Penn Libraries to launch Schoenberg Institute for Manuscript Studies

The Penn Libraries have received a major collection of 280 Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts, valued at over $20 million, from long-time benefactors and Library Board members Lawrence J. Schoenberg, a Penn alumnus, and Barbara Brizdle Schoenberg. To promote the use of this and other manuscript collections at Penn, the Libraries will create the Schoenberg Institute for Manuscript Studies.

Penn Libraries to launch Schoenberg Institute for Manuscript Studies

"Herbal in the tradition of Dioscorides," a text on plants and their medicinal properties in 679 chapters, preceded by illustrations, a prologue and a table of contents listing 697 chapters.

“Through their extraordinary philanthropy and vision, Larry and Barbara have helped build the foundation for a strong medieval studies program at Penn,” says Penn President Amy Gutmann. “This new gift of an unparalleled collection of Medieval and Renaissance artifacts builds on that foundation. For generations to come, the collection and Schoenberg Institute for Manuscript Studies will have a profound impact on the study of human knowledge and creative invention.”

The Lawrence J. Schoenberg Collection reflects the passions of its collector—art, science, mathematics and technology. It is comprised of early manuscripts in Eastern and Western languages that illuminate the scope of pre-modern knowledge of the physical world in the Christian, Jewish and Muslim traditions.

“The overarching reason why I collect,” Larry Schoenberg says, “is the opportunity it affords me to participate in the history of human intellectual activity and the exchange of knowledge. Now, by giving my collection to Penn, I know that students and scholars will share this experience and further transform knowledge.”

The collection traces the reading and interpretation of ancient authorities that had central importance in the history of ideas, including Aristotle, Euclid, and Ptolemy. It prefigures the advances of Copernicus, Descartes, Newton, and Leibniz, and it illuminates lesser-known figures like Nastulus, the inventor of astrolabes, an ancient , and al-Zahrawi, devisor of medical instruments.

“This is a remarkable gift from two people who, over the years, have had an invaluable impact on how we think about and position research libraries in a digital age,” says H. Carton Rogers, vice-provost and director of libraries at Penn. “We’re enormously grateful to Larry and Barbara for this gift that is sure to attract scholars from across disciplines and from around the world.”

Items from the Schoenberg collection have already proved valuable to graduate and undergraduate students, as well as scholars from around the world engaged in research and instruction in history, English, music, art, religious studies, languages and the study of civilizations.

The creation of the Schoenberg Institute for Manuscript Studies will further the Penn Libraries’ commitment to providing digital access to rare materials, and advance its support of hands-on use of primary sources in research and teaching. Through collaboration with faculty and scholars, and led by a future Schoenberg Curator, the Institute’s mission will be to promote the active use of manuscripts in the Schoenberg Collection and in Penn’s Rare Book and Manuscript Library, the Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies and the Penniman-Gribbel Collection of Sanskrit Manuscripts.

Previous financial and material gifts presented to the Penn Libraries by the Schoenbergs include support for the creation of the Libraries’ digital humanities presence through the Schoenberg Center for Electronic Text and Image; the Schoenberg Database of Manuscripts, which tracks manuscript sales and provenance; the annual Schoenberg Symposium on Manuscripts in the Digital Age; and the Lawrence J. Schoenberg & Barbara Brizdle Manuscript Initiative, established in 2006 to support the acquisition of manuscripts produced before 1601.

Originally published on April 15, 2011