Traditionally, the Wednesday before Thanksgiving has been spent assisting my mother in the kitchen, preparing the myriad, crucial side dishes for the feast the next day: yams with apples, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, or cream spinach. This year, the crowd congregating to dine at my childhood home was intimate, and so, thankfully, associated stress levels concerning the cooking were low; my younger brother and I were able to head to the Walter's Art Gallery this year. Specifically, we planned to see a special exhibition on the newly re-discovered and actively restored Archimedes Palimpsest: Lost and Found: The Secrets of Archimedes. A palimpsest is a method by which sheets of manuscript, in this case parchment, are effectively erased and re-used, bound in a new way to create a new book. The texts by Archimedes, transcribed on large parchment sheets, were scraped away, cut, and folded anew to make a prayer book.
Initially, both my brother's and my expectations were that the exhibit would highlight the mathematical proofs hidden within the ancient watershed manuscript, treatises on buoyancy, on geometry. Towards this end, we were both a bit disappointed; the content of the manuscript was not illustrated to any significant extent. Rather, the exhibit focused on the long history of this manuscript, from when it was first transcribed, mutilated artfully and used for centuries by priests in a monastery in the Byzantine Empire, discovered, lost and purposely and shamefully further ruined, and finally discovered once again. The exhibit also explained the delicate archaeological and precise, complex scientific techniques harnessed in order to salvage and preserve the pages. The prayer book took four years alone to unbind, as a result of modern, synthetic wood glue that had been applied more recently in the life of the manuscript; researchers utilized imaging techniques applying an entire spectrum of wavelengths of light so that the first application of ink, the mathematics by Archimedes, could be discerned. The process has been arduous and precarious, but ultimately, rewarding, and a great gift to our modern society has been bestowed.
In an interview with the curator of rare manuscripts at the museum, one of the most poignant points of the exhibit, and an issue central to media and knowledge restoration and conservation, was broached: currently, the archival and survival of much of our knowledge, our arts and sciences and histories and stories, are predicated on the maintenance of electricity. If, indeed when, this source of energy passes, dies, the record of so much of humanity can die with it. I have had many conversations with many different people on the history of the book, and more importantly the future of the book; I hope that future is long and vibrant.
To travel to downtown Baltimore and explore the beautiful, grandiose halls of the Walter's, I wore a pair of heavy tweed winter shorts, coupled with thick black sweater tights, an ochre sweater camisole, and a camel cashmere cardigan. The leather riding boots, which feature a unique gradient from brown to black on the toe, and an array of button-like studs, were perfect for walking.