Emily McConville has a recent Observer story about a guy with an interesting job:
The Vatican library provides invaluable resources for Department of Classics professor Joseph Amar, but in the course of his study, he has worked to correct discrepancies in one of the library’s manuscript catalogs, he said.
Using manuscripts from the first centuries of Christianity, Amar said he studies the writings of early Christian thinkers. Many of the manuscripts he studies reside in the Vatican Library, collected over many centuries and cataloged in the Bibliotheca Orientalis Clementino-Vaticana, an 18th-century tome that lists the authors of documents, their publication dates and descriptions of their contents, Amar said.
[…] Amar said as he delved into the texts over the course of his career, documenting the ideas of early Christian thinkers and studying everything from the content of manuscripts to handwriting styles, he noticed that the Vatican Library had a record-keeping problem. Until recently, he would find the documents he needed ⎯ often the only copies in existence ⎯ stacked on shelves, unorganized and unprotected.
Amar also found serious discrepancies between the manuscripts themselves and the catalog that was supposed to guide the scholars researching them, he said. Some descriptions misidentify the author of a text or the date of its publication, Amar said. Others misrepresent the manuscript’s argument, in what Amar called a “Catholicizing tendency.”
[…] Part of Amar’s job is to correct these errors, he said. In addition to his research on the time period itself, Amar works as a consultant for the Vatican Library, pointing out where the manuscripts and the Bibliotheca Orientalis Clementino-Vaticana differ.
[…] Amar’s work has taken on new significance in the digital age. In addition to improving its organization, in recent years, the Vatican Library has begun to digitize its oldest and rarest documents. Whereas the Bibliotheca Orientalis Clementino-Vaticana was once the only source of information on a text, the library can now update the description on the Web, incorporating Amar’s research, he said. The project involves many scholars who are largely in charge of the digitization in their own fields.
You’d think, or at least I would have thought, that over the centuries they would have done more to get their catalog in shape, but better late than never. At any rate, there’s an interesting tidbit at the end:
Amar said the process often leads to new discoveries. For example, scholars believed for centuries that Jacob of Edessa, an influential Biblical scholar, had written a commentary on the Book of Genesis ⎯ but no one could find it. Meanwhile, a catalog contained a misidentified Genesis commentary, Amar said. By comparing that manuscript’s writing and handwriting style with Jacob’s known works, Amar said he was able to correctly attribute the commentary to him.