Virtual NES, Part 1: “Jerusalem Contested”

Thursday, Jun 25, 2020

With the switch to remote learning by Princeton University following the outbreak of the coronavirus, professors throughout the university had to suddenly adapt their syllabi to the new reality. Featured below is one such example, NES221/JDS223, Jerusalem Contested,” taught by associate professor Jonathan Gribetz.

The story, excerpted from “Virtual dives into the archives: How classes transitioned mid-semester to teaching with Special Collections online,” was posted May 19, 2020, on the Princeton University Library Website.

On April 1, Jonathan Gribetz, associate professor of Near Eastern studies and the Program in Judaic Studies, and his class, “Jerusalem Contested: A City’s History from Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Perspectives,” organized the first virtual instruction with Special Collections to view digital images from a 1486 Latin “pilgrimage” book illustrated with a 6-page fold-out panorama of Jerusalem

Pilgrimage to the Holy Land, illustrated and printed

Bernhard von Breydenbach, Pilgrimage to the Holy Land, illustrated and printed in Mainz, Germany, in 1486 by Erhard Reuwich. Photo from Wikimedia Commons

“Though students cannot access library materials [in person], our students can continue to benefit from the individuals who work at the library,” said Gribetz. “Princeton's library is extraordinary not only because of its vast and impressive holdings but also, and no less, because of the expertise, talents, and enthusiasm of its staff.”

Curator of rare books Eric White led a Zoom session to explain the process of early book making, from the economics of turning herds of cattle into parchment pages, to the way the leaves were sewn into bindings. Without the primary material on display, White used a slideshow to introduce concepts and assembled makeshift props to bring the material “half-way to life.”

eric white holding parchment

Junior Tara Shirazi said that the class folded paper along with White because they were “genuinely curious” during his presentation, despite an occasional interruption from White’s cat walking across the keyboard. Overall, the virtual visit to Special Collections highlighted “the archivist’s knowledge of the history behind the objects.” 

Another advantage was that White could zoom in on the image for close-up detail. “We might have been crowded around a table if we had been in person,” said Shirazi.