This week’s interview is with Dr. Ilya Dines who is working at the Law Library for several months as a contractor describing the medieval and early modern manuscripts in the Law Library’s Rare Books Collection.
Describe your background.
I was born and raised in St. Petersburg, Russia. My parents, like many parents of that time, urged me in the direction of a conventional career. Following their advice, I spent some time studying computers, which in fact has been useful to me since then, but it didn’t take long for me to realize that I wanted something different for myself. At the age of 20, I decided to leave Russia and move to Israel, where I had an opportunity to attend the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. I stayed there a long time. Ultimately I earned a B.A., M.A. and Ph.D. in classics and medieval history, all the while without having a concrete idea about where it would lead.
What is your academic/professional history?
When I was working on my B.A. in classics, I learned Latin and Greek with the idea of teaching those languages in the future and maybe doing research in classical antiquity. At the same time, I worked at archaeological excavations in Israel. I remember one day finding an Aquila-an eagle-a symbol of one of the Roman legions. I thought Classical Archeology would be an exciting field. It wasn’t until later in my twenties, when I was on a trip to England and chanced to see a number of medieval manuscripts in Oxford’s Bodleian Library that my life’s work started to come into view. From that day onward, medieval manuscripts became a part of my everyday routine. Studying manuscripts is absolutely fascinating – discerning from physical evidence the story of the text’s transmission, the copyist’s skills, training and innovations, the place where it was copied, how the manuscript was decorated and bound, its subsequent use, and previous owners – the whole process is like one Sherlock Holmes story after another. My PhD was on a genre of medieval literature called “bestiaries,” which are books about animals. I think it is one of the most amazing types of medieval literature. It became my passion and one of my strongest professional interests.
How would you describe your job to other people?
I consider myself a mediator between past and present. I expend most of my professional efforts finding and describing medieval texts which are still unstudied and presenting them to a modern reader. Currently I am working on an edition of a late fifteenth century poem devoted to Joan of Arc that I discovered in a rare manuscript in the Rare Books Division of the Library of Congress.
Why did you want to work at the Law Library?
The Law Library, among its other treasures, possesses about two hundred very important medieval and Renaissance manuscripts, which are still unstudied. My goal is to describe these absolutely unique documents and to help other researchers find them, in the hopes that they might have the access they need to evaluate and then publish the texts properly.
What is the most interesting fact you have learned about the Law Library?
You always find something absolutely unexpected, worth investigation and work.
What is something most of your co-workers don’t know about you?
I write poems, mostly in Russian.