History's Greatest Mysteries

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Five special episodes of the World History Podcast (hosted by BBC History Magazine) introduce listeners to five of "History's Greatest Mysteries" as determined by a poll of magazine readers. Among them is a mysterious manuscript (now known as the Voynitch manuscript) that has been actively explored in Bruce Peel Special Collections by students, faculty, and staff, and was the subject of one of the most popular in our series of Peel Workshops, a workshop led by Prof John Considine (English) and Prof Greg Kondrak (Computing Science).

In the podcast episode treating the Voynitch manuscript, Dr Elma Brenner, a specialist in medieval and early modern medicine, provides an effective introduction to the layers of mystery that surround the 500-year-old manuscript, which is written in an unknown cipher (or code) in an unknown language and filled with illustrations of otherworldly plants and galaxies. In the 20-minute podcast, Dr Brenner has time to mention only a small sampling of the extensive list of leading researchers who have tried to unlock the manuscript's mysteries over centuries, so she does not mention some of the more outlandish theories including the idea that the manuscript was produced by Leonardo da Vinci as a hoax or that it was produced by extraterrestrials. Nor does she have time to explore some of the more recent work, including the groundbreaking AI research recently conducted at the University of Alberta.

The Voynitch manuscript is housed in the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Yale University and can be viewed digitally here

Bruce Peel Special Collections recently acquired a fine art reproduction (or "facsimile") of the Voynitch manuscript.  We look forward to being able to once again share this special object with students and researchers, and continuing to theorize and debate over one of "history's greatest mysteries," when it is possible to once again safely gather together over a special rare book.

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