A Tribute to Ruth Steiner, Founder of the Cantus Database

Professor Ruth Steiner

2 Feb 1931–22 Feb 2019

Founder of the Cantus Database and visionary of the potential for digital and computer-based tools in humanities research. Ruth Steiner was Professor of Music at Catholic University of America, Washington, DC (1966–2000); third chair of the International Musicological Society Study Group ‘Cantus Planus’; a member of the American Musicological Society (as Secretary from 1984–1989), and of the Medieval Academy of America; and an author of articles on selected Gregorian and Sarum chants, their manuscript sources, and matters of style and dating.

In an age of file cards and print-based research materials, before “online” existed, Ruth Steiner’s vision for digitized indexes of chant manuscripts, where their contents could be located quickly and easily through electronic searching, and sorted and manipulated, has transformed how one studies not only the Office (and its psalmody), but also other repertories of medieval chant and liturgy. Begun in 1987 with funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities and now entering its third decade, the Cantus Database is used by medievalists and Renaissance scholars in many fields, beyond musicology and liturgy.

A Festschrift in her honour, The Divine Office in the Latin Middle Ages (Oxford, 2000), was edited by Margot E. Fassler and Rebecca A. Baltzer and includes contributions from principal figures in medieval liturgical chant research; this volume immediately became an indispensable resource for the study of the liturgical Office and attests to the impact that Steiner’s Cantus Project and investment in the medieval Office in general has had on medieval chant research. With a Master’s degree from UCal, Berkeley and a PhD from CUA, Steiner soon became a leader in the field. A series of grants from the NEH allowed her to welcome scholars from many disciplines to CUA for summer study, and with grants from the Dom Mocquereau Foundation, she was able to build a superior microfilm collection for the study of the medieval Office. In this context, with her creativity and imagination, she nurtured a generation of scholars, training them in manuscript study while demonstrating the vital importance of developing new tools for the exploration of the manuscript sources she had mastered, as well as providing a professional and ethical model of how to be a scholar.

Requiescat in pace.

Prepared by Debra Lacoste, Margot Fassler, Keith Glaeske, Barbara Haggh-Huglo, and Jane Hardie. Photo reproduced by permission of The American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives (ACUA), The Catholic University of America, Washington, DC.