Galen Broeker Goes to the Bibliothèque Nationale: Part One

I would love to be able to put in many more pictures of my day, but since I went to the BNF, that is not really possible.  Now, I took the long way, so I did not necessarily get as much time with the manuscripts as I might have if I had been there, waiting in line patiently at 10h.  That may be tomorrow, depending on jet-lag and logistics and family plans and what-not.  That being said, I rode in to Paris with my uncle this morning, who works as a producer for France 2, and walked up to my grandparents apartment in the 15eme to say good morning.  After a little breakfast, I hopped on the metro and went to the main site of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, the Bibliothèque Francois Mitterandover by Bercy and Gare de Lyon and what-not, on the Seine.  It’s a huge complex, with four big towers and a central sunken jungle that all the reading rooms look out on:

  I went downstairs and got my ID card made, paid the annual fee (only 30 euros for students!), handed over the letter of introduction, etc.  Having the nice gentleman who helped sort me out say I had access to everything (even if only in principle) was very, very exciting.  Since I was not particularly interested in the printed books today, I went out quickly and ate lunch on the patio. Post-lunch, I went to the actual research library in the 2eme, which is sadly under construction.  Here’s what it usually looks like: The MS I vowed to look at today, Paris, BNF MS lat. 11018, is in microfiche, so I spent most of my day looking through it.  It’s amazing how worked over it is—underlining, marginalia, smudges, holes, capitals in the margins, fingers pointing out interesting sections.  It was mostly edited by the Abbé Goffon in the 19th c., but he changed to order to chronological, which differs from the charter organization in the manuscript itself.  I wish someone, better at Latin and paleography than myself, would re-edit the bloody thing. Possibly translate it too, and fast, because that’s what I started doing tonight and it is going to take a while. Having spent all afternoon in the microfiche room, I would like to say that this is one of the last temples to knowledge in this world.  The room is gorgeous, with a giant dome overhead and numerous smaller sky-lights ringing it.  The four-storied walls are lined with bookshelves on narrow walkways, a la Beauty and the Beast, with desks and microfilm readers throughout the bottom:

 Contrary to all the horror stories I heard, the librarians were very kind today, both at the MSS section and here in the MF, helping me find the microfilm number, guiding me around the building, threading my machine, the works.  The BNF is a wonderful place, and I can’t wait to come back. That being said, wow, every manuscript could be a year’s work.  I think I’m going to have to narrow down my BNF list to a small core that I really get into.  Maybe 5-6 manuscripts this time, and then take a second trip dedicated to doing nothing else. I took a number of pictures today, but I need to play around with the camera and software a bit more to get them under the 2mb upload size for the blog–then you’ll start getting some of my photos rather than Wikipedia’s.

Thomas Lecaque

Thomas Lecaque

Thomas W. Lecaque (History) is a PhD student in Medieval Europe. His research interests include the Crusades and Crusader States, Occitanian literature, music and history, the cult of saints, the Peace of God, vernacular literature, and Latin-Greek-Syriac Christian relations. His current research focuses on the Toulousain experience in the First and Second Crusades and the socioreligious background to the founding of the County of Tripoli.

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