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.

Disputationes Metaphysicae

Jean-Pascal Pouzet (Limoges) Describing codicological structures in western medieval manuscripts (Seminar in Palaeography and Manuscript Studies, 21 October 2013)

More than an introduction to the structure of manuscripts, Jean-Pascal Pouzet presented a series of suggestions with regard to the layers of evidence to be examined to determine the structure of the text block currently present in any manuscript volume, and the nature, or possibly the changing nature, of portions of the manuscript through time from its creation to the present day. In effect he asked the class to view codicology as the philology of the material text and to take the study of codicology as one that precedes, as well as needing to work in parallel with, understanding of the palaeographical, art historical, and textual studies that also derive from the manuscript evidence.

Taking his motto from M.R. James, ‘See books for yourselves,’ Pouzet displayed in the class the manuscripts MS Bodley 801, MS Digby 177, MS Douce 137  and MS e Musaeo 62 to demonstrate in each case the different ways that fascicles and booklets had been joined to produce different types of collections within these volumes.

Pouzet emphasized the importance of exact terminology in describing codicological  and textual units, and in particular attempted to refine the concepts of the booklet and the fascicle.

‘Fascicle’ he distinguished as a unit which is materially marked out and possibly intellectually self-contained, but designed to exist within a particular collection rather than independently. The ‘booklet’ is something Pouzet, developing the term as used by Pamela Robinson, Ralph Hanna, Eric Kwakkel [whose Lowe Lectures will be heard at Corpus Christi College, Oxford, in Trinity Term 2014] and Alexandra Gillespie, identified as a physically and intellectually self-contained unit. It is then the movement of these parts through time, from their creation to later movements into and out of collections, changing the structural forms of manuscript books, that defines the type of collection, that is, the way the manuscript book was formed and a suggestion of the cultural intention behind the formation.

(From my own point of view, this discussion is reminiscent of similar attention that is given in the cataloguing of printed materials to describing and distinguishing the following aspects: the intellectual work; the matrix from which letters and images are printed; and the composite item which constitutes the edition; not to mention the individual item as held in a library; see a related discussion deriving from counting the catalogue records of broadside ballads.)


Correcting late Middle English manuscripts: Masterclass with Daniel Wakelin, 19 Nov. 2012

Medieval manuscripts masterclass

In copying late Middle English, as in copying other languages, scribes in fourteenth- and fifteenth-century England drew on techniques long established in practice but seldom written down. Those techniques of the scribes, their collaborators and their readers can be reconstructed from the manuscripts themselves.

These techniques might sometimes have been ‘tacit’, as good as unthinking; but what is intriguing is the question whether correcting ever reflects conscious ‘second thoughts’ about the text corrected and about the process of copying it into a book. Sometimes scribes fix practical problems in scribal labour; sometimes they stop to emend or even collate texts in ways which suggest their reading of, or attitudes to, the language and works they copy. Correcting is thereby a crucial part both of the history of book production and of an interesting period in the history of responses to English language and literature.

Daniel Wakelin came to Oxford in 2011 as Jeremy Griffiths Professor of Medieval English Palaeography in the Faculty of English and a Fellow of St Hilda’s College. He formerly taught in the Faculty of English and Christ’s College in Cambridge.

The class will be held on Monday, 19 November at 2:15 in the Pitt Rivers Museum Lecture Room

Prof. Julia Crick, 5 November: English 10th-century manuscripts

from Martin Kauffmann

Medieval manuscripts masterclass

Monday 5 November, 2.15pm, Pitt Rivers Museum lecture room
(entrance through the Museum or via Robinson Close off the South Parks Road)

Prof. Julia Crick (King’s College London)
Beyond the metropolis: script and scribes in south-western Britain in the tenth century

Localizable and datable manuscripts are in short supply in western Britain at the end of the first millennium. As a consequence a limited number of models is available to interpret the unlocalized evidence we do have. This seminar looks at a very striking instance of a manuscript assigned an English origin, containing a text of extreme pertinence to the English Benedictine reform movement of the tenth century, but copied by a scribe who was trained in a centre outside the English mainstream, under Welsh or Irish influence. The historical and palaeographical challenge of this manuscript is compounded by the fact that it represents perhaps the earliest specimen of Caroline minuscule, the script of the reform, to have been written by a scribe on this side of the English Channel.

Stratigraphy of books and manuscripts

Opening of Bodleian Library MS Barlow 33, fol. 28v,29r, showing a prayer added by the owner and decorative borders
Bodleian Library MS Barlow 33, fol. 28v, 29r, showing a prayer for indulgence added by a user before the beginning of the penitential psalms.

A large class of 50 heard Kathryn Rudy demonstrate the methods and results of a stratigraphic analysis* of manuscripts, through which the history of how the textual and pictorial units were assembled, and the layers of evidence of use, yield a picture of the manuscript’s role within reading practices.

Dr Rudy showed examples of 14th and 15th-century devotional manuscripts from the Netherlands now in Bodleian Library collections. Through a close examination of the manuscripts, participants looked at evidence of how texts and miniature paintings had been assembled or added, either on behalf of or by the owner, and marks left by the handling of leaves or the kissing of images.

Dr Rudy’s class begins a season on additions and annotations, which will extend to the stratigraphy of printed books with Will Poole’s and Jackie Steadall’s examination of scholarly reading in the early modern period (masterclasses, 2:15 pm in the Pitt Rivers Lecture Room, 29 October and 26 November) and Nathalie Ferrand’s Besterman Lecture on Rousseau’s annotations (Convocation House, 8 November, 5:15 pm).

Participants in the class
Professor of Palaeography Daniel Wakelin, Kathryn Rudy, Nigel Palmer, and Martin Kauffmann (Bodleian Library) examining a manuscript in the class.

*A term coined by Peter Gumbert, see ‘Codicological Units: Towards a Terminology for the Stratigraphy of the Non-Homogeneous Codex’, Segno e Testo 2 (2004)

Medieval manuscripts 2010 : Coptic manuscripts

A new record for the number of types of writing support shown in a Bodleian masterclass (3: papyrus, parchment, and leather) was set by Jennifer Cromwell’s class on Coptic manuscripts. The problem facing curator Martin Kauffmann was to display a Coptic text written on leather through the visualiser camera that projects images of the items live during the masterclasses.

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MS. Copt. b. 13(P) is a text written on darkened and discoloured leather. The item is encased in glass, so that any light shining from directly above creates a flare in the projected image. Technician Jon Eccles from the Pitt Rivers Museum presented the solution: a strip of LEDs, easily held by Kauffmann to cast a raking light that illuminated the surface of the leather.

The item, a loan agreement dating from the 8th century, will gain further scholarly exposure in an article by Dr. Cromwell, ‘Condition(al)s of payment: P.CLT. 10 reconsidered’, forthcoming in the Journal of Egyptian Archaeology. (See attached Bibliography PDF for other references).

This document is one of a few texts in the Bodleian from the village of Jeme, near to Luxor (see attached Map PDF). Dr Cromwell noted the utility for her research of the papers of Walter Ewing Crum, kept in the Griffith Institute Archive, now housed in the Sackler Library, Oxford. These helped her to locate the document in the Bodleian.

Other items shown during the class were a much-reused piece of papyrus, MS. Copt. d. 32 (P), from the monastery of Bala’izah as excavated by Flinders Petrie in 1907; a set of parchment fragments including Biblical texts — conserved by being attached to fine netting – in MS. Copt. b.11; and a magnificently long papyrus scroll written during an 8th-century inheritance dispute, MS. Copt. a. 6 (P).

See descriptions of the Bodleian’s Coptic collection in the UKIRA gateway:


and on the Archives Hub: http://archiveshub.ac.uk/features/0607coptic.html

Coptic Masterclass 2010 Bibliography, by Dr Jennifer Cromwell

Map of Egypt, for Coptic Manuscripts masterclass 2010