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Open Access Thesis
Master of Arts (M.A.)
Year Degree Awarded
Month Degree Awarded
Otto Ege cut apart hundreds of medieval manuscripts during the first half of the twentieth century, claiming to do so to provide wider access to them. His destruction resulted in the loss of provenance, material history, and context of these manuscripts. Moreover, he made mistakes when identifying and dating the manuscript leaves he cut, and the loss of the bindings and front matter of the manuscripts makes it difficult to correct these. Much of the research concerning Ege focuses on his identity as a biblioclast, yet even scholars who denounce his book-cutting admit he allowed for places and people to have access to these manuscripts that otherwise would not. In this thesis, I examine how place impacted not only Ege’s motivations to distribute medieval manuscript leaves, but how place further impacts the accessibility of these leaves to people of lower socio-economic status. By mapping the locations of Ege’s Fifty Original Leaves of Medieval Manuscripts portfolios against the percentage of the population with college degrees, I make the argument that Ege’s portfolios are not as accessible to underrepresented populations as they could be, because most of these portfolios are located at university special collections and archives. I draw on social and geographic theory to show that non-college educated people are less likely to visit a college campus than those who attended college. I then explore current scholarship in archives and special collections to show the importance of public outreach programs and how bridging the gap between university archives and special collections and public libraries or other community institutions can make Ege’s portfolios more accessible to a broader audience. I conclude that while Ege did irreparable damage to the historical value of these medieval manuscript leaves, they do indeed still have value in their ability to allow more people to learn from and appreciate them. Ege’s vision of democratizing medieval book history may not have been perfect, but with the damage done, we can move in a more positive direction so as not to waste the potential benefits of these portfolios.
Meadors, Melanie R., "Cut Out of Place: The Geography and Legacy of Otto Ege's Broken Books" (2023). Masters Theses. 1297.