Class of 1982 Gift Provides Current Research Opportunities

A close up image of a page in a manuscript written in heavy-handed Latin script. The page features a family tree in the shape of an arrow pointing upward, created with red and black ink.
A page from Francesco Zabarella's "Commentario in Quinque Libros: Decretalium de Matrimonio" (SPEC.RARE.MS.MR.COD.56)

A graduating class from more than 40 years ago still impacts the experiences of students and researchers at The Ohio State University. 

The class of 1982 established a fund dedicated to the support of new acquisitions at University Libraries. Since then, their class gift has been used to make purchases both large and small; but all significant.  

A recent acquisition using some of the funds by the Byrd Polar and Archival Research Program provides an insider look into previously classified documents relating to Antarctica and its use by world governments.  

“These papers are from before the Antarctic Treaty, which declared Antarctica a neutral territory,” said Laura Kissel, curator of the Polar Archives. “They contain confidential transmissions from Admiral Richard E. Byrd about government activity on the continent. These have broad applications for research, including for those interested in Byrd himself, political science, discoveries of Antarctica and how they evolved over time... things we can’t even think of yet!” 

The Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum has also made use of the Class of 1982 Fund, including the acquisition of a set of 24 cartoon panels by Ron Cobb, an American-Australian artist who drew editorial cartoons and later worked on conceptual design for films including “Star Wars,” “Alien,” “Back to the Future” and others. They also acquired 71 full-page lithographed caricatures from the publication Ireland’s Eye, a short-lived Irish humor magazine, drawn by Thomas Fitzpatrick as Spex, Ireland's best early political cartoonist. The pieces acquired are the color versions, which are particularly rare. 

“This is just my speculation and opinion, but I imagine Ron Cobb was one of those artists overlooked in his lifetime, and it's only a matter of time before a scholar ‘discovers’ him,” said Wendy Pflug, associate curator at Billy Ireland. “The bookseller told us The Ireland’s Eye caricatures were modeled after Vanity Fair prints, and in his opinion, they are superior. Perhaps a researcher could explore this connection further; the sky’s the limit on how a researcher might one day use these materials!” 

A scan of a women's suffrage postcard featuring a cartoon depicting a group of women angrily surrounding a male anti-suffrage protestor.
"Oh! Did He!" from the Women's Suffrage Postcard Collection (SPEC-RARE-CMS-287-b1-British-3-14)

In 2019, during the women’s suffrage centennial, the Class of 1982 Fund was used to purchase a set of 40 women’s suffrage postcards, now housed at the Rare Books & Manuscripts Library (RBML). The postcards have been used as primary sources in several classes at Ohio State and have been included in displays in Thompson Library.  

Another addition to the RBML collection using the Class of 1982 fund has provided a unique opportunity for undergraduate student research. Matthew Raskin, a third-year history and English literature double major with minors in Medieval and Renaissance studies and Latin, recently finished a term project using the acquired copy of Francesco Zabarella’s Commentario in Quinque Libros: Decretalium de Matrimonio.  

“The decretals were any papal letter about anything,” said Raskin. “For example, one was by Pope Adrian IV, telling Henry II he could invade Ireland. They stretch from things that important to things like ‘eat breakfast at 9 a.m.’ They can be so mundane, but also so important.” 

The codex Raskin studied was made around the year 1400 and contains important commentary on a decretal pertaining to canon law on sex, marriage, family lineage and more. 

“In the late 11th century, the popes got the idea that they were going to strengthen papal power, and one of the great ways to do that was to have their laws taught at universities, and therefore have those laws enter every lawyer’s popular discourse,” explained Raskin. “Starting in the 1200s, it became the standard practice of every law professor to create a commentary on those decretals. So, Francesco Zabarella does that while he teaches at Padua and then Florence, and he eventually becomes bishop of Florence. His book started to be sent north where they were lacking in commentaries, and we believe our copy is one of those from the north.” 

A photo of two interior pages of a Latin manuscript.
Pages from Francesco Zabarella's "Commentario in Quinque Libros: Decretalium de Matrimonio" (SPEC.RARE.MS.MR.COD.56)

“I was partially interested in just figuring out how to read the thing,” said Raskin. “In the manuscript studies course, they teach you how to read these really old scripts. But not only is it an old script, it’s a very difficult old script to read, partially because the downstroke of each letter is so thick. It’s also very heavily abbreviated. I basically tried to figure out why someone would write a book that no one could read. But it was obviously read—there are wax stains throughout the book, there’s some water damage, there are tons of annotations—but it’s extremely difficult to do so. It’s likely that the body of the book was read by a very select group of people who had very high training in canon law.” 

Raskin hopes that he won’t be the last student or researcher to work with the manuscript. 

“There has never been a critical edition of any of Zabarella’s five Commentarii. If someone could actually dissect what it says and make a critical edition, that would be amazing,” he said. “Our copy is just as good as any other copy, I think. Once there’s a critical edition, people could definitely look more deeply and thoroughly, since it takes too long to read it now. We could see how strongly his commentary follows his viewpoint on the papacy. It would also be interesting to look more into the commentary on northern Europe, because that’s where we believe the paper of the book is from. There’s a bunch of fun little annotations, and if someone could read what they were, they could try to figure out the mind of the person who made them.” 

“It was a lot of fun to work on it; more fun than I thought it would be,” concluded Raskin. 

Funds like the Class of 1982 Fund allow for acquisitions that provide unique and important research opportunities for the Ohio State community and beyond. To learn more about supporting University Libraries, visit