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PALAEOGRAPHY

Guest edited by Dr Alison Ray (Assistant Archivist, Canterbury Cathedral) and Dr David Rundle (MEMS, University of Kent), with contributions from Dr Andrew Dunning (Bodleian Library’s R.W. Hunt Curator of Medieval Manuscripts)
 
Classics of Palaeography
Script and Dating
Art and Production

Resource page updated by Amilia Gillies. Last updated 07/12/23.

The term 'Latin palaeography' conventionally covers all scripts that employ the Roman alphabet, so it covers western European vernaculars as well as western Christendom's lingua franca.

Classics of Palaeography

Organised by ascending date of publication

Jean Mabillon, De re diplomatica (Paris, 1681): though the subject of this volume is diplomatic (the study of official documentary forms, e.g., diplomas) in general, and though the term 'palaeography' had not been invented when this was written, it is considered the foundational text of the discipline.

Edward Maunde Thompson, An Introduction to Latin and Greek Palaeography (Oxford, 1912): it remains unsurpassed in the English language in its range. His earlier and shorter Handbook (London, 1893) is also available online.

Charles Johnson and Hilary Jenkinson, English Court Hand A.D. 1066 to 1500 (Oxford, 1915): as its name warns you, confined in its scope and, online, only volume I (the text) is available, without the all-important volume II (the plates). MEMS community: David Rundle has a copy of the second volume in his office.

B. L. Ullman, Ancient Writing and its Influence (New York, 1932): provides a grand sweep, up to the Renaissance (Ullman later published The Origin and Development of Humanistic Script, Rome, 1960) and beyond.

For other palaeography books available online, see the UPenn listing but note that for many there is only limited search availability.

Script and Dating Manuscripts

Introductory websites:

'Introduction to Dating Documents', University of Nottingham - this fantastic website created by Nottingham's Manuscripts and Special Collections team provides listings of regnal years, religious feasts, calendars, legal terms, and other materials used to date records. The site also features a guide to Latin numbers, words and phrases commonly found in medieval documents.

Latin Palaeography, The National Archives - in this tutorial The National Archives provides examples with images of scripts from documents written in Latin from their collections dating from 1086 to 1500, useful for anyone looking at records produced in England. They also produce one for 'reading old handwriting' for the period 1500 to 1800.

The following online sources provide clear guidance on dating and localising manuscripts and records, as well as offering tools for deciphering texts:

Abbreviationes - an online database currently comprises over 70,000 entries of abbreviated medieval Latin words. (not open-access but can be accessed through many Unviersity libraries)

 

Ad fontes - An Introduction to Working with Sources in the Archive created by the University of Zurich. There are many tutorials and resource pages, as well as exercises to test your transcription skills.

 

Adriano Cappelli, Lexicon Abbreviaturarum (1912) - The Lexicon abbreviaturarum or Dictionary of Latin is a specialised dictionary of palaeographic abbreviations, and abbreviations and acronyms used in medieval texts. A full scan of the work can be found on Archive.org.

 

Adriano Cappelli, Dizionario di Abbreviature Latine (1921) - a guide to Latin abbreviations with an introduction in Italian. A full scan can be found on Archive.org.

Album interactif de paléographie médiévale - with pages also available to use in English, this interactive album of medieval palaeography features a wide range of scripts from the 9th to the 15th century in Latin, French, Italian, Arabic and Occitan scripts with transcription exercises.

BHLms - Université catholique de Louvain’s Bibliotheca Hagiographica Latina Manuscripta comprises of a searchable database where you can find hagiographic texts of saints.

Clavis Clavium - Clavis clavium is an integrated reference database and collaborative update platform to open up Patristic, Medieval and Byzantine texts. The aim of the project is to unite the leading claves into one database. This is an ongoing effort to update and extend the knowledge of texts, authors and saints.

DigiPal - a useful resource developed at King's College London for those interested in early medieval English records, this database holds handwriting samples from manuscripts and charters dating between 1000-1100. The site includes identifications of scribal hands and individual letter forms.

Early Modern Hands - a database intended to help identify hands, making them searchable by criteria like the writer's name, gender, age, social status, profession, and location.

Enigma: Unpuzzling difficult Latin readings in medieval manuscripts - Enigma helps scholars to decipher Latin words which are difficult to read in medieval manuscripts. The Bodleian Library’s Dr Andrew Dunning has created an introduction video to Enigma (see here).

English Handwriting Online 1500-1700 - for early modernists concentrating on England, this Cambridge online tutorial is an excellent starting point.

HMML Paleography School - produced by Hill Museum and Manuscripts Library, this provides helpful tutorials for scripts from Roman capitals to humanist cursive.

Irish Script on Screen - this project of the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies is a valuable database of digitised images of medieval and early modern Irish language manuscripts held in institutions in Ireland, the UK, Australia, and Belgium. The site provides useful provenance information on the manuscript collections and provides detailed catalogue records for researchers.

Late Medieval English Scribes - this AHRC-funded project based at York, Oxford and Sheffield Universities features images of the scribal hands of manuscript works by William Langland, Geoffrey Chaucer, John Gower, John Trevisa and Thomas Hoccleve, prominent late 14th and early 15th century authors in England. The site also provides a helpful guide to letter forms from the period.

Manuscripts and the Medieval World in the Museum Today - we should never lose sight of the ways in which non-white identities and global connexions are expressed in medieval western manuscripts. An on-going set of exhibitions at the Getty Museum helps us do that.

Mirabile - A digital resource for Medieval Culture, which comprises of many parts including information about 117.014 manuscripts: ca. 97,000 related to research projects; Medioevo latino: a general bibliography of European culture from Boethius to Erasmus; Bibliotheca Scriptorum Latinorum Medii Recentiorisque Aevi: featuring bio-bibliographical and onomastic cards of authors writing in Latin (or translated into Latin) until 1536; and more!

Models of Authority - a collaborative project between the Universities of Glasgow, Cambridge and King's College London, Models of Authority is a great resource for the study of Scottish charters, their contents and script from the period 1100-1250.

 

Penna Volans - A website and project dedicated to calligraphy, which groups together over 300 European copybooks and writing manuals from the sixteenth century onwards. 

 

PHI Latin - This website contains essentially all Latin literary texts written before A.D. 200, as well as some texts selected from later antiquity.

Repertorium Biblicum Medii Aevi - The Repertorium Biblicum Medii Aevi, which was published in eleven volumes from 1950 to 1980 by Friedrich Stegmüller and Klaus Reinhardt, lists all biblical commentaries as well as writings that indirectly comment on the Bible up to the year 1500. This website has produced an electronic edition of the Repertorium Biblicum.

 

Script Primer - this very handy guide produced by Marc Smith and Laura Light for Les Enluminures discusses the development and forms of script in local areas throughout the Middle Ages using manuscript examples and images. It also contains a bibliography of printed sources and websites to learn more. The guide is in PDF format so worth printing out or saving to an eReader!

Teaching the Codex - Teaching the Codex contains further links to palaeography resources and hosts a fantastic blog focused on manuscript studies for students and researchers.

Vatican Latin Palaeography Guide - a history of scripts provided by the world's largest manuscript collection and supported by images from the ever-increasing Digital Vatican Library.

Manuscript Art and Production

 

The following resources highlight methods of manuscript production and the relationship between decoration and text:

Medieval England and France, 700-1200 - this curated website explores manuscript production, art, and historical context as part of a collaborative digitisation project, The Polonsky Foundation England and France Project: Manuscripts from the British Library and the Bibliothèque nationale de France, 700–1200. The website features articles, manuscript images as well as a series of videos including the stages of making a medieval manuscript by calligrapher Patricia Lovett and scribes in England after the Norman Conquest by Prof. Julia Crick (King's College London).

Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts, British Library - this online gallery of digital manuscript images allows users to search by keyword, including image description, place of origin, text author and script. The site also contains a useful glossary of terms and virtual exhibitions with introductions to illuminated manuscripts, Bible and liturgical manuscripts, and secular texts including Arthurian and historical works.

Discovering Sacred Texts - the British Library's Sacred Texts website explores the religious works of some of the world's faiths, from Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Sikhism and the Baha’i Faith, Jainism and Zoroastrianism. With growing research into the Global Middle Ages, this site provides a fascinating insight into manuscript production, use and reader practices from across the world through articles, digitised materials, videos, and teaching resources for schools. Sacred Texts is complemented by the British Library's digitised collection of Hebrew manuscripts.

Manuscripts, The J. Paul Getty Museum - the website of the Getty's Department of Manuscripts is a useful resource featuring virtual exhibitions hosted by Google Arts and Culture of the illuminated manuscripts held in the collections, and videos on the production of manuscripts and topics including the science of colour and the medieval calendar.

The Book of Hours, Metropolitan Museum of Art - the website of The Met includes a number of art historical essays on the collections, highlighting the relationship between manuscript decoration and other medieval and Renaissance art forms. This article on the Book of Hours discusses the production, readership, and decoration of a medieval bestseller with images of the collections and further reading.

Illuminated - Manuscripts in the Making - the Fitzwilliam Museum presents an online exhibition of medieval manuscripts in their collections, accompanied by details of their historical context, texts and decoration and provides a helpful overview of artists' materials and techniques.

One particular form of manuscript production in some university settings, particularly those of Bologna and Paris, was the 'pecia' system: this was a process of hiring out exemplars by the part (thus 'pecia' for 'piece') for copying. It was a system which developed in the thirteenth century. Jean-Luc Deuffic provides a useful short article and up-to-date bibliography on the Bibliologie Médiévale website. The most recent work on the pecia system during its heyday in Paris is the PhD dissertation by Alison Ray.

Provenance
The History of Reading
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