August 7, 2020


The Manuscript Migration Lab is an interdisciplinary hub where scholars and students investigate the complex lives and afterlives of the rare books and manuscripts held by the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Duke University.

Repeatedly bought, sold, appropriated, lost, found, discovered, and exchanged, the journey of even a single rare book charts a course through a sea of historical, technological, and political change. Manuscripts are caught up within cycles of possession and dispossession wrought by imperialism, nation-building, and war. Market systems conceal the ways that precious cultural artifacts are circulated and acquired. Paleographical, philological, and codicological conventions employ vocabulary and classification systems drawn from colonial and neo-colonial global arrangements, reifying Orientalizing assumptions about who owns what, where, and why.

The Lab works to resist these cloaking mechanisms, confronting the ethical, cultural, and historical dilemmas raised by modern collecting habits. As an extension of the Rubenstein’s mission of “knowledge in service to society,” Lab directors and affiliates are committed to increasing transparency, communicating our findings widely, and enhancing the democratic processes that inform how we define, articulate, and describe our shared pasts.

The lab is administered and funded by the Franklin Humanities Institute, with support from the Office of Global Affairs’ Mellon Global Studies Endowment.