MA Medieval & Renaissance Studies

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The deadline for applications is Friday 31 July

Medieval Manuscripts and Documents

Course title: Medieval Manuscripts and Documents: Research Techniques.

Code: MDVLG004 (30 credits), MDVLG005 Skills and Sources: Manuscripts and Documents (15 credits)

Course Tutors and times: Professor David d’Avray, Mondays 4-6, and Dr Marigold Norbye, Tuesdays 2-4

This course is taught in the History Department, though palaeography courses elsewhere in the university will be available to students and the examination will be designed to give credit to students who have profited from them. The first aim of the course is to teach students how to read manuscript books and documents. It also provides introductory training in the description and dating of manuscript books, in textual criticism, and in the methods and concepts of 'diplomatic'. Students capable of more advanced work in any of these areas will be given the opportunity to do it. They will be encouraged to use the collections of medieval manuscripts and documents in London, which has a concentration unrivalled in the English-speaking world. Students will normally have an opportunity to study directly and in detail a manuscript or manuscripts in the British Library. These manuscripts will be tailored to the personal research interests of individual students. The best pieces of work may be published in the Electronic British Library Journal. Technical training will be set in the context of the cultural history of writing in the medieval West.

The course encourages students to realize that the methods and concepts of literary and social theory are not alien to the study of medieval manuscripts. The emphasis will be on Latin manuscripts and documents, but students with a special interest in Middle English or another vernacular can be given extra training if required. Any student having no prior knowledge of Latin is required to attend the Latin for Beginners course.

Students are required to complete written course work that does not constitute part of the course assessment.


MDVLG004 - one essay of up to 2,550-words (30%) and a 3-hour unseen examination paper (70%).

MDVLG005 - one essay of up to 3,000 words (100%)

Preparatory reading: If at all possible, students should prepare for this course before the beginning of the academic year. To begin to practise transcribing medieval manuscripts and documents, try:

Books which will help students prepare for the Manuscripts and Documents Course are:

  • R. Clemens and T. Graham, Introduction to Manuscript Studies (Cornell U.P., Ithaca etc. 2007)
  • M. P. Brown, A Guide to Western Historical Scripts from Antiquity to 1600 (British Library, 1992)
  • C. de Hamel, History of Illuminated Manuscripts (Phaidon, Oxford 1986).

An invaluable tool for deciphering medieval manuscripts is Adriano Cappelli, Dizionario di abbreviature latine et italiane (Ulrico Hoepli, Milan, many editions). This is available online; you will probably find, however, that it is easier to use a printed copy (try Unsworths off Charing Cross Road, also excellent for Loebs). What you will find far harder to locate is an English translation of Cappelli's introduction.

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