Manuscript Studies

There are dozens and dozens of sites on the web displaying medieval manuscripts. Many, produced by museums and libraries, provide minimal commentary. A large number are interested mainly in illuminations. Then there are a few of exceptional quality. It is intriguing that French libraries seem to produce very beautiful and technologically tricky sites which concentrate mainly on illuminations, while German and Scandinavian libraries have put great effort into comprehensive digital reproductions of complete works or representative samples from them. The efforts from libraries in Great Britain range from exquisite and comprehensive to downright stingy. Some farflung places have produced beautiful sites to display their few treasures, while the loaded treasure houses still seem to be scratching their heads trying to work out how to deal with it all.

Medieval Writing

This is actually our very own site, so I haven't given it a star rating. You can do that for youself. It is concerned with the history of medieval handwriting and literacy, and contains a steadily increasing number of practical paleography exercises. It also contains a huge set of lists of links, so I won't repeat them all here. Go and check them out yourself on the main site. The following tiny selection represents a few discussion points. This site and the two following have an emphasis on the mechanics of paleography.

Medieval Palaeography

This site from Dave Postles of Leicester University, seems to have escaped from the university into wild cyberspace. It concerns itself with the reading of medieval charters and some early modern texts. It uses various forms of interactivity to get the user actually analysing the document. You can have a go at the exercises youself, or purchase the whole thing on CD-ROM if downloading is a hassle. Please Dave, don't change the URL again!


Melbourne University has produced this site, which is really just a demonstration of a much larger project which one can purchase on CD. Unfortunately, they don't seem to want to tell us the price. However, there is a working demo. It takes a historical perspective, with sample documents in the various scripts used throughout the middle ages. It is a very elegant production and broader in scope than the Leicester site, but perhaps less ambitious in its interactivity and close analysis, and there is no free version.

Andy Holt Virtual Library

While this is purely a link list, it seems to be a very comprehensive one in the area of manuscript studies, paleography and codiciology, from the enigmatic TennesseeBob.

English Monastic Archives

This site "seeks to reconstruct the archive of every English monastery, and thereby to elucidate the origins of record-keeping in England". It is intended to publish the results in printed form as well as online, linked to ARCHON, based at the National Archives. This is an ambitious project, but there are some samples online to show how it will work. Real research material, but let's see how they get on with it.

Koninklijke Bibliotheek:

Medieval Illuminated Manuscripts

The Royal Library in The Hague has put up a section of their web site specifically to examine illuminations from medieval manuscripts in their collection. It has a rather wild and wacky interface, with images shooting in from the side of the screen and all sorts of unexpected things happening, but there is a good selection of material, and the capacity to zoom in on images to examine them in greater detail. This was. perhaps, the first really technologically tricky exhibition of manuscript material on the web, but there are quite a few now.

British Library Home Page

This site provides access to a whole range of information about the British Library as well as online exhibitions, information and graphics. Several different areas of the site now have image libraries and it is all a bit messy, but the content is growing. A boon for medievalists is the appearance of their manuscript collection catalogue online; a document which didn't even exist in coherent paper form before. It still is not complete, but there is plenty there. The medieval manuscript holdings of this institution are huge, but all their attempts to present manuscript material on the web seem a little fractured and incoherent, as if they haven't yet sorted out the policy issues.

Bibliothèque Nationale de France

An English version is available as a link from the home page. This home page provides links to the history of the institution, how to use the collections, catalogues, databases and exhibitions from the Department of Manuscripts. They specialise in tricky and beautiful exhibitions of illuminations.

The Bodleian Library

This home page provides information about the library, and also provides links to pages with images of manuscripts in the collection. A few very elaborate digitisation projects have been undertaken, but think of the gazillion manuscripts in their vaults! They seem a bit behind most other libraries in providing electronic access, even to catalogues, despite that fact that in ye olde pre-digital days they produced vast numbers of slides of their medieval manuscripts.

The Aberdeen Bestiary

This site is a ripper - an absolute beauty. It was one of the earliest attempts to produce a complete digital edition of a medieval manuscript, with images, transcript, translation and notes. This is a second edition of this project, with a rather easier interface. Aberdeen University seems to be specialising in superb quality manuscript sites, and have produced several other complete digital editions. There are now a number of these from other sources on the web, but this one is the standardbearer.

The Life of Edward the Confessor

This is part of the Cambridge University Library site and shows scans of a 13th century Anglo-Norman manuscript in the university library. There is a capacity to zoom in on detail as well as description and commentary and an introduction by Paul Binski. Both visually exciting and academically authoritative and another trailblazer in this field.

The Planets and their Children

A Blockbook of Medieval Popular Astrology

This just shows that you don't need to be a giant institution with mammoth holdings and a big server to contribute a little gem to the area. This is somebody's personal website, based on their academic work and spiced with a little imagination. Lovely.

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