The books are alive with biological data: an introduction to the field of biocodicology and its implications for historical health sciences collections
Keywords:Biocodicology, History, Rare Books
Recent global events have underscored the need for broad access to digitized library special collections. At the same time, a burgeoning field of scientific and historical inquiry is finding a goldmine of data in the physical old books and manuscripts stored for centuries on library shelves. This article gives an overview of some of the interesting studies employing library materials in the new field of biocodicology, which expands the field of codicology (learning about book history through studying a copy’s physical attributes, sometimes referred to as “archaeology of the book”) to interrogate physical books with proteomic, genomic, and microbiomic tools. Historical health sciences collections provide rich, new research avenues for budding biocodicologists, and biocodicology and other interdisciplinary fields focused on material culture present an unforeseen justification for institutions’ continued preservation and access to individual physical copies.
Fiddyment S, Teasdale MD, Vnouček J, Lévêque E, Binois A, Collins MJ. So you want to do biocodicology? a field guide to the biological analysis of parchment. Herit Sci. 2019 Jun;7(35). http://dx.doi.org/10.1186/s40494-019-0278-6.
Beasts2Craft. Events [Internet]. Denmark: Palaeome [updated 2019; cited 5 Jul 2020]. <https://sites.google.com/palaeome.org/ercb2c/get-involved/events>.
Fiddyment S, Holsinger B, Ruzzier C, Devine A, Binois A, Albarella U, Fischer R, Nichols E, Curtis A, Cheese E, Teasdale MD, Checkley-Scott C, Milner SJ, Rudy KM, Johnson EJ, Vnouček J, Garrison M, McGrory S, Bradley DG, Collins MJ. Animal origin of 13th-century uterine vellum revealed using noninvasive peptide fingerprinting. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA. 2015 Dec;112(49):15077–71.
Teasdale MD, Fiddyment S, Vnouček J, Mattiangeli V, Speller C, Binois A, Carver M, Dand C, Newfield TP, Webb CC, Bradley DG, Collins MJ. The York Gospels: a 1000-year biological palimpsest. R Soc Open Sci. 2017 Oct 25;4(10):170988.
Shepherd LD, Whitehead P, Whitehead A. Genetic analysis identifies the missing parchment of New Zealand’s founding document, the Treaty of Waitangi. PLoS ONE. 2019 Jan 16;14:e0210528.
Rosenbloom MC. Anthropodermic book project [Internet]. Los Angeles, CA: Anthropodermic Book Project; Apr 2016 [updated May 2019; cited 5 Jul 2020]. <https://anthropodermicbooks.org>.
Rosenbloom MC. Dark archives: a librarian’s investigation into the science and history of books bound in human skin. New York, NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 2020.
D’Amato A, Zilberstein G, Zilberstein S, Compagnoni BL, Righetti PG. Of mice and men: traces of life in the death registries of the 1630 plague in Milano. J Proteom. 2018 May 30;180:128–37. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jprot.2017.11.028.
D’Amato A, Zilberstein G, Zilberstein S, Golovan MI, Zhuravleva AA, Righetti PG. Anton Chekhov and Robert Koch cheek to cheek: a proteomic study. Proteomics. 2018 Mar 9;18(9):1700447. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/pmic.201700447.
Zilberstein G, Maor U, Baskin E, D’Amato A, Righetti PG. Unearthing Bulgakov’s trace proteome from the Master i Margarita manuscript. J Proteom. 2017 Jan 30;152:102–8. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jprot.2016.10.019.
Gibbons A. Goats, bookworms, a monk’s kiss: biologists reveal the hidden history of the ancient gospels. Science [Internet]. 2017 Jul 25. <https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2017/07/goats-bookworms-monk-s-kiss-biologists-reveal-hidden-history-ancient-gospels>.
Wade L. These 1000-year-old teeth belonged to a skilled female artist, pigment remains reveal. Science [Internet]. 2019 Jan 9. <http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2019/01/these-1000-year-old-teeth-belonged-skilled-female-artist-pigment-remains-reveal>.
MIKROBIB. BMBF Collaborative Research Project [Internet]. Technische Universität Braunschweig; 2018 [cited 5 Jul 2020]. <https://www.tu-braunschweig.de/en/philosophie/mikrobib>.
Caldwell K. Email to Rosenbloom M. 2020 May 8.
Schexnyder E. Email to Rosenbloom M. 2020 May 8.
Hague-Yearl MK. Email to Rosenbloom M. 2020 May 8.
Pearson D. Provenance research in book history: a handbook. New Castle, DE: Oak Knoll Press; 2019. p. 6–7.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.