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Manuscript Studies
Medieval and Early Modern

I. Towards a Definition of "Manuscript Studies"

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The Sciences of Historical Study (including "literary history")

Where does historical evidence come from? We can posit that historical evidence comes primarily from documents and artefacts. Of course, the distinction between these two is not easy to maintain for very long: documents are a kind of artefact and the physical properties of a book can be studied in much the same way as the physical properties of a burial urn can be; and, on the other hand, non-documentary artefacts must be "read" and interpreted with skills similar to those applied to documents. Still, there is some usefulness in recognizing that there are linguistic and non-linguistic sources of historical evidence.

Philosophy and historiography: the attempt to establish first principles of historical study and methodology.

Chronology: the study of temporal concepts, ideas of the movement of time, calendars, etc.

Philology: the study of the languages in which documents are preserved.

Epigraphy: the study of inscriptions.

Numismatics: the study of coins.

Sigillography: the study of seals, especially those attached to documents. While obviously related to the discipline of diplomatics, sigillography also has implications for, and requires the assistance of, the study of art, numismatics, and heraldry.

Heraldry: the study of heraldic symbols and their history, the identification of armorial bearings, etc.

Prosopography: the study of pedigree, biography, and genealogy, especially among royal and noble families (people of power and influence), including the study of family names.

Archaeology: the search for and interpretation of artefacts, usually recovered from underground (e.g., grave goods, building foundations).

Historical study of music, art, architecture, costume.

Historical geography: the study of changes through history of the landscape and the human occupation of the landscape, including the study of place names.

Diplomatics: the study of official documents, charters, etc., especially with a view to establishing their authenticity and historical significance. Father Boyle's definition: "Diplomatics, or in Mabillon's terminology, Res diplomatica, is a form of literary criticism that is based on a detailed examination of documentary records in order to understand what they say and to see if what they say is consistent with what is known of fact" (Leonard E. Boyle, "Diplomatics," in Medieval Studies: An Introduction, ed. James M. Powell, 2nd ed. [Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1992], p. 82).

Papyrology: the study of papyrus. Between the second and fourth centuries, the preservation of writing in the Latin world moved from papyrus (stored in rolls) to parchment (stored in a "codex," being pages bound into a book--thus creating the first "random access" information retrieval system). By extension, "papyrology" is also used of the study of paper ("paper" and "papyrus" being, etymologically, the same word).

Paleography: the history of scripts. "Applied paleography" is the process of identifying the date and provenance of a particular script.

Codicology: the archaeology of the book (the codex); the study of the material and physical history of books and, in more directly practical terms, the identification of similarities between particular volumes with a view towards identifying the scriptoria that produced them.

"Manuscript studies," then, we can define as a species of bibliographical study (or "textual scholarship," as the term is used in the title of D. C. Greetham's introduction to bibliography). Textual scholarship includes manuscript studies but extends further in that it is not limited to the manuscript, but also studies the printed book, from the invention of printing to the present day. Similarly, it is a part of the emerging discipline of the history of the book, insofar as it is distinguishable from traditional bibliographical study. Manuscript studies overlaps with and makes use of such disciplines as diplomatics, paleography, codicology, papyrology, the study of writing implements and scribal methods, the study of book bindings; more generally, all aspects of manuscript production, dissemination, readership and reception, ownership and preservation are relevant to manuscript studies as we are using the term here.

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[ Course Notes: Introduction ] | [ I. Towards a definition of "manuscript studies" ] | [ I.ii. The four branches of bibliographical study ] | [ I.iii. Topics in the social history of texts ] | I.iii.a The "Rescue" of Medieval Manuscripts from Grocers and Fishmongers | [ II. Diplomatics ] | [ III. Codicology ] | [ III.ii. Decoration and Illumination ] | [ IV. Paleography ] | [ IV.ii. Historical Notes ] | [ IV.iii. Writing Implements ] | [ IV.iv. Letter Formation ] | [ IV.v. Special Characters in English Manuscripts ] | [ IV.vi. Scribal Abbreviations ] | [ IV.vii. Punctuation ] | [ IV.viii. Paleographical sample: William Herebert, OFM (early fourteenth-century England) ] | [ Herebert sample, with transcription ] | [ Herebert sample: enlargement of full page reproduced at high resolution ] | [ V. Textual analysis (James E. Thorpe) ] | [ V.ii. Scribal error ] | [ V.iii. Kinds of edition ] | [ V.iv. Examples of over emendation on insufficient grounds ] | [ VI. Linguistic competence (an example): An Outline History of the English Language ] | [ VII. Libraries and archives: ] | [ VII.ii. British Library Manuscript Collections ] | [ VII.iii. Bodleian Library Manuscript Collections ]

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© 1998, 2015 Stephen R. Reimer
English; University of Alberta; Edmonton, Canada
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Created: 2 Dec. 1998; Last revised: 30 May 2015

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