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'Geese Book' manuscript focus of international pilot project

November 13, 2012

On Nov. 27, the Institute for Humanities Research and the Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies will launch the international pilot project “Opening the Geese Book,” directed by Volker Schier and Corine Schleif.

The project focuses on the lavishly and whimsically illuminated, two-volume liturgical manuscript known as the Geese Book.

Produced in Nuremberg, Germany between 1503 and 1510, this gradual preserves the complete mass liturgy compiled for the church of St. Lorenz and used until the Reformation was introduced in the city in 1525. In 1952 the parish of St. Lorenz presented the book to Rush Kress for “the American people,” out of gratitude for the support of the Samuel H. Kress Foundation in rebuilding the church after the destruction of WW II. In 1962 the manuscript assumed its place in the Pierpont Morgan Library in New York, where it remains today – the largest book in this famous collection.

The volumes are renowned for their high quality decorative illumination including fanciful pictures, provocative and satirical imagery of animals, dragons, and wild people. The work takes its name from an enigmatic illustration showing a choir of geese singing from a large chant manuscript with a wolf as their choirmaster. A fox, who has joined the choir, extends his paw menacingly in the direction of one of the geese.

The ambitious aim of this pilot project is to exhibit and explore a multisensory work of the past using multimedia technologies of the present. "Opening the Geese Book" provides a critical model for both re-integrating the arts and recontextualizing them historically. The web-based presentation opens the book to scholars while it makes the work accessible to broader audiences. Internationally known media designers, performers, and scholars from many fields have collaborated in presenting the book, offering new analyses, and posing critical insights into the origins of the Geese Book, its makers and authors.

The project consists of several components and products. The centerpiece is a website that contains a digital facsimile allowing unrestricted access to its 1120 pages. Users can listen to chants characteristic of the liturgy of the early 16th century, performed by the renowned Schola Hungarica of Budapest. In its digital form, the Geese Book can return home to Nuremberg and indeed be available universally, without leaving the protective environment guaranteed by the Morgan Library and its conservators.

Through a series of videos focusing on the main historical protagonists, the site explains the complex setting for the production and use of this liturgical book. Over two and a half hours of video are delivered in English and in German. Material from associated manuscripts are published here – those discovered through investigations for the project can be seen for the first time. For scholars, the site provides complete codicological information, a requirement of the best printed facsimiles as well as photographs of archival sources hitherto unknown. The format facilitates and encourages scholarly exchange of new research through its open and extensible format.

It is hoped that such digital facsimiles with commentaries and sources might come to replace the far more costly printed facsimiles of past generations. Such limited luxury editions could only be purchased by exceptional libraries since copies were priced upwards of $10,000.

Leading scholars, media professionals, academic institutions, public broadcasters, and recording companies from the U.S., China, Germany, the Netherlands, and Hungary have collaborated to accomplish the project goals. Generous financial support from institutional and corporate sponsors in the U.S. and Germany make this endeavor possible.

Please join us at 8 a.m., Nov. 27 to explore the Geese Book with free online access, meet the participants, and discuss the project. The event is free and open to the public. Refreshments will be provided. Click here for more information about the event, or for questions contact the IHR at 480-965-3000 or

For more information about the project, visit:

The Opening the Geese Book project was supported by grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, Institute for Humanities Research, and the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts. The Institute for Humanities Research and the Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies are research units in ASU's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.