we hope to eventually make our transcriptions of some manuscripts publicly available online.
How did you get involved in research?
As someone who hopes to work as a professor one day, I was interested in research as both a way to gain relevant experience in my field and to obtain a deeper understanding of material related to it outside of what I was learning in classes. I asked my advisor and faculty mentor, Professor Lee, whether he knew of any available research opportunities, and he generously invited me to work on the Isagoge Project.
What is your favorite aspect of the research process?
I personally enjoy the process of working with and reading manuscripts. Learning to read different medieval Latin scripts, using palaeographical techniques to identify and date different hands writing on the same paper, and deciphering what annotations and corrections can tell us about scribes is incredibly engaging. It's amazing to see how much history a physical piece of paper can hold not just in the contents of what is written, but in the physical writing itself.
How has working with your mentor impacted the development of your research project?
Professor Lee not only gave me the opportunity to work as a researcher in the first place by introducing me to the Isagoge team but also helped me hone my skills as necessary to ensure that I could be productive as a member of it. He provided me with the resources that allowed me to learn to read Beneventan and Carolingian scripts, and taught my fellow student researcher and me about the historical context surrounding the manuscripts' development and production. He and the team's other professors also consistently push me to further develop the analytical frameworks I use to examine the texts we work on.
Because of my experiences with the members of this team, I have a better understanding of how research can function as a collaborative endeavor rather than the hyper-competitive field that academia is stereotypically presented as. Additionally, I feel much better equipped to systematically and fully develop the framework of a research project so that I know how to accomplish my goals without being overwhelmed by the process.
How has the research you’ve conducted contributed to your professional or academic development?
On a practical level, I have gained several skills that will be useful to me in my chosen field, such as knowledge of paleography and the production of manuscripts. I have had the opportunity to put these skills into practice in classes on Classical and medieval literature and was even able to conduct my own original research on a manuscript for a final project in an art history course. However, in a broader scope, the experience of learning to conduct a research project has made me more confident in my career path choice, and I feel more certain that I will one day be able to enter academia with a strong research-based skillset.
What advice would you give to a younger student wanting to get involved in research in your field?
I would encourage them to talk to their advisor or another professor they know in their department. Once you have shown that you are committed to working hard in class and learning even beyond the material that is required of you, almost any professor will be happy to provide you with the resources you need to continue to learn in a research setting. Don't be intimidated - professors want to see students succeed!