Something cleaner – a “clear slate Conference” proposal

Nick Pelling’s recent post made intriguing reading (, January 7th., 2017)

My first impression on reading it is that he is not so much proposing a conference about Beinecke MS 408 as proposing that we  – no, not ‘we’ – some persons to his taste explore the admittedly-fascinating  intersection of technology and codicology.

But it got me thinking – what do other blog-writers imagine would be a great Voynich conference?   Here’s my ideal, for a start:

“Beinecke MS 408: The Clear Slate Conference” ( three days.. 2017)


By default, anyone who has an existing history of involvement in study of, or in publicly commenting upon, Beinecke MS 408.

(So I’m out, having a fairly solid history of research and publication.  As people who had already come into contact with Voynicheros and their opinions, it would also debar Alain Touwaide and Philip Neal. Pity.)


  1. Contributions will be invited from persons who confirm in writing, after being invited and having read these conditions that they have no prior acquaintance with the manuscript, or with any prior writings or opinions about it.
  2. Each invitee will be sent a copy of Yale scans, and must undertake to consult nothing previously said or written about the manuscript until after their paper is submitted.  (Yes, it is an honour system, but I think  that we can expect 8 0r 9 of any 10 reputable experts to act honourably. It’s the ‘blindfold’ approach which offers such an interesting challenge.)
  3. Papers prepared for the conference are to  focus on the writer’s perceptions of this manuscript from the perspective of their own area of expertise.
  4. Papers should be presented to the standards required by any reputable journal in their field of study.
  5. Those delivering papers maintain copyright over these papers, but must sign a release for an electronic copy to appear online within 30 days’ of the Conference’s ending.
  6. Authors should obtain any necessary permissions over reproduced illustrations, diagrams, citations  before presenting their paper at the Conference.
  7. Papers should focus on the presenter’s professional opinion of some aspect of the manuscript, and be appropriately documented.  The exception is papers offering provenance on the basis of codicological assessments when direct access to the manuscript is impracticable.

Where objective information is sought by the authors – such as whether any radiocarbon dating has been performed on this manuscript – D.N. O’Donovan should be consulted by email and will endeavour to provide the information requested.

  1. In general, papers should attempt to discuss this artefact in the context of their existing specialist knowledge and experience, and should take particular effort to demonstrate their opinion by reference to a range of comparative examples.
  2. Theoretical arguments are not encouraged. Conclusions may include suggestions for further study.
  3. Areas directly relevant to description of any problematic manuscript are relevant.  Care will be taken to avoid bias in the selection of those invited, particularly bias due to the various “theories” proposed since 1912.
  4. It is hoped that that those accepting the invitation will have had professional experience in evaluating problematic manuscripts and artefacts.  It is accepted that valid opinions about the manuscript’s manufacture may differ from valid opinions about the its content, form and organisation.

‘Relevant Expertise’ defined.

  1. ‘Relevant expertise’ can be expected to include some of the following general areas:  comparative palaeography and/or epigraphy; comparative iconology; comparative codicology; comparative religious studies; comparative cultural studies; classical studies – not only of the Mediterranean’s classical period;   ancient, classical and medieval histories; the history and methods of  technologies  indicated either by the manuscript’s manufacture or by imagery contained in it.
  2. Professional valuers of manuscripts are also welcome to contribute.

Intended Outcomes

  1. From all this it is hoped to get a new understanding of the manuscript, one informed by specialists in disciplines having direct relevance to the manuscript-qua-manuscript.  It is hoped that the Conference will result in new, more balanced and more objective assessments of the manuscript’s form, materials, imagery and script, and that the manuscript’s study may thereafter be pursued within the normal parameters accepted for assessments and commentaries of such sort.

We hope, in particular, to receive papers from specialists in areas hitherto overlooked. Specialists in the languages, scripts, art and manuscript traditions of the Islamic, Jewish, Indian, Persian, Coptic, Tamil and Asian traditions will be among those invited.

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