Orietta Da Rold, Codicology and localization in medieval english manuscripts

Detail of Bodleian MS. Laud misc. 108, fol. 208r, showing a hole in the vellum.

Detail of Bodleian MS. Laud misc. 108, fol. 208r

A continuing theme of presentations at symposia and master classes in recent years (see: The Gathered Text) has been that to learn certain things about a book we need to look at the structure. Whether these are printed books from the hand-press period, or manuscript books, researchers are interested in getting to know the structure of the codex as a way of learning where, when, and why the book was made, as opposed to where, when and why the text was written.
Orietta Da Rold presented Bodleian MS. Laud misc. 108 as an example for her discussion of how codicological features could assist with issues of the localization of English medieval manuscripts. Bodleian MS. Laud misc. 108 is a manuscript containing saints’ lives, scriptural narratives, and poems including Havelok the Dane and the romance of King Horn. In the class, as an example of the questions and answers provided by close examination of quiring, Da Rold looked at the sequence of the parchmentleaves and pointed to the features that could provide clues to the materials and procedures used to create the book: not only the sequence of hands writing the texts and numbering the leaves, but imperfections of leaves that might indicate the nature and the size of the skins used, the method of folding the parchment sheet to make quires, the removal of leaves from quires, and the size of the quires, most of which contain twelve leaves. It was the last point which generated most discussion and questions, concerning the timing and reasons for a movement in England from quires with a usual number of 8 leaves, to gatherings of 12 leaves. With a very useful table of the quires of MS. Laud misc. 108, indicating the scribal hands, signature marks, the skin and hair side of each leaf and the gatherings of the leaves in each quire, Da Rold inspired the class to understand more about the tools and working practices of the makers of books in order to better identify practices that might be distinctive to a locality or to a moment of change in the history of the book.
Da Rold ended by referring to Robert Darnton’s ‘communications circuit’, the model illustrated on p. 68 of his 1982 article, What is the history of books? Daedalus 111(3), asking how this would be qualified for the history of manuscript book production, possibly yielding a model in the form of a ‘web’ of manuscript production.

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