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In a conference on New Directions in Medieval Manuscript Studies, the newer developments in codicology ought to be represented. I regret that no speaker was found for Quantitative Codicology; but at least some quite technical aspects can be discussed. And although these matters are often of scant relevance for those scholars – surely the vast majority – who study medieval manuscripts for the sake of their texts, still they have their interest as part of the history of a craft; and from time to time they are relevant to text scholars as well.
Everybody knows what folio, quarto and octavo are. In the bibliography of the printed book these terms denote the format, that is: they indicate (in principle) that during printing two, four or eight leaves were attached, and that these constituted a whole sheet as produced by the paper mill. There is an advantage, especially for studying manuscript books, in distinguishing several aspects of format: first the question what part the leaf, as we see it in the book, was of the sheet as produced by the supplier (what I call the material format); and then the further question what leaves, if any, had been still attached during the production of the book. Actually, of course, one should ask these questions not about leaves but about bifolia, which are the real constituents of the book.
The study of manuscripts is one of the most active areas of current research in medieval studies: manuscripts are the basic primary material evidence for literary scholars, historians and art-historians alike, and there has been an explosion of interest over the past twenty years. Manuscript study has developed enormously: codices are no longer treated as inert witnesses to a culture whose character has already been determined by the modern scholar, but are active participants in a process of exploration and discovery. The articles collected here discuss the future of this process and vital questions about manuscript study for tomorrow's explorers. They deal with codicology and book production, with textual criticism, with the material structure of the medieval book, with the relation of manuscripts to literary culture, to social history and to the medieval theatre, and with the importance to manuscript study of the emerging technology of computerised digitisation and hypertext display. The essays provide an end-of-millennium perspective on the most vigorous developments in a rapidly expanding field of study. Contributors: A.I. Doyle, C. David Benson, Martha W. Driver, J.P. Gumbert, Kathryn Kerby-Fulton, Linne R. Mooney, Eckehard Simon, Alison Stones, John Thompson. DEREK PEARSALL is former Professor and Co-Director of the Centre for Medieval Studies, York, and Professor of English at Harvard University.
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