Celebrating Research


The Edgar J. Goodspeed Manuscript Collection, Special Collections Research Center

University of Chicago Library

Collection Profile

How did a 9th- or 10th-century Gospel lectionary travel from Argos, Greece, to a restaurant in Chicago owned and frequented by gangland figures, and then to the University of Chicago Library? Is a small hand codex of the Gospel of Mark a very early exemplar or a later forgery? Does a mystery novel, The Curse in the Colophon (1935), accurately depict the activities of its author, New Testament scholar Edgar J. Goodspeed?

These are just some of the research possibilities to be explored in the Edgar J. Goodspeed Manuscript Collection. The Goodspeed Collection comprises 65 early Greek, Syriac, Ethiopic, Armenian, Arabic, and Latin manuscripts ranging in date from the 7th to the 19th centuries. Edgar J. Goodspeed (1871–1962), Chairman of the Department of New Testament and Early Christian Literature at the University of Chicago, spearheaded the acquisition of these hitherto unknown manuscripts because he believed that "manuscripts are to research in the humanities what laboratories and laboratory materials are to the natural sciences." Along with Harold R. Willoughby and other colleagues, Goodspeed used the manuscripts to transform the textual and iconographic study of the New Testament and to teach a generation of students who would go on to further their work.

Among the manuscripts of incomparable beauty, research significance, and teaching potential in the collection are the 12th- or 13th-century Rockefeller McCormick New Testament, a Byzantine manuscript of the entire Greek New Testament except the Book of Revelation, containing more than 90 miniatures; and the Elizabeth Day McCormick Apocalypse, dated ca. 1600, the only known illustrated Apocalypse in Greek, with 69 miniatures.

Decades after the collection was named in honor of Edgar J. Goodspeed in 1948, a collaborative effort of library staff, faculty, and technology experts at the University of Chicago is advancing Goodspeed's goal of teaching students at Chicago and making the texts available to others. Funds from the university supported a pilot project to begin producing high-quality digital images of complete manuscripts in the Goodspeed Manuscript Collection. An award from the Institute for Museum and Library Services is now supporting completion of the project to make all 65 manuscripts available to the public online.

Professor Margaret M. Mitchell, Professor of New Testament and Early Christian Literature, taught a course on the Gospel according to Mark and the "media revolution" in earliest Christianity that focused on the mysterious "Archaic Mark" in the Goodspeed collection. Students explored the relationship between medium and meaning in gospel interpretation through direct encounters with this manuscript in class, and studied and contributed annotations to a digital version of the codex accessed online outside of class. Professor Mitchell and her teaching assistant, Patricia A. Duncan, published a journal article that introduced the digital "Archaic Mark" to the scholarly world and made available the first full collation of its text. Thanks to new tools, the Goodspeed Manuscript Collection continues to advance scholarship and enrich learning into the 21st century.

Collection Profile and Overview: Alice Schreyer
Illustrations: Ted Lacey

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