INSTG022 Manuscript Studies

This module introduces students to the the province of medieval manuscripts, providing a foundation of the knowledge necessary to deal with manuscripts in a rare-books environment. The focus is the medieval book as object: how it was created and stored in its medieval setting, how it came into the hands of early-modern and modern collectors, and how it comes to be used and regarded in the present.

The core of the course is a survey of the scripts in use in western Europe from Antiquity to the Renaissance. Students will be introduced to key landmarks along the road and to the varieties of names and terms that palaeographers use when discussing handwriting. Time each week will be given to script-history and to the business of reading medieval handwriting (introducing some of the common ways in which words were abbreviated). In addition, we will explore aspects of the medieval book, working outwards from its physical construction and binding to its place in the medieval, and then early-modern, library, and finally to modern cataloguing practices.

The broad objectives are to attain familiarity with the key reference literature, to read and recognize the styles of script that were in use in western Europe, and to be able to understand the books in their changing curatorial contexts.

Taught by: James Willoughby (University of Oxford) in Term 2.

Assessment: Assessment is in two parts: a short transcription of a specimen of medieval writing (done in test conditions, representing thirty per cent of the mark) and a coursework essay. 

Optional for: MA LIS, MA ARM, MA/MSc DH. This module is also available for short course students.

Prerequisites: The course is taught from first principles and requires no formal prior knowledge. It is an unavoidable fact that almost the totality of literate production in the middle ages was in Latin. But while our examples of books and scripts will, unavoidably, be latinate, it is important to state that knowledge of Latin is not a prerequisite of the course and forms no part of the assessment.

Preliminary reading: There is no essential preliminary reading for the course, but for orientation students may wish to dip into any of the following:

B. Bischoff, Latin Palaeography: Antiquity and the Middle Ages (Cambridge 1990). [Editions also in German, French and Italian.]

M. B. Parkes, Their Hands Before Our Eyes: a Closer Look at Scribes (Aldershot 2008).

J. Roberts, Guide to Scripts Used in English Writings up to 1500 (London 2005).

Further information for students currently taking this module

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