Manuscript Laboratory 3: Medieval Manuscript Hands and Manuscript Fragments

        In class, you and a partner will work with some of these manuscript fragments: side 1 & side 2.  You will need your lab kit (magnifier, light, tape measure), and your copy of Drogin.  Before class, familiarize yourself with this chronological survey of Diane Tillotson's script tutorials from C4 through C16.  As you study her examples of medieval manuscript hands, compare them with those reproduced and discussed in Drogin pp. 25-78.

        Note first that the technical jargon medieval manuscript analysis is less systematic and more prone to variation than the jargon used by students of hand-press books.  Names for styles of handwriting have been invented by numerous scholars working at different times in differing countries.  Like the famous blind men and their elephant, theses scholars all were detecting evidence of real historical text-production techniques, many of which were practiced by scribes working in many geographical regions at the same time.  Nevertheless, our scribal "elephant" is more like a herd than a single beast.  Each monastery's scriptorium or, after about 1300, each secular scribal workshop, might evolve its own master scripts which distinguished its work.  Finally, each practicing scribe developed his own distinctive "hand" by introducing more minute variations on the master script of his era.  If you want to supplement Tillotson and Drogin on the distinctive traces by which one can identify an individual scribal hand when it is found in separate documents, see A. I. Doyle's extensively illustrated article, "The Work of a Late Fifteenth-Century English Scribe, William Ebesham," Bulletin of the John Rylands Library, 39:2 (March 1957) 298-325.  (Available through Interlibrary Loan or from me directly--I have Doyle's autographed offprint with an inscription to bibliographer Curt F. Bühler.)

         Our goal, at first, will be to determine the scripts in which they were written.  This will help us to notice the key traits of script types by which we might estimate the general period, in centuries, during which the writing was produced.  Especially for manuscript fragments, which may have migrated hundreds or thousands of miles from their "sister" fragments and from their common place of creation, detecting the script is one of the few clues we have to the era in which the "parent" manuscript was produced.  Knowing the script's era, in centuries, together with analysis of the animal skin from which the parchment was made, can help localize in very general terms the time and place of the parent manuscript's creation.

        Finally, with the aid of the Latin-English dictionaries and Web searches for transcribed MS texts, attempt to identify the text on your binding fragment.  You have little to go on, so this will tax your paleographic skills and your inventiveness.  Make sure you take advantage of other researchers' eyes and brains as you attempt to decipher your fragment.  Do not neglect to compare fragments.  After all, when the parent MS was cut up to reinforce a later books' bindings, many pieces of the same parent MS may have found their way into the same book, and it is not impossible that some pieces from a single book are in the trove the class is examining.  (They were purchased from several dealers over two years at a medieval studies conference in Kalamazoo, Michigan, in 2004-6.)

        Binding fragments are being studied by scholars around the world for clues to the provenance of books in which they were found.  They also sometimes reveal newly discovered text.  The Penn Provenance Project's "Binding Fragments" section will show you examples of paste-downs, binding straps, and other manuscript particles that are open for identification.