My internship on the ‘Forging Antiquity’ Project

For the first half of 2017, Vanessa Mawby participated in the ‘Forging Antiquity’ Project as an undergraduate intern within Macquarie University’s PACE Program. Below she reflects on her experience during the internship.

This semester I was given the opportunity to work as a project intern on the ARC Discovery Project, ‘Forging Antiquity: Authenticity, forgery and fake papyri’, through the Macquarie University PACE program, with A/Prof. Malcolm Choat, and Dr. Rachel Yuen-Collingridge. Primarily, I was tasked with creating an index of the ‘Recueil d’anciennes écritures’, a 16th century manuscript by Pierre Hamon, and reuniting the copies he made with original manuscripts and artefacts. The process was a little grueling but rewarding nonetheless, and honestly, it felt like detective work.

On opening the manuscript you are immediately bombarded with all sorts of crazy scripts and alphabets. Hamon labels some as ‘Latin’, but they looked so foreign, I had to take his word for it. Another immediate hurdle was learning to read Hamon’s own challenging cursive script, in which his difficult 16th century French was written. But as the weeks rolled by, Hamon and I developed a working relationship where I was becoming accustomed to his way of writing, and slowly deciphering the alphabets. I’m not exaggerating when I say that with every alphabet/deciphered, there’d be actual whoops of joy in the office.

The next big step was locating the manuscripts from which Hamon had copied the alphabets and sample texts appearing in his own collection. We knew a lot of them were likely to be held now by the Bibliothèque Nationale de France archives, but I’m going to be honest; trawling through the thousands of manuscripts and other artefacts in the archive, and painstakingly comparing them to Hamon’s work seemed a task too large to even approach. Luckily for me, I was equipped with an article by H. Omont, which gave a partial guide to which artefacts Hamon was copying, and in some cases, even a BnF archive number.

After numerous twists and turns leading to dead ends, medieval runes, and even Roman inscriptions, the index was mostly complete and it was time to turn to translating a Latin work by Bartholemew Germon, an 18th century Jesuit scholar, who discussed the authenticity of an extract of the charta plenariae securitatis which appears in Hamon’s manuscript. After weeks of dealing with Hamon’s fascinating and strange manuscript, it was almost a relief to be reading Latin, albeit 18th century Latin.

Vanessa Mawby (left), with Rachel Yuen-Collingridge and Malcolm Choat, Markers of Authenticity Seminar Series, 2/6/17, Museum of Ancient Cultures, Macquarie University

To complete my semester as a project intern, I presented a short paper alongside my supervisors at a Markers of Authenticity seminar hosted at Macquarie University. I’d never presented before, let alone with a team, so it was a nerve-racking experience to say the least. But I found that presenting as a team provided a safety net for me, and the successful presentation showcased our collaborative work.

If this internship has taught me anything about forgers and the relationship between disciplinary practice, it’s that there’s so much more to the ‘forger’ and their ‘forgeries’ than can be immediately assumed. Instead of generating new texts from scratch, as I had previously supposed, the ‘forgeries’ in Hamon’s manuscript display his method of excerpting texts and stitching pieces together to create new texts, which are only minutely different from their authentic counterparts. This discovery broadened my understanding of the many ways in which forgeries can be made.

Next semester, although completing my PACE activity, I will be staying on the project as a research assistant for the next phase of the project on Constantine Simonides. It’s sad to be saying good-bye to Hamon, but I don’t think any of us will yet be able to say, ‘case closed’.

Vanessa Mawby

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