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Medieval Manuscript Studies: A European Perspective

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  11 June 2021

Orietta Da Rold
Affiliation:
University Lecturer, Faculty of English, St John's College, University of Cambridge,
Peter A. Stokes
Affiliation:
Senior Lecturer, Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
Philip A. Shaw
Affiliation:
Senior Lecturer, School of English, University of Leicester,
Rolf H. Bremmer
Affiliation:
Senior Lecturer in Medieval English and, by special appointment, Professor of Frisian at the University of Leiden.
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Summary

WHEN JEAN MALLON wrote his seminal treaty on Roman palaeography, he pointed out that the field is so large that scholars cannot be expected to explore it in detail. All one can do, he argued, is wander; however, after getting lost in a minefield of information, a scholar will always come back with something tangible. It is equally difficult to define what contemporary medieval manuscript studies represent in Europe. The literature on the subject is obviously vast, and it is impossible to offer a thorough survey of the wide field it covers. It is, however, equally true that confronting ideas and practices across international and national borders may lead to profitable new research initiatives.

The ways in which scholars think about medieval manuscripts are as multifaceted as the taxonomies used to define the discipline, and scholarly practices vary across international and national borders. In the anglophone world, ‘manuscript studies’ is understood as an interdisciplinary endeavour, which started with the great effort of cataloguing manuscripts in British collections, and now intersects with a wide range of other disciplines from literary studies to textual transmission and editing, art history, history, cultural studies and sociology. Other concerns in the field include detailed considerations on the dissemination, circulation and reception of books, the development of medieval libraries, the growth of manuscript collections and the history of reading. In Europe, the terms palaeography and codicology are often called upon to denote and define the study of the medieval manuscript. Codicology is sometimes understood as an ancillary component of palaeography, when its independence is not categorically denied. In other contexts, the word codicology is used instead to indicate the study of the manuscript book as a whole, including, for example, matters relating to the history of handwriting. More specific terms such as archaeology of the book, material codicology or – more recently – structural codicology have been introduced to emphasise the focus on the study of materials and to describe the physical structure of the medieval book. These different labels will be used conventionally in the following pages as a common thread to navigate the most relevant and promising research trends, starting with a short overview on manuscript studies.

Type
Chapter
Information
Writing Europe, 500-1450
Texts and Contexts
, pp. 1 - 24
Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2015

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