"I made many new friends and gained impressions I shall never forget"

Chengzhi Zang

Chengzhi Zhang participated in the MWW Research Library Internships programme at the Herzog August Bibliothek in Wolfenbüttel, where he worked as a research assistant for four weeks. In the following, he shares his impressions of what he experienced during his four-week stay.

The workspace of Chengzhi Zhang at the Herzog August Bibliothek in Wolfenbüttel.


As a student of Comparative Philology, I frequently work with texts written in ancient Indo-European languages, such Latin, Greek and Sanskrit. I also like working with the original materials on which these texts were recorded, like papyri, manuscripts and old prints. This is why, after hearing about the MWW Research Library Internships Programme at the Herzog August Bibliothek through the Oxford Career Service, I thought this four-week internship would be a very good opportunity to pursue my interests and gain more experience in manuscript research and library work.

Fortunately my application to the library was accepted and I was assigned to the department of "Manuscripts and Special Collections". After a friendly reception and an extremely helpful introduction to the library and colleagues by Ms Melzian, I started my first day of work under my supervisor Dr Heitzmann on 25 July. My project mainly involved cataloguing medieval Helmstedt manuscripts. I worked intensively on the manuscript Cod. Guelf. 372 Helmst., specifically transcribing and describing a certain section of text. This Latin manuscript was written at the beginning of the 15th century and contains works by several authors including Heinrich von Hervord. His Chronicon, and the first 11 chapters, which I was assigned to work on, only exist in this one manuscript in complete form.

To be honest, from the very start I found the task of deciphering and transcribing such a medieval script extremely challenging, in part because the scribe, whose hand was not particularly careful to begin with, also used numerous abbreviations, and in part because I had yet little experience in codicology. That's why I'm extremely grateful to Dr Lesser and Dr Heitzmann for recommending a number of useful reference works on medieval scripts and patiently teaching me the meaning of the most important abbreviations. Sometimes we even worked together to decipher the difficult passages in the transcription. I also learned a great deal about medieval literary history from Dr Heitzmann, especially regarding bibliographical background knowledge, e.g. which bibliography one should refer to when searching for texts by a particular author. With their assistance, I quickly became adept at recognising the scribe's distinctive writing style and textual structure, and eventually was able to produce a preliminary "diplomatic" transcription of 14ra-16ra of the manuscript.

In addition to my transcription work on the Helmstedt manuscript, I also examined two fragments from the 10th and 11th century, two Biblical commentaries by Isidorus Hispalensis and Hieronymus Stridonensis, and described them according to DFG guidelines. In this case, I found the electronic database Patrologia Latina quite helpful as it enabled me to determine the origin and author of the fragment even though there were only few complete lines legible on the parchment. I believe that describing manuscripts was very good practice as it enabled me to familiarise myself with the basic principles of manuscript cataloguing and the DFG's specific description format used in Germany - especially because I'm quite interested in working professionally as an academic librarian at a library like the HAB.

Aside from these philological tasks, I also got involved in more technical aspects during the second half of my internship, namely converting the transcription and descriptions from Word into XML so that they could be viewed on the library's website and other electronic devices, and displayed in various formats. It was the first time I worked on digital text encoding and became acquainted with the TEI-5 guidelines. In the beginning it was somewhat difficult to understand the text structures of XML and learn the numerous predefined elements of TEI-5 which I had to encode, e.g. personal names, place names etc., and apply these to the right places in the text. Mr Schassan in the Manuscript Department and the TEI consortium manual helped me tremendously, and I am pleased that as result of my work and the improvements by Mr Schassan, the transcription and the two descriptions could be completely converted into XML and are now accessible via the website.

But my life in Wolfenbüttel was by no means completely taken up by my everyday work in the library. There were many fascinating tourist attractions and opportunities for encounter in this quaint city in Lower Saxony. For example, we had a "coffee circle" every day at 1:30 pm where we could meet with first-class researchers and students of various disciplines from all around the world and discuss any number of possible topics. I also enjoyed attending the events and exhibitions which were regularly held at the library and addressed a diverse array of issues - from the metamorphosis of butterflies to the oldest-known manuscript of Ovid.

All in all, I had a wonderful month in Wolfenbüttel and at the Herzog August Bibliothek. Not only did I gain a great deal of practical knowledge on codicology, text encoding and library work in general, which I am sure will prove useful to my future occupation and studies, but I also made many new friends and gained impressions I shall never forget.

Chengzhi Zhang comes from China and works on "Tense uses and the augment in Pindar".