Teaching Spotlight: Megan Peiser


Teaching spotlight returns this semester for an interview with Megan Peiser.  We’ve taught several classes alongside Megan and are happy to have the opportunity to present her thoughts about teaching with Special Collections.

Megan PeiserSC: Please tell us a bit about yourself and your interests.

I’m a doctoral candidate in the English department working in the fields of Eighteenth-Century British Literature, and Book History. My dissertation in progress focuses on uncovering the contemporary critical response to the only period in literary history when women published more novels than men—1790-1820. I came to University of Missouri to work on this project because our Special Collections holds hard copies and microfilm of The Critical Review and The Monthly Review, the two most prominent book review periodicals of the late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-centuries. Using rare books and special collections holdings throughout my own research journey has impressed on me how using their resources can deepen one’s experience with literature.

When not leaning over a 200-year-old book, I am taking walks with my dachshund, Rory.

How do you use Special Collections in your teaching? What outcomes resulted from your class visits? What were the effects on your students?

I always include Special Collections in my teaching when I can. Literature especially favours visual and aural learners. Special Collections helps students to come into physical contact with literature in a temporal way, and often for the first time gives kinesthetic learners an opportunity to see the study of literature as something that plays to their strengths. Engaging with books as objects takes students out of their cookie-cutter anthology, and allows them to experience a text as its contemporary readers would have.

When my ENG 1210 Introduction to British Literature classes visit Special Collections they get a lesson on the history of the book. They are able to see via examples from Special Collections’ holdings the evolution how mankind has received the written word, from—cuneiform tablets, to papyrus scrolls; illuminated manuscripts, to incunabula. Seeing these changes helps students to imagine a work’s original form, and think about how it both changes and does not change as it passes through the various mediums that bring it to their textbook.


I also use special collections to get students think about how they receive information. Students in my ENG 2100 Writing About Literature class visited Special Collections to look at examples of the same literature re-packaged over several centuries. Holding our class meetings in Special Collections with example books on the table before us enables the students to engage in discussion about the ramifications of a nineteenth-century erotic poem later printed in a children’s book.  While referencing the book objects before them, students become critics of more than words—of narratives of history, of collections, canons, and objects.

In my ENG 2159, World Literature 1899-Present class students combed artifacts from Special Collections and the University Archive’s collections to study ephemeral texts that represented historical moments from the marginalized viewpoints of those who lived through them. They asked how a poster, a pamphlet, a comic book might be literature? How it makes its meaning?

These students leave the classroom having not only read through literature’s past, but having had a physical experience with it. No longer feeling alienated from literature, they are empowered by its ability to reach readers across nationalities, languages, and mediums, and their ability to trace its path and engage with it throughout its journey. When they learn to criticize literature beyond their textbooks, they are able to apply their critical reading skills to other texts in their academic and professional lives.


What advice would you give to faculty or instructors interested in using Special Collections in their courses?

  1. Ask the librarians! Librarians spend much more time with the physical collections than you could ever attempt to re-create via searching the catalog. When I start thinking about my syllabus, I right away send a list of texts we’re reading, a theme I have in mind, or a brainstorm for an assignment to one of our Special Collections Librarian. Then we are able to meet, pull pieces together, and further brainstorm how to collaborate for the students’ best learning outcome.
  2. Don’t be afraid to experiment. My most successful assignments with Special Collections had very loose parameters. They were shots in the dark, and I told my students that! It gave them ownership over the project, and let them help me shape it into its refined version.

You can see examples of the interactive media projects my 2100 Writing About Literature students did in conjunction with Special Collections and their materials on our class website here: http://meganleapeiser.wix.com/writingaboutlit#!projects/cg5v

If you would like to nominate a faculty member or graduate student to be featured in the Teaching Spotlight, contact us.

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The Menaion for the month of June


Last week we published a mysterious inscription from this manuscript on Tumblr.  In response to requests for more information, we’re also sharing these excerpts from a recently prepared book history.

Written in the Raifa Monastery, near Kazan’ (Russia) in October 1624 (1623?) by the Elder Barsonophius.


Manuscript on paper 15.3 x 20.7 cm, 4to in 8s, 228 leaves; all quires intact.

Written in Church Slavonic in a single hand on a medium weight paper. Original ms. side notes, contemporary ms. record of date, scribe name and place. Light water stains, occasional spots of wax, a few edges a little frayed, tiny ink holes in two leaves, small worm trail at gutter in lower blank margins of one gathering. A very good clean copy with its original wide margins.

Bound in high quality Russian morocco over thick wooden boards. Metal bosses and centerpieces lost, remains of original brass clasps.



The Menaion (from Greek, μην, “month”, Church Slavonic minea) is the name of several liturgical books in the Orthodox (Greek, Russian, Romanian, Georgian, Serbian, etc.) Church.

The Christian calendar comprises two series of offices. There are movable feasts, falling on the days of the ecclesiastical year dependent on Easter (which is determined by the Jewish, i.e. Lunar calendar); and immovable, set to certain days of the month by the solar calendar, such as the feasts of our Lord: His Nativity (Christmas) Transfiguration, Theophany (Epiphany); of the Blessed Virgin, and of the saints. The offices for these “fixed” feasts are contained in the menaia (pl. for menaion). In the Roman breviary it corresponds to the Proprium Sanctorum.

A menaion, one for every month, contains the offices for immovable feasts, according to the liturgical calendar of the Orthodox Church.


The Menaia are used by clergy for daily services. This particular menaion is of specific interest because it antedates the extensive reform by Nikon (1605-1681), the seventh Patriarch of Moscow and all Russia, c.1654, revising all service books according to the Greek liturgical tradition, a fateful event that led to a deep schism in the Russian Church.

After this reform many of the pre-existing copies were discarded or burned as redundant.

All Russian service books antedating 1624, whether printed or written, are extremely rare and valuable.


The text has, sometimes substantial and important, variant readings from the standard Menaion for June. Grammatical mistakes signify that the Menaion was read aloud to the scribe rather than copied from another manuscript.


 The ms. contains 29 gatherings, 228 leaves. All gatherings contain 4 bifolia (8 leaves), except the first and last quire, which have 7 and 5 leaves respectively; apparently, first blank leaf of the first quire is used as paste-down, and two blank leaves at the end – one is cut out, the other is used as paste-down.

All quires are numbered in Church Slavonic numbers, apparently by the scribe.

Leaf numbering made in a different ink, by a different (19th cent.?) hand in Arabic numerals at the top right corner.


The text is written in elegant Cyrillic polu-ustav (semi-uncial, a minuscule) script, in a single hand, with characteristic overwriting, ligatures and abbreviations that are common in Cyrillic as well as Latin manuscripts, motivated mainly by two reasons : to distinguish sacred names and matters from ordinary ones, and to save space. Stresses are absent which is unusual for Slavonic service manuscripts. Small dots over the text suggest that it was chanted.


At the foot of the first ten leaves contemporary manuscript record of date, origin and scribe.


The inscription could be translated as: In the year 7132 of our Lord, in the month of October in 22nd day [has finished writing] this book Menaion [for the] month of June, for the Glory of the most pure Theotokos (Mother of God), in the Raifa monastery, in this same monastery tonsure monk Elder Barsonophius.

This inscription clearly indicates not only the name and position of the scribe – Elder Barsonophius, but gives us the place –Raifa monastery, and the date – 1624 (1623?).

The Raifa monastery (about 450 miles East from Moscow) dedicated to the Mother of God was established in 1613 by hieromonk Philaret. This secluded, beautiful place on the lake Sumka was surrounded by deep woods populated by wild animals.



At the very end of the manuscript, at the bottom of the last page, there is a mysterious inscription in Cyrillic characters:


The language is not Slavonic, and resists deciphering.

We assumed a possibility that our Fr. Barsonophius could have been a local man of Tatar or Cheremiss origin, and asked native speakers of those languages to look at the inscription. Alas, they failed to recognize anything familiar.

Any service book in the seventeenth century was regarded as a venerable, even sacred thing, thus the smallest mistake or a slip of the pen was considered a sin. It was customary for a scribe to finish a manuscript with a humble request to readers to correct mistakes if found. However it is only a conjecture. So far a language of this final inscription has remained an enigma for these researchers, who would be grateful for any clue.

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New request and registration system


If you’ve used many materials here in Special Collections, you’re probably all too familiar with these little yellow slips of paper.  They’re our call slips, and until recently, we required all readers to fill one out for each item being requested from the stacks.


This summer the MU Libraries transitioned over to a new computer system, and we took it as an opportunity to try a new way of requesting and paging materials.  Instead of filling out your name and contact information multiple times, you’ll be asked to do it once per year, on our new Patron Registration Form (you can even print it out from our website, fill it out in advance and bring it with you to the reading room if you want to save time). On subsequent visits, simply check in at the desk.  We’ll be able to complete the rest of your request electronically – no handwriting or carbon copies required!

Although we don’t yet have the capability to take requests online, you can, as always, email us to place materials on hold.  We’re hoping that this system will prove easier and more efficient for everyone involved. No more repetitive request writing for you, and no more wrangling thousands of paper slips for us.  Our call slip mascots, the Special Collections sheep, might have gotten a little excited when they heard about this.


The new registration system takes effect August 1.  Although we’ve spent weeks practicing and trying to anticipate bugs, we’ll probably need your patience as we learn this new way of doing things.  Please feel free to contact us with any thoughts, concerns, or problems.

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On the Twelfth Day of Christmas in July…

… we present Jesus and the Twelve Apostles.


In this collection of the Gospels from 1591, the text is written in both Arabic and Latin.  It’s inscribed “With compliments to my friend Dr. W. Burggraaf, Christmas 1931.”


A beautiful example of works in translation, the book also contains 149 woodcut illustrations.  They were, however, printed from only 68 blocks, so the careful reader can discern some copycat pictures in different places.  Like the two below, both used to illustrate a version of the same story in Matthew and then in John.

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Reusing woodblocks was a fairly common practice, particularly in bibles where multiple versions of similar events or themes are told by the various authors of the books of the Bible throughout.  We’ve come across several other books in our collection where the illustrations give us deja vu.

That’s it for the 12 Days of Christmas in July series!  Have a merry holiday, and if you should feel like celebrating with us, stop by and see us next week – we’d be happy to show you any of the books featured here, along with any of the others in our collections!

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On the Eleventh Day of Christmas in July…


… we give you The Singer of Tales written by Albert Bates Lord, a large part of whose library came to us in a donation in the Spring of 2011.

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Gifted in 1960 by the author, this book contains a fun little surprise inside that we found when paging through it prior to this post:  the paper tag from a tea bag!



“There is no greater power than the power of the word.”  This message is doubly appropriate when considering that Lord was a prominent scholar in oral composition and performance and this book in particular is about epic poetry and oral tradition.  A more fitting message on an impromptu bookmark would definitely be hard to come by.

Stay tuned for the final book in our 12 Days of Christmas in July series tomorrow!

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