Eric Ramirez-Weaver / Art

Thank you for inviting my participation in the Mead Endowment Dream Idea program. Ever since I first received the invitation, I have been contemplating ways to make a new colloquium scheduled for spring 2015, Medieval manuscript Illumination, come alive. One of the perennial difficulties at the University of Virginia is to find ways to reveal the goals, desires, passions, and fears of medieval artists to students. I have decided that for my dream project, at most ten students and I in the Medieval Manuscript Illumination course are going to explore handwritten medieval books, the earliest printed books, and the images they contain as firsthand “crafted confessions” of early to late medieval identities. In order to do so, we are going to explore the nature of medieval book making, medieval art, and aspects of the monastic lifestyle through a series of enriching field trips. One important concept that emerges from a careful study of medieval manuscript creation is the role of communal teams in the manufacture of great books. From the preparation of parchment as a writing surface to the application of script by scribes and paint by artists, the teams that gave visual form to celebrated words and luxurious illustrations worked together as a motivated community behind a common purpose – the preservation of knowledge and truth as they discerned it. The course curriculum investigates how books of sacred writ and medieval science participated in the construction of communities of knowledge, authority, and power. The excursions made possible by the Mead Endowment will enable me and the students to likewise undertake our joint journey of exploration, as we create own community in the service of education and expand our understanding through our conversations and shared experience.

In order to do so, we will visit the Walters Art Museum where examples of medieval art and manuscripts will be complemented by a temporary exhibition on view through April 1, 2015, “From Pen to Press: Experimentation and Innovation in the Age of Print.” This is an important exhibition that relates perfectly to the material at the end of the course, when we assess how the transition to a print culture radically transformed a person’s idea about the nature of a book and the individual reader’s approach to its lecture. Preliminary research suggests that general admission to the Walters is free. In order to prepare for our visit, each student will research one book or object on display (established in advance with the assistance of the local curatorial staff) and present that specific work to our class. Each short presentation will examine how a specific item on display manifests a “crafted confession” of medieval life and culture. The special exhibition with guided tour will cost $17/person for a total of $187. In order to arrive safely as a group and stay together in Baltimore, we will take the train from Charlottesville to Baltimore, Each round-trip ticket will cost approximately $90, for a total of $990. We will also spend the night in a local hotel. It appears that off season, we should be able to stay near the harbor with a dinner and breakfast allowance for roughly $75/person; in other words, for a total of $825. The subtotal for the Baltimore excursion is therefore, $2,002.

And second, a much less costly but equally vital trip will take us to the cheese-making, Crozet Trappist monastery, Our Lady of the Angels, where we will meet with one of the nuns and learn about the Cistercian lifestyle. This anthropologically speaking, emic (first-hand) interaction with one of the sisters will enrich our Cistercian unit. Moreover, it will help the students understand better about medieval ideas of cosmological order and temporality that were linked to the land, the liturgical year of the church, and to the daily performance of monastic ritual. This temporal framework supplies a vastly different paradigm through which to approach our investigations of medieval life and culture. The cost of this is nominal, comprising the rental fee for two minivans and related expenses estimated at $95 per vehicle, for a total of $190. We will also bring lunch from an establishment such as Sticks for a picnic at the monastery. The cost of lunch is estimated at $100, and a complete subtotal for the day is $295.

I propose finally that the students and I participate in a concluding conversa-tion, revisiting our semester, our study of medieval manuscripts, and the research projects that were completed by the students. I will host a barbecue dinner at my home for the students. A suitable budget for this event would be $250.

Together, the total cost for these interactive engagements would be roughly $2,550. For the moment, I have kept my estimates conservative, using various online search engines to establish the prices. Since the costs of travel and lodging can fluctuate, I would therefore make a total request of $3,000 with the understanding that no money will be wasted, and any surplus gratefully returned to the foundation.