An Introduction to the Tarascon Manuscript with Professor William Paden

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Please join us on Tuesday, May 22nd, at 10:30 a.m. in Ver Steeg Faculty Lounge, for a reading from—and a scholarly introduction to—the Tarascon Manuscript, a 14th manuscript written in Provençal, the medieval language of southern France, purchased last year jointly by Northwestern University Library and The Newberry Library of Chicago. Presenting this reading in the original language and serving as our guide through the world of late medieval France will be William Paden, professor emeritus in Northwestern's Department of French and an internationally known expert in the language and culture of the troubadours.

On the face of it, the Tarascon Manuscript is a simple annotated register of toll charges levied by a municipality along the Rhône River in the late 1300s—almost certainly the thriving port town of Tarascon. What makes this artifact so valuable, however—apart from the fact that it is likely the only original document in Provençal in the metropolitan Chicago area and that it is in its original 14th century binding—is the great detail it offers on the occupation and social status of travelers and merchants moving up and down along the river. Among these were of course many local citizens, but also Spaniards, English, Germans, and Lombards—even a Saracen slave of unknown gender (aussi un sarrazin esclau o esclaua). These men and women made their living transporting and selling merchandise and wares: oils, oranges, skins and furs, as well as the single most vital commodity for food preservation and seasoning in the Middle Ages: salt. The manuscript showcases the whole rich vocabulary of medieval commerce, including weights and measures, textiles, botany, produce, and livestock. There is also contemporary fiscal, monetary, and trade terminology.
Following the reading, Professor Paden will discuss his work to prepare a scholarly transcription of this manuscript and present how it is being used by Northwestern students. Additionally, research is underway to determine the identity of several individuals of the region named in the document—efforts which have already met with some success.
The Tarascon Manuscript itself will be on display. And—at a safe remove from the manuscript— coffee, tea, and cookies will be served.