Voynich conference speakers?

I have been approached with a suggestion to have a conference next year in London about the Voynich manuscript, where we could invite non-Voynich specialist to talk about their areas, for example an expert on mediaeval herbals, an expert on 15th century parchment, on art, or on astrology and astronomy.

 

I wonder if anyone has suggestions for strong academic experts in such areas whom it might be good to invite to such an event? The idea would be to sponsor them to look at the manuscript and apply their expertise, and pay them a fee for talking about it. I do not mean anyone who currently comments on Voynich matters!

Any suggestions?

41 Comments

  1. Stephen, it’s 2017 by now – any news? 🙂
    Is it still happening?

  2. Elina Alasentie

    Hi, Steven,
    Maybe an expert, who knows a lot about autism would be an interesting one. I just read an article from Helsingin Sanomat and when I looked all the pictures of the manuscript from the internet, I realised, that my autistic son has done the same kind of books when he was younger. I can easily imagine, that if he would do the same kind of action now at the age of 9 when he can write properly, his books could look just like the Voynich manuscript.

    • Stephen Bax

      Thanks Elina, but I don’t think autism alone could explain the linguistic structure and patterning in the script.

  3. marcus petz

    Lots of ideas for exploring further, is that what the conference should achieve? I would try and invite people to have an unconference where we have more of a workshop approach. I think of the stuff we did with Pixelache (herbologies and foraging people) and the OPen Knoweldge Society here in Finland. This can also have the academic aspect too with a Voynich studies approach.

    I certainly is intriguing your approach the idea that a persian influence is prevalent and a dating helps to narrow it down a lot. The style of art is also interesting, most seem focused on the text rather than where the ink came from, or the plants were growing etc. Sponsorship might come from someone like Google that likes challenges and scientific activities.

    Why can it not be with people invited from different communities, so ethnobotanists like Christian Vogl and herbologists like Hernietta of Henrietta’s Herbal; historians like Helen Spencer and re-enactors of the 15th century like Mark Hewitt; and linguists like S. Haque with polyglots for example…

  4. Is there any news on the conference Stephen?

    • Stephen Bax

      Hello – nothing concrete. It is still very much in the ‘ideas stage’. My aim was to get a sense of how people felt about it in principle, with some possible names and themes for speakers, and that discussion was useful. Now I need to reflect on how it might work in practice.

      So no-one should hold their breath or buy plane tickets! My thinking at this stage is that it might be good to hold it in London in 2017, May/June time.

      • Thanks!

        London is relatively easy to reach from Belgium, so I’d definitely try to attend.

        Are you still considering Astronomy as a possible theme?it seems like several people were up for that.

        Another expert I would definitely suggest then is Bradley Schaeffer. He combines knowledge about history, the astronomical tradition and actual knowledge about the stars. And he has written an article about the VM once!

        (He wrote the most influential paper about the Farnese Atlas, which I’m using as a source for the paper I’m writing about the Voynich bathing section, which is why I’m acquainted with Schaefer’s work :))

  5. Maryam Al-shhehi

    I wish I can join any of your events, totally hard to travel to the UK from the States now. Do you guys do it in specific time during the year? and what exactly do you talk about?

    • Stephen Bax

      The last major Voynich event which I know of was the inspiring 2012 gathering in Italy, organised by Claudio Foti, Michelle Smith and René Zandbergen. See more information here:

      http://www.voynich.nu/mon2012/index.html

      Of course one would hope in any future event to broadcast it, but that is not easy….

      • Peter

        Did it only now just saw Klaus Schmeh was also there with his great book. 🙂

  6. Notula

    Stephen, may I ask you some questions about the planned conference?

    As they are:

    Who is “we” and who is planning that conference? Will this be an official university event or is there a kind of institutional “Voynich Department” I don’t know yet? Who will pay the fees?

    How is it possible to seek in public (even in a private blog) for serious contributors from different academic fields without having contacted these unsuspecting (possible) speekers before? This is really not the academic standard for conferences I’m used to.
    Who of the usual “Voynich suspects” will be invited to that conference and who will decide about?

    Sorry, this kind of planning an academic conference looks pretty strange to me.

    • Stephen Bax

      Thanks Notula. If such an event happens, then all these questions will be answered in good time for everyone to choose to attend or not.

      If the idea as it stands does not appeal to you, then why not set up a more formal academic conference yourself, to suit your own way of doing things?

      I would encourage that, and I’d be first in the queue to attend.

      • Notula

        Stephen, thank you for your quick response!

        I do now understand that this conference is just an idea. And no, I wouldn’t set up any conference myself, neither formal nor informal, but I would certainly invite you.

      • Stephen,
        I’d also like to ask whether your ‘we’ is the academic we or there is some sort of committee in the background.

        Past Voynich conferences have generally proved a little disappointing to the wider community, since the persons invited are not rarely more experienced in being members of the “voynich community’ than of working in any relevant specialist discipline. Added to which the presentations have sometimes been offered like a business meeting’s (powerpoint) and without any scholarly papers emerging. So it would be very nice indeed to have a traditional style of conference – do keep your readers posted!

        • Stephen Bax

          No, no committee yet…..

  7. Josef Karpowski

    Stephen, have you ever considered that the VM may have been written in a preserved pre-Indo-European neolithic language?

    Numerous studies published over the last few years have confirmed that the early European farmers migrated en masse from Anatolia, and it seems likely that they were themselves derived from the Natufian culture, centered in the Levant. Perhaps they spoke a very early Semitic or Semitic-adjacent language, which survived in little pockets, or maybe was preserved by certain scholars?

    This could also mean that the VM might preserve aspects of neolithic Europe’s culture(s) and/or religion(s), which are otherwise lost, since those cultures were illiterate.

    It seems far-fetched that any of those languages could have survived four or five thousand years without being documented by the Greeks or the Romans, but maybe the documentation didn’t survive? I don’t think it’s impossible, certainly stranger things have happened.

    Just a thought. Greatly enjoyed your analysis, all the best to you.

    • Stephen Bax

      Could be… the question is to find it and show it! Unfortunately there are a lot of other ‘Could Bes’ around 🙂
      Thanks for your kind comments.

  8. Back in 2005, I posted about wanting to read a book by Obrist (which I still haven’t read). For what it’s worth, there’s currently a copy on Abebooks for £296, which is… nice.

    Tue, 12 Jul 2005 23:19:24 +0100
    To: [email protected]
    Subject: VMs: Book for Jean-Yves…

    Here’s a rare book I found mentioned in Jacques Le Goff’s “The Medieval Imagination” (he mentioned that it traces the roots of alchemy within astrology, and that the author was critical of Jung’s reading of alchemy) which I’m sure Jean-Yves Artero would like:-

    Obrist, Barbara (1982) “Les Debuts de l’imagerie alchimique
    (XIVe-XVe siecle)”, Paris: Editions Le Sycomore.

    Actually, I’d like to read it too: unfortunately the BL doesn’t have a copy, but the Wellcome seems to have most of her books, including this one (as does the UL SAS).

    • Stephen Bax

      Diane, looks like Marco was right……

  9. Darren Worley

    Rather than pick individual speakers, I thought about topics or themes that I would like an “expert opinion” on and only then identified an author/academic. I’m not even sure if all the individuals are active or are English-speakers.

    Medieval Ciphers / Astrolabes – David A. King
    Grimoires – Owen Davies or Benedek Láng
    Maps and Charts – Emilie Savage-Smith
    Celestial maps – Elly Dekker
    Zodiac – Ewa Sniezynska-Stolot

    I suppose other interesting themes would be medieval herbals, alchemy, medieval medicine and medieval thought. It might also be interesting to hear from someone who knows about medieval fakes and forgeries.

    Perhaps museum curators might be another group of target speakers. For example, a curator of collection of astrolabes could be approached.

    • I’ve been reading some of Elly Dekker’s work lately, definitely wouldn’t mind her having a look at the VM.

    • One has to anticipate that specialists of this level will expect to be able to see the MS. This is simply necessary to form a complete opinion. In the few cases where experts did provide comments that we know about (Sergio Toresella, Ewa Sniezynska-Stolot), they actually went to inspect the MS by their own initiative.

      • Derek Vogt

        Once a request for direct access is put in with the book’s current owners, how long does it take before you can actually be there? (…if they ever let you at all…)

        • Sorry for the late response.
          It is not so much a question of time, but rather one of justification.
          The MS will be handed out a couple of times per year, if the request is justified. In all other cases the requester is referred to the digital scans.

          Last time I went, I requested to see the boxes of additional material, and this can be done on the day itself. It is better to do it a few days beforehand.

    • [Comment edited to cut personal references – SB ]

      Darren,
      With all due respect – and I mean that – what we really need is a fresh take on the manuscript, one that doesn’t adopt those convenient ‘section descriptions’ which are generally based on a poor or inappropriate interpretation of the imagery.

      It would we wonderful indeed to have Elly Dekker (author of ‘Illustrating the Arataea’) and Emilie Savage-Smith comment, because neither has done so yet.

      As for David A. King – his ‘Ciphers of the Monks’ is already in print, and has been read and studied by Voynich writers, now, for more than a decade. (Check Nick Pelling’s site for example).

      I should far rather see him comment on the astronomical charts and the argument that the star-labels may be written in some Indic language/s.

      It’s time to treat the manuscript as provenanced texts normally are – not by having a wild guess at the nature of imagery which is poorly interpreted and then using that to ‘classify’ the sections.

      One has to begin first by dating and placing the vellum, binding, hands.. palette… and so on.

      [Here I have cut out some text which seemed to me unnecessarily sharp, concerning another contributor – SB]

      • Stephen,
        I completely accept your right to edit comments to your blog, but in the case of my response dated June 13th, your decision to edit out my rebuke to another contributor leaves in place in your blog the deliberate misrepresentation of my views by that other contributor which required that comment from me.

        I’ll say again that I have always had the deepest respect for Touwaide’s work and I would even lay a small wager that I was among the first to recommend it to the current crop of Voynicheros. Nor, by the way, do I think that it is reasonable for us to begin – suddenly – excluding the comments made by people who have not seen the manuscript in person.

        I understand the principle, of course, and most experts would not say much if they hadn’t been able to spend time with the original, but it has never been an issue raised, I believe, until just now.

        Perhaps it would help us if the major first-base sort of sites such as wikis and voynich.nu were to put in brackets in their bibliographies some indication of whether or not, and when, a given name was able to see the original. The same might, of course, have been done in advertisements for earlier Voynich gatherings, but I don’t believe it was.

  10. eric chapuzot

    interresting, i would be happy to expose my point of view if it doesn’t cost me too much but it’ll need lot of preparation… even more, you can surely contact me on Facebook … https://www.facebook.com/eric.chapuzot.1

  11. Marco
    yes, I’ve also referred to her, as I’m sure you know, but I didn’t realise that Nick had done so earlier. I’ll check the details and add a note to my posts – thanks very much.

    PS – Lightning won’t actually descend from heaven and blast you if you mention my name, you know. 🙂

  12. Hello Stephen,

    when you say that they should look at the MS, do you mean the physical MS or the digital scans?

    • Stephen Bax

      I don’t mean they should look at the physical manuscript, as I think that has been done. I mean to look at the contents and reflect on them using their own expertise from other specialist areas

      • The contents is what I meant. But I gather you don’t have in mind that they would actually inspect the MS, but work from the digital scans.

        • Derek Vogt

          I can see how the art and text could be examined that way, but not the parchment.

          • Stephen Bax

            I feel that the parchment has already been examined extensively. I would aim to focus on the content , so yes, from the digital scans which seem to me to be of excellent quality. Any views on that?

            I was also wondering whether to focus on one area to start with, e.g. the herbal, or the astrology/astronomy, and maybe do another one next time.

            • Stephen

              I agree that having someone look at the parchment is not necessary. This is only absolutely required if, for example, you want to find out when and where the artifact was manufactured. My feeling is that there is relatively little to gain with that at the moment.

              For scholars studying the contents, the Beinecke scans are just as good, and many times as convenient. I think it’s a wise decision to focus on the contents.

              Personally I would very much prefer an astronomy angle, if a topic has to be chosen. Botany has been done, and like Diane, I believe a specialization in medieval herbals is of little use, since the VM plant drawings are from a different, older tradition.

              For specific scholars, I have a number of names in mind, but I would first like to publish the paper I’m writing about astronomy in the bathing section – otherwise my recommendations will sound bizarre 🙂

              Do you have a deadline in mind for proposals?

  13. I’d suggest chucking the descriptions ‘herbal’ and ‘zodiac’ and ‘astrological’ – they’re all gained by analogy with what is imagined a connection to mainstream Latin works, and we have no solid evidence at the basis of those ideas, and plenty of internal and historical evidence to argue against them.

    What I’d suggest is concentrating on the sort of people who have formal qualifications and experience in sciences of the book as such.

    For me, I’d invite a couple of codicologists, one specialising in western, and another in eastern manuscript collections. I’d invite at least two palaeographers, and specialists in non-Latin scripts. In my dreams, Beit Arie would be among them.

    Then I’d invite a couple of experienced appraisers – from Sotheby’s or Christies.

    I would really like to hear the views of the curators of the Shoenberg collection.

    It would be very nice to have people with experience in identifying pigments and even (gasp) a specialist in comparative iconography.

    Believe it or not, museum persons might be very helpful in identifying the style in which the so-called ‘pharma’ vessels are shown.

    For myself, I’d also invite a couple of archaeologists au fait with things like the Padre Island crossbows, the style in which the month-roundels are designed, and other details which speak pretty clearly to the oldest chronological stratum in the Voynich imagery.

    I would certainly *not* invite “Voynich experts” nor people with an existing and vested interest in things like herbals or the history of the zodiac in Renaissance Italy/Germany etc., they can be predicted to argue the plant-pictures are a European herbal, nd that the month-roundels are a zodiac, simply because they know little else except Latin Europe’s herbals and zodiacs.

    I wouldn’t mind having someone able to do so evaluate my identifying certain folios as referring to the needs of mariners and of makers of the ‘portolan’ charts, so called.

    MOST OF ALL – I would dearly love someone able to explain intelligently and lucidly what it is about the manuscript which led Panofsky to say that it contained allusions to Kabbalah.

    that’s my wishlist. Same sort of thing you need to evaluate any unprovenanced manuscript, really.

    • I hasten to add that I do not include Alain Touwaide among the ‘herbal and zodiac’ types. He is an undoubted expert in the history of Latin and Byzantine medicine. There is another chap whose area is the dispensatories of the Arabic-speaking world. Sorry the name escapes me at the moment, but it would be brilliant to have him comment.

      Do you think you might be able to get the Keeper of Manuscripts for the British Library to speak? The last time someone tried, I think, was the 1950s when John Tiltman had a joint opinion from the Keeper (then … British Museum) and Irwin Panofsky. Wow!

      • Stephen Bax

        Thanks for these useful ideas. It might not be possible to get all of these people, but it is helpful to start with a wishlist!

      • I also feel that the most valuable opinion would be that of someone who is used to determining the cultural background of artifacts. Since the VM is very likely to be a culturally hybrid object with a rich history, this seems like a logical first step.

        I also agree with Diane’s list of the type of usual suspects not to focus on. We need people who can answer the question “What is this thing?” rather than the usual “does this at all look like it might fit into your area of expertise?”

        I don’t have any names in mind, but if you have the possibility to include someone like that, please don’t hesitate.

    • MarcoP

      Touwaide identifies two of the parts of the manuscript as a herbal (the subtitle of his paper is “L’erbario Voynich”) and as the presentation of zodiacal data evoking astrology (“dati zodiacali che evocano l’astrologia”). I don’t think his views were “gained by analogy with what is imagined a connection to mainstream Latin works” with “no solid evidence at the basis of those ideas”. On the contrary, I consider his views well founded and authoritative. I hope this conference will add new insights to his very valuable contributions.

  14. MarcoP

    Thank you for the great news, Stephen!

    A name that comes to my mind is Barbara Obrist:
    http://www.sphere.univ-paris-diderot.fr/spip.php?article161&lang=fr
    http://irh.wisc.edu/fellows/barbara-obrist

    I only read her 1997 paper about Wind Diagrams. Her discussion of the different textual traditions and the beautiful collection of illustrations she presents were very instructive for me.

    She has written about many aspects of ancient visual traditions: astrology, alchemy, cosmology, prophecies….

    In 2005 she was mentioned by Nick Pelling in relation with the Voynich manuscript and later by other bloggers I think.

    • Marco –
      I’ve found no reference for Nick Pelling’s having written about Barbara Obrist. The first mentions I find are
      1. From: Greg Stachowski To: Journal of Voynich Studies message Sent: 12-15-2009 2:43:00 PM in relation to Jean Perréal’s (1455-1530) “l’Alchimie” of 1516. Greg is referring toBarbara Obrist’s chapter in “Chymists and chymistry: studies in the history of alchemy and early modern chemistry”
      – nothing about wind diagrams –

      I recall making a comment to Nick’s blog, recommending Obrist’s paper, but searching his comments is difficult, so then..

      2. The second reference that my search engine turns up is yours dated November 30, 2014 – 10:31 am

      3. Then my own post, beginning “in response to Nick Pelling’s …” posted at voynichimagery.wordpress.com on Mar 2, 2015. That’s the one where I introduced Obrist’s paper about the winds after having recommended it to Nick’s readers rather earlier.

      I’d be glad to be corrected if there is any earlier mention. Nick being Nick , he would refuse incorrectly offered credits, but if they are rightly due, I’d receive the information gladly.

      – sorry Stephen about the OT –

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