BU first to study script from 1380s

religionBy Brooke Bailey

Baylor students translate ancient Austrian text

An undergraduate research team is piloting a study on an Austrian manuscript dated from the 1380s.

Baylor students are the first to study this document.

“No one’s ever done it,” Lake Jackson senior Amy Freeman said.

Freeman has been working on the Speculum Humanae Salvation since her sophomore year, along with a team of five other students; Houston senior Rachel Butcher, Leander senior Ian Conn, Roundrock senior Zerek Dodson, Waco freshman Callie Hyde and Waco senior David Welch.

The undergraduate group works with faculty members to transcribe and translate the material.

“This is rare for undergrads to be able to do this kind of work,” Freeman said.

Few have access to manuscripts of this magnitude.

“Most grad students don’t have this research opportunity,” Dr. Melinda Neilson, a Baylor ISR Postdoctoral Research Fellow said. “It’s unique for Baylor to have these resources at its disposal for students to have.”

Also known as “The Mirror of Human Salvation,” the 14th-century Latin manuscript functions as a teaching mechanism for the Bible.

The manuscript shows the history of God’s reactions with people in pictures and poetry.

“It helped preachers in the 14th century break the Bible down,” Neilson said.

The document is ornate and contains abbreviations that take time to translate.

“Transcribing the handwriting is difficult,” Neilson said.

Freeman said the scribes’ writing and editing tells a story.

“You get a glimpse of that part of history,” she said.

Two years ago the Speculum was at Baylor, and students, including Freeman, conducted hands-on research with the physical document.

The manuscript is currently in Charlotte as a part of the traveling Passages Bible Exhibit. The Speculum has been on tour all over the world, Freeman said.

Students study the Speculum with digital scans. Freeman said in some ways it’s more useful because the high-resolution technology makes it easier to see all of the details rather than looking at the document itself.

Freeman witnessed the scanning process. She said the high-tech scanner and the ancient 14th-century document were an unusual sight because of the contrast between modern technology and the archaic manuscript.

Faculty members selected Freeman to conduct research on the Speculum with an international project, the Green Scholars Initiative.

Studying the Speculum lends more than an academic perspective for Freeman. It has also played a role in her spiritual life.

Freeman said her appreciation for scripture and tradition has only grown.

“I feel so much more connected to the community of saints,” Freeman said. “It’s not just us. We have the whole church. Manuscripts have helped us realize this more.”

Freeman said she hopes to continue her research in medieval literature and manuscript studies in graduate school. Teaching manuscript studies to youth is also a possibility.

Talking to people outside of her field about her research has been rewarding, Freeman said.

“It sparks a new interest when I’m in conversations, especially working at kids camps in the summer,” Freeman said.

Some kids have become interested in areas such as history and Latin. The image of the manuscript makes it seem more real, Freeman said.

We have a responsibility to do excellent work and pass tradition to future generations, Freeman said.

“It’s really humbling as a scholar to see what a heritage we’ve received,” she said.

The Initiative provides opportunities for intensive research on items in The Green Collection, the largest collection of rare biblical artifacts and texts.

Hobby Lobby President Steve Green oversees the collection. Green visited Baylor in June 2012 for the first conference of LOGOS at Baylor.

The Green Scholars Initiative recently established Baylor as its major research partner. The partnership between Baylor and the institute provides major research opportunities for students interested in papyrus and manuscript studies.

Researching ancient manuscripts gives students a marketable skill for graduate school, Neilson said.

When the research is published in a couple of years, the students will get credit as authors.