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Digging Deeper: Making Manuscripts


Faculty: Professor Elaine Treharne (Stanford), Dr Benjamin Albritton (Stanford), Dr Orietta Da Rold (Cambridge), Dr Suzanne Paul (Cambridge)


In the six weeks of Digging Deeper: Making Manuscripts, we aim to introduce you to the study of early text technologies, focusing mainly on the medieval book, but also discussing other textual artifacts, too, such as scrolls and documents. In this course, we shall investigate manuscripts as they exist within Special Collections’ repositories and as they are displayed online. We shall show you what manuscripts look like, why they are so valuable, what they are made of, and how to begin to understand and describe all the information a manuscript offers. You will learn about manuscripts, the kind of specialist vocabulary used by manuscript historians, and you’ll hear about some of the key themes in early book history. Who made and used manuscripts and where were they produced? What kinds of texts were written and read? What languages were the books written in? We’ll explore some of the wonderful books preserved in the Special Collections of Cambridge and Stanford Universities, and we’ll demonstrate some important practical skills in using and reading these manuscript materials.



·      There will be a sequence of films to watch each week, accompanied by an article to read.

·      Short, multiple-choice quizzes will allow you to assess your own progress weekly.

·      A five-line piece of manuscript transcription will help you build your skills each week in reading medieval manuscripts.

·      An interactive experience with a manuscript image will teach you how to identify components of the folio.


Participants who finish the course will earn a Stanford Statement of Accomplishment.


Some recommended reading

The following books are widely available through libraries and booksellers, and don’t forget to try online for used copies at AbeBooks:


Michelle P. Brown, A Guide to Western Historical Scripts from Antiquity to 1600 (London, Toronto: British Library Publications/University of Toronto Press, 1990; 2nd ed. 1993)

Michelle P. Brown, The British Library Guide to Writing and Scripts (London, Toronto: British Library Publications, 1998)

Raymond Clemens and Timothy Graham, An Introduction to Manuscript Studies (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2007)

Christopher de Hamel, Scribes and Illuminators (London, Toronto: British Library Publications, 1992)

M. B. Parkes, English Cursive Book Hands 1250-1500 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1969, revised repr. Aldershot: Ashgate, 2008)

B. L. Ullman, Ancient Writing and its Influence (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1969; repr. 1980)


Online Resources

A. Booth, Medieval Handwriting App, free for iOS devices via Apple App Store and free for Android devices via Google Play Store

A. Cappelli, Lexicon abbreviaturarum: Dizionario de Abbreviature latine ed italiane

Getty Museum, ‘The Making of a Medieval Book’,

E. Kwakkel, Books and the Dissemination of Knowledge in Medieval Europe,

Edward Maunde Thompson, An Introduction to Greek and Latin Palaeography,

E. Miller, ‘The Creation of a Medieval Manuscript’,




Weekly Schedule


Week 1: Prologue

1.     Introduction

2.     What is a manuscript?

3.     Where were manuscripts produced?

4.     Why do old books matter?

5.     Accessing manuscript images

Self-Test Multiple Choice on the videos

Practicum: How to transcribe a manuscript text

Transcription: Caroline Minuscule script

Readings and Resources: 1) The St Gall Plan; and 2) About the Medieval Scriptorium:



Week 2: Manuscript Materials

1.     Introduction to Materials

2.     Papyrus

3.     Parchment

4.     Paper

5.     Digital Materials

Self-Test Multiple Choice on the videos

Practicum: Identify materials and their features

Transcription: English Vernacular Minuscule

Readings and Resources: 1) Paper and watermarks as bibliographical evidence; plus video; and 2) Parchment making;


Week 3: Outside the Book

1.     Shelf marks and catalogs

2.     Finding Digital Manuscripts Online

3.     Binding

4.     The Scroll

5.     Single-Leaf Documents

Self-Test Multiple Choice on the videos

Practicum: Anatomy of the Book

Transcription: Protogothic script

Readings and Resources: Central European University, ‘Materials and Techniques of Manuscript Production’,


Week 4: Preparing the Folio

1.     The Folio: Overview

2.     The Folio: A Case Study

3.     Pricking and Ruling 1

4.     Pricking and Ruling 2

Self-Test Multiple Choice on the videos

Practicum: Describing Manuscripts

Transcription: Early Gothic script

Readings and Resources: The Making of a Medieval Manuscript, see

E.M. Thompson, An Introduction to Greek and Latin Palaeography, Ch 3 (Papyrus) and Ch 5 (Forms of Books)

J.P. Gumbert:


Week 5: Scribes at Work

1.     Introduction to Paleography

2.     First Things to Notice

3.     Script and Hand

4.     Details of Script and Hand

5.     Letters


Practicum: Identifying features of paleography

Transcription: Later Gothic script

Readings and Resources: Scriptorium,


Week 6: Finishing Touches

1.     Scribal Practices: Cambridge University Library Kk.4.24

2.     Scribal Practices in Transition: Cambridge University Library Ii.2.33

3.     Scribal Practices and Manuscript Ownership: Cambridge University Library Dd. 5. 5

3.     Conclusion and Looking Forward to Course 2


Self-Test Multiple Choice on Videos

Practicum: Find aspects of

Transcription: Semi-cursive gothic/Anglicana script

Further Resources: The Breviary of Marie de Saint Pol,