Rare books and manuscripts ‘potluck’ online in 2021

Public and university libraries have faced the pandemic with a multitude of inventive new ways of connecting books and readers, such as ‘Grab and Go’ book deliveries limiting the time of physical visits. What about special collections libraries, whose materials cannot be taken out of the institution? Temporary closures or limited access to reading rooms have meant a pivot towards more provision of digital resources, and archivists and librarians have been active in unearthing treasures to share on social media.

The lockdown period has also been an opportunity to explore what can be done in new ways and even to push beyond the usual patterns of scholarly discourse. Online meeting platforms and visualizers (the modern version of that classroom standby, the overhead projector) lend themselves to the visual exploration and discussion of related items, collections, or genres of material held in institutions that are geographically distant.

Using this technology and adapting seminar formats to online presentation, at the Bodleian Libraries Centre for the Study of the Book we have found new opportunities to participate in cross-institutional events in 2021,  sharing collection material with other libraries via online platforms and learning from their expert staff and unique items. In the style of a potluck meal, each institution brings a copy or a witness to the online gathering which fills out the whole intellectual smörgåsbord.

29 Jan 2021 Coverdale’s Goostly Psalmes [follow link for recording]
‘Translating, Singing, Printing the Reformation. The Queen’s College Sammelband with Myles Coverdale’s Goostly Psalmes’, with a showing of The Queen’s College copy and the Bodleian and Beinecke Library fragments
(Oxford Seminar in the History of the Book)
Henrike Lähnemann, Faculty of Medieval and Modern Languages, University of Oxford
Matthew Shaw, Librarian of The Queen’s College, Oxford
Sarah Wheale, Head of Rare Books at the Bodleian Libraries
Kathryn James,  Curator for Early Modern Books and Manuscripts at Yale’s Beinecke Library
See blogpost with downloadable foldable ‘fragments’ and links to facsimiles

1 Feb 2021 Medieval book coffers [follow link for recording]
Bodleian and John Rylands curators
‘Newly acquired medieval book coffers at the Bodleian and the John Rylands Libraries’
(Oxford Palaeography and Manuscripts Studies Seminar)
See the 3D image of the Bodleian coffer on Cabinet, here.

Coming up:

4 May Dante 1481: the Comedia, illustrated by Botticelli [follow link to register]
Bodleian Libraries; University College, London; Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale di Firenze; Morgan Library; British Library; John Rylands Library; Trinity College, Cambridge
(Bibliographical Society of America event and in conjunction with special series Dante 1321-2021: A Man For All Seasons)

22 June Yiddish and Russian Children’s Books [registration opens soon]
YIVO and Bodleian Libraries

And doubtless more to be added …

Retrospect of the Hilary Term 2021 Seminars in Palaeography, Manuscript Studies, and Book History

Adam Whittaker demonstrating the 'Guidonian Hand' in medieval music theory manuscripts
Adam Whittaker demonstrating the ‘Guidonian Hand’ as used in medieval music theory manuscripts, with Andrew Dunning (Bodleian)’s hand holding MS. Bodl. 515. Thanks to Henrike Laehnemann for the image.

Meetings of the two seminar series in Hilary Term 2021 took place in unusual circumstances. The seminars welcomed participants and speakers from around the world at online meetings. Bodleian manuscripts were shared ‘live’ online at all of the Palaeography seminars, and in each series one seminar session joined material from the Bodleian collections with items from other libraries.

It was possible to record some sessions; the presentations can be viewed from the links below, where indicated.

Seminar in Palaeography and Manuscript Studies
Convenors: Daniel Wakelin (English), Martin Kauffmann (Bodleian)

Week 1 (18 January)
Julian Luxford (University of St. Andrews)
The Tewkesbury benefactors’ book
Presentation recorded

Week 3 (1 February)
Bodleian and John Rylands curators: Libraries Together session
‘Newly acquired medieval book coffers at the Bodleian and the John Rylands Libraries’
Presentation recorded
See the 3D image of the Bodleian coffer on Cabinet, here.

Week 5 (15 February)
Adam Whittaker (Birmingham City University)
‘Medieval music theory in Bodleian manuscripts’
Presentation recorded

Week 7 (1 March)
Marc Smith (École des Chartes)
‘Late medieval writing models: contextualizing MS. Ashmole 789


Seminar in the History of the Book
Conveners: Cristina Dondi (Lincoln College, Oxford) and Alexandra Franklin (Bodleian Centre for the Study of the Book)

Week 1 (22 January)
Matthew Payne, Keeper of the Muniments, Westminster Abbey
‘Follow the Money: Wynkyn de Worde, Jacques Ferrebouc and the Bardi’
Presentation recorded

Week 2 (29 January) [Special session at 5 pm GMT]
Goostly Psalmes in Oxford and New Haven: Libraries Together session
Presentation recorded

See blogpost with downloadable foldable ‘fragments’ and links to facsimiles
‘Translating, Singing, Printing the Reformation. The Queen’s College Sammelband with Myles Coverdale’s Goostly Psalmes’
with a showing of The Queen’s College copy and the Bodleian and Beinecke fragments
Henrike Lähnemann, Faculty of Medieval and Modern Languages, University of Oxford
Matthew Shaw, Librarian of The Queen’s College, Oxford
Sarah Wheale, Head of Rare Books at the Bodleian Libraries
Kathryn James,  Curator for Early Modern Books and Manuscripts at Yale’s Beinecke Library

Week 3 (5 February)
Francesco Guidi-Bruscoli (University of Florence)
‘The Borromei’s trade unveiled: digging for information in fifteenth-century account-books’
Presentation recorded

Week 5 (19 February)
Alessandro Bianchi (Bodleian)
‘Hidden in plain sight. Printed books from the Japanese Mission Press in the Bodleian Collections’

Week 6 (26 February)
Kanupriya Dhingra (SOAS, University of London)
‘Streets and Serendipity: “Locating” Daryaganj Sunday Patri Kitab Bazaar’
Presentation recorded

Week 7 (5 March)
Benjamin Wardhaugh  (Oxford)
‘Hunting for readers in sixteenth-century editions of the works of Euclid’
In his talk, Dr Wardhaugh referred to the online resource hosted by The Bibliographical Society, ‘Euclid in Print

Week 8 (12 March)
William Stoneman (Cambridge, MA)
‘Buying Incunabula at Gimbel Brothers Department Store: A Curious Chapter in the History of American Book Collecting’
Presentation recorded


Seminar in Palaeography and Manuscript Studies, 2021

Seminar in Palaeography and Manuscript Studies
Convenors: Daniel Wakelin, Martin Kauffmann

Meetings will take place online via Zoom on Mondays at 2.15pm (GMT) in weeks 1, 3, 5, and 7. Original manuscripts will be shown. Registration is required. E-mail: bookcentre@bodleian.ox.ac.uk . Your message must be received by noon on the Friday before the seminar (or register for the whole series by noon, Friday 15 January).

Week 1 (18 January)
Julian Luxford (University of St. Andrews)
The Tewkesbury benefactors’ book

Week 3 (1 February)
Bodleian and John Rylands curators
Newly acquired medieval book coffers at the Bodleian and the John Rylands Libraries

Week 5 (15 February)
Adam Whittaker (Birmingham City University)
Medieval music theory in Bodleian manuscripts

Week 7 (1 March)
Marc Smith (École des chartes)
Late medieval writing models: contextualizing MS. Ashmole 789

Seminar in Palaeography and Manuscript Studies, 2019

The Seminar in Palaeography and Manuscript Studies runs annually in the Weston Library in Hilary term (Jan-March). The 2019 Seminar aimed to showcase the research of some of the early career scholars in Oxford using the Library’s collections. Here the three speakers working on medieval manuscripts offer brief summaries of their sessions.

Daniel Sawyer, ‘Against dullness: some ways to learn from (and enjoy) “average” manuscripts’

I aimed to demonstrate the value of examining ‘dull’ or ‘mediocre’ later medieval English literary manuscripts, and to bring out what might be interesting about seemingly dull manuscripts from any place and time.

It is (I suggested) by looking at seemingly dull, normal manuscripts that we might learn the most: normal manuscripts are the crucial context for the exceptional books which excite us, and normal manuscripts also let us study normality, a neglected topic in and of itself. Broad, part-quantitative surveys of such books have much to teach us.

Bodleian MS. Laud Misc. 486
Bodleian MS. Laud Misc. 486

A broad survey is of course difficult to conduct in a short seminar, so I took as my example book Bodleian Library, MS Laud Miscellaneous 486.

MS Laud Misc. 486 contains a copy of the Prick of Conscience, the most widely-witnessed medieval English poem, and a text generally neglected: the sheer number of surviving copies impedes research, and the poem’s content is tiresome and rebarbative to most modern readers. The poem is followed by a copy of Gregory the Great’s Cura Pastoralis by the same scribe.

The catalogue description of this manuscript would not excite us. But it contains many points of interest, which I sought to bring out in my discussion.

The manuscript has a surviving gothic English binding, which is fascinating in itself and assures us of the book’s probable integrity since the fifteenth century. It is the most dense of all the medieval manuscripts in medieval bindings which I’ve been able to weigh—that is, it has the most weight per cubic centimetre.

A study of the book’s quiring reveals that it is not composed from codicologically distinct ‘booklets’, and yet there are subtler signs in the quiring which do reveal a production hesitation between its two texts.

Although both texts in the book were copied by the same scribe, I pointed out that there are quiet differences in the handwriting he deployed for each text. These broach the topic of palaeographical differences driven by linguistic difference, a topic which is less well-studied in the later medieval period than in the early Middle Ages because, paradoxically, more evidence—too much—survives.

Finally, ending at the manuscript’s beginning, I noted that a unique summary of the Prick of Conscience preserved here reveals the probable mnemonic reading of the poem in this book by one medieval reader, and hints at a moment of transition in the manuscript’s history when it might have moved between two reading communities and two reading contexts.

Karl Kinsella, ‘Plan and elevation: the architectural drawings of Richard of St. Victor’

My talk was titled ‘Plan and Elevation: Richard of St. Victor’s Architectural Drawings’ because we chose to focus on two manuscripts (MS. Bodl. 494, MS e Mus. 62) that contain the twelfth-century author Richard of Saint Victor’s commentary on the Book of Ezekiel, known as In visionem Ezechielis. Richard included some of the most detailed architectural drawings to exist at that time, making them important for how we understand the development of technical drawings, but also the language of architecture during the twelfth century.

We worked through the sequence of all fourteen drawings, showing that Richard structures the text in a way that helps his pedagogical aims. He begins with a very general drawing of the entire temple complex, showing all three atriums. He then provides much more detail on particular buildings. One elevation is in fact a section, as if Richard has removed part of the façade so that the viewer can see the interior. This is the first sectional elevation in existence and demonstrates Richard’s innovation in the genre of technical drawing.

Bodleian MS. Bodl. 494, fol. 156r

We closely examined a geometrical drawing that is, despite being the most plain in the whole work, is one of the most important. Richard uses two types of measurements to simplify his recreation of the temple. This drawing shows the reader how to translate from one type of measurement to the other. It shows that the commentary and the drawings within it are rooted in contemporary practices in geometry. This relationship between architecture and geometry continues to this day, and Richard was a forerunner of that.

Finally, we examined the language that Richard used. Richard called one of the measurements ‘planum’, when he wants to describe the topography of the temple site as if it was flat. This is the first use of the word ‘plan’ to refer to an architectural drawing, one that would not be used again for several centuries. While Richard’s work was influential within the intellectual circles of twelfth- and thirteenth-century scholarship, it did not go on to influence practices in medieval building sites.

The questions addressed topics such as the codicological status of the manuscripts, and the broader significance of the work and its intended audiences.

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