Many factors conspired to bring Leah Borquez ‘20 to Toledo, Spain, this year for Fall Break: funding from Bryn Mawr’s Dean’s Office; an award from the Classics Department’s Undergraduate Research Fund; the support of her Hanna Holborn Gray Undergraduate Research Fellowship.
But most importantly, Leah went to Toledo because of a single footnote she found during her research on Roman insanity.
“There was a footnote that intrigued me in one text that I read for my Hanna Holborn Gray paper,” Leah says. “I tried to track down what that footnote was referring to, and that led to this manuscript, and that essentially turned into this project.”
The footnote referenced a 15th-century manuscript of De Medicina, a medical treatise by the Roman author Celsus that is housed in the library of the Cathedral of Toledo. That manuscript has largely been ignored by other scholars working on Celsus, but Leah, a Classical Languages major who has been studying Celsus since her sophomore year, thought it could reveal new information not preserved in other versions of De Medicina.
She was right. “The text is different essentially from any extant copies of the text,” Leah says. “It’s a unique manuscript in the tradition.”
But Leah did not travel to Toledo simply to happen upon a new manuscript. She also collected information about its provenance and creation, and to do so she worked with Spanish archivists and consulted with her professors back at Bryn Mawr.
Among those she consulted were Professor of Greek, Latin, and Classical Studies Catherine Conybeare and Eric Pumroy, the Seymour Adelman Director of Special Collections, whose class “Forming the Classics: From Papyrus to Print,” she is enrolled in.
“Through that class I've gotten so much more background on how to look at a manuscript as an object instead of just text,” Leah says. “I feel like I got a lot more out of my experience because of that. It helped me understand what I was looking for and the words to understand what I was looking for, which was especially valuable considering the language barrier I encountered.”
Leah has big plans to continue her research: she’s already applying for more grants to continue her work, and looking at options to publish it.
“When I started at Bryn Mawr I never thought that I would be traveling to do research,” Leah says. “It's kind of surreal, in that way, but I know that I'm very lucky, and I just feel so much more prepared for whatever academia has for me next because I've gotten this experience. I think it was a really important experience, and it was made possible, really, because of the continuous support I've been able to get for research from Bryn Mawr.”