Finding Medieval Texts in Western Manuscript Books
Every medieval manuscript is unique. Even if it was copied from another manuscript containing the same work or works, idiosyncrasies and errors may have crept in. Scribal error may have created variant readings in a text, or someone may have added entire passages. A scholar or scribe may have changed the text to update the contents. A student who copied a portion of a work from a copy borrowed from a stationer might rent one portion (pecia) only to be handed a portion of a different exemplar to copy next. Materials, sizes of text blocks, inks and decoration might have been changed; and some manuscripts have suffered from age and damage. Bindings may have been changed, and fly leaves with clues to ownership may have been trimmed out.
In addition, libraries of individuals or institutions may have been broken up, their contents distributed when not destroyed outright. Wars and religious upheavals, deaths of collectors and sale of books (even by the curators of institutional libraries) have led to placing items from one repository in scattered locations, including in North American research collections. Suppression of monasteries and other religious institutions has added to the dislocation of texts. Research libraries do not always make their collections well know, either publishing printed catalogs with elaborate analysis or keeping research files never shared outside the institution. Moreover, cataloging rules designed for printed texts are hard to adapt to the unique aspects of each hand-written book, even in the digital environment.
This page offers some clues to finding manuscript books, usually in Western languages like Latin, on more than one continent. Some of these volumes are available on the World Wide Web, whether descriptions or full-page images. In other cases, however, we must still resort to printed or even hand-written inventories, supplemented by specialized studies. Securing copies of texts and images not already digitized may be available in printed facsimile editions. Others can be found in microform, usually not in color, or in plates presenting individual pages. A scholar may also be able to secure a fresh copy of a work by visiting a microform repository or requesting imaging of a volume or a portion of one.
A Few Introductory Works about Medieval Studies, Manuscript Books and Scripts:
Bischoff, Bernard, Latin Paleography: Antiquity & the Middle Ages, trans. Dáibhí Ó Cróinín and David Ganz (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990).
- A reference work documenting the most recent trends in medieval studies. Also available as an e-book.
Brown, Michelle, The British Library Guide to Writing and Scripts: History and Techniques (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1998).
- A survey of forms of writing, especially in the West, with the tools and materials employed in creating books.
Brown, Michelle, A Guide to Western Historical Scripts from Antiquity to 1600 (London: British Library, 1990).
- An illustrated overview of Western scripts forms with images of selected leaves and their transcriptions. Useful for training beginning students of paleography.
Adriano Cappelli, Dizionario di Abbreviature ed Italiani, Milano: Hoepli, 1912 (latest edition 2012).
- This the most authoritative guide to the abbreviations used in manuscript books, incunabula and other early printed texts.
Catalogus Translationum et Commentariorum. A series of studies edited by Paul Oskar Kristeller, F. Edward Cranz, and Virginia Brown and published by the Catholic University of America Press.
- These studies provide guidance to medieval and Renaissance classical and patristic texts, including translations, and commentaries on them. Now available from the ACLS Humanities E-Book project. Contains all the volumes in the series, reproduced exactly as published; but future volumes will be created online only.
Handbook of Medieval Studies: Terms, Methods, Trends, ed. Albrecht Classen, 3 vols. (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2010).
Introduction to Manuscript Studies, ed. Raymond Clemens and Timothy Graham (New York: Cornell University Press, 2007).
Medieval Studies: An Introduction, ed. James M. Powell, 2nd ed. (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1992).
- This collection includes introductory essays on: Latin Paleography (the study of scripts); Medieval Art; Medieval English Literature; Medieval Sciences; Medieval Philosophy.
Online Guides & Research Centers – General:
Catalogue of Digitized Medieval Manuscripts
- This website was intended to enable researchers to find and access manuscripts digitized in full anywhere on the web, but it no longer is updated.
e-Codices, Virtual Manuscript Library of Switzerland
- This site accesses hundreds of manuscripts in 46 Swiss libraries with images of the individual pages.
Guide to Locating Manuscripts and Their Descriptions, Saint Louis University Library.
- A guide to both the resources of the Vatican Library and its representation at the Vatican Film Library at St. Louis University, including lists of the printed guides to the Vatican collections.
Initiale: Catalogue de manuscrits enlumines
- Provides a search interface fr illuminated manuscripts, their locations and bibliographies, mostly in French public repositories.
Interactive Album of Medieval Paleography
- Facsimiles of images excerpted from manuscrpts 9th to the 15th century rated by the difficulty of reading them. The student can enter transcriptions and then view the correct readings line by line.
Kristeller, Paul O., Iter Italicum'' via Iter Gateway to the Renaissance.
- The classic listing of Renaissance manuscripts world wide, beginning with Italy. Originally the 7 volumes set, published by Brill (see below), adapted to the web with a search template.
- The medieval manuscripts page of the Labyrinth medieval metasite.
- A group of links for manuscripts searching.
Medieval Manuscripts on the Web
- A page of links to manuscripts sites.
Medieval Manuscripts on the Web
- A similar page with more explanatory notes.
- A site primarily focused on Italian miniatures illustrating manuscript books.
Pecia: Le manuscrit médiéval
- A blog dedicated to the study of medieval manuscripts, including their relationship to incunabula.
Online Guides – Europe:
- A guide to sources and bibliography for the Holy Roman Empire from Carolingian times to the Early Modern period, information useful for many academic disciplines.
Online Guides – North America:
- A database of medieval and Renaissance manuscripts uniting resources from many North American institutions plus the American Academy in Rome with selected images and a search interface.
Directory of Institutions in the United States and Canada with Pre-1600 Manuscript Holdings
- An effort to update the printed catalogs of De Ricci and Bond-Faye listed below.
Pages from the Past
- A digital inventory of medieval manuscripts and fragments in South Carolina repositories.
Online Manuscript Projects Focused on Single Works:
Princeton Charrette Project
- An extensive site focused on Chrétien de Troyes's Le Chevalier de la Charrette (a Lancelot story written ca. 1180), including images and manuscript transcriptions.
Roman de la Rose Digital Library
- An international project providing manuscript and early printed texts with transcriptions and images for the thirteenth-century Roman de la Rose.
Printed Guides - General:
Gero Dolezalek, Verzeichnis der Handschriften zum römischen Recht bis 1600…, 4 vols. (Frankfurt: Max-Planck-Institut für europäische Rechtsgeschichte, 1972).
- Provides an overview of medieval Roman texts, locations and opening or closing lines to be used in identifying new copies. One of the first manuscript projects generated using computers.
Kaeppeli, Thomas, and Emilio Panella, Scriptores Ordinis Praedicatorum medii aevi, 4 vols. (Rome: Ad S. Sabinae, 1970-1993).
- An extensive guide to manuscript copies of works written by medieval Friars Preachers with references to editions and studies.
Kristeller, Paul O., Iter Italicum: a Finding List of Uncatalogued or Incompletely Catalogued Humanistic Manuscripts of the Renaissance in Italian and Other Libraries, 7 vols. (London: Warburg Institute, 1963-1997).
- See also above under Online Guides.
Kristeller, Paul O., Latin Manuscript Books before 1600: A List of the Printed Catalogues and Unpublished Inventories of Extant Collections, 4th ed., ed. Sigrid Krämer (München: Monumenta Germaniae Historica, 1993). Ergänzungsband 2006 (Hannover: Hahnsche Buchhandlung, 2007).
Printed Guides – Europe:
A Catalogue of Canon and Roman Law Manuscripts in the Vatican Library, ed. Stephan Kuttner and of Reinhard Elze, 2 vols. (Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Vatican City, 1986-1987): Incomplete vol. 3.
- An incomplete effort to identify all medieval legal texts in the Vatican Library, the completed portions focused on the codices Vaticani Latini.
Ceresa, Massimo, Bibliografia dei fondi manoscritti della Biblioteca vaticana, 1981-1985 (Vatican City: Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, 1991).
- A repertoire of publications about Vatican manuscripts.
Codices vaticani latini (Vatican City: Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, 1902- ): Codices 1-678 -- Codices 679-1134 (2 v.) -- Codices 1135-1266 (2 v.) -- Codices 1461-2059 -- Codices 2060-2117 -- Codices 2118-2192 -- Codices 9734-9782 -- Codices 9852-10300 -- Codices 10301-10700 -- Codices 10701-10875 -- Codices 10876-11000 -- Codices 11266-11326 -- Codices 11414-11709, 14666-15203.
- These are the detailed catalogs published thus far for the Codices vaticani latini. Other catalogs and inventories exist for Greek, Arabic, Armenian, Coptic, Ethiopic, Georgian, Hebrew, Persian, Samaritan, Slavic, Syriac and Turkish manuscripts. In addition, catalogs and inventories exist for the Archivio del Capitolo di San Pietro, Santa Maria Maggiore, and Capella Sistina, as well as the Barberini, Boncompagni-Ludovisi, Borghese, Borgia, Chigi, Ferrajoli, Ottoboni, Palatini,Patteta, Reginenses, Rossi and Urbanati collections, the so-called fondi minori. This includes listing of manuscripts from these collections in some language or subject oriented catalogs, like the volumes by Pelegrin listed next.
Pellegrin, Elisabeth et al., Les manuscrits classiques latins de la Bibliothèque vaticane: catalogue, 3 vols. (Paris: Editions du Centre national de la recherche scientifique, 1975-2010).
- A detailed catalog of manuscripts of Latin classical texts in the Vatican Library.
Printed Guides – North America:
Bond, W.H. and C.U. Faye, Supplement to the Census of Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts in the United States and Canada (New York: Bibliographical Society of America, 1962).
- A supplement to De Ricci (below) correcting some entries and adding others.
Conway, Melissa, and Lisa Fagin Davis, "The Directory of Institutions in the United States and Canada with Pre-1600 Manuscript Holdings -- From Its Origins to the Present, and Its Role in Tracking the Migration of Manuscripts in North American Repositories," Manuscripta 57 (2013): 165-181.
De Ricci, Seymour, Census of Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts in the United States and Canada, 3 vols. (New York: H. W. Wilson, 1935-1940).
- The first effort to locate manuscripts in North American libraries and private collections. Most of the private collection have since been dispersed or donated to libraries.
Dutschke, Consuelo W., et al., Guide to Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts in the Huntington Library (San Marino, The Huntington Library, 1989).
Faulhaber, Charles, Medieval Manuscripts in the Library of the Hispanic Society of America: Religious, Legal, Scientific, Historical, and Literary Manuscripts, 2 vols. (New York: The Hispanic Society of America, 1983).
Light, Laura, Catalogue of Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts in the Houghton Library, Harvard University, vol. 1 (Binghamton, NY: Medieval & Renaissance Texts & Studies, 1995).
Saenger, Paul H., A Catalogue of the Pre-1500 Western Manuscript Books at the Newberry Library (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989).
Shailor, Barbara A., Catalogue of Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts in the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library,Yale University, 4 vols. (Binghamton, N.Y. : Medieval & Renaissance Texts & Studies, 1984-2004).
Skemer, Don C., Medieval & Renaissance Manuscripts in the Princeton University Library, 2 vols. (Princeton, NJ: Dept. of Art and Archaeology, Princeton University, 2013).
Zacour, Norman P., and Rudolf Hirsch, Catalogue of Manuscripts in the Libraries of the University of Pennsylvania to 1800, Philadelphia; University of Pennsylvania Press, 1965.
Websites of Libraries with Major Holdings of Medieval Manuscripts:
Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris
- Also on Gallica
Cambridge University, Corpus Christi College, Parker Library on the Web (Harrassowitz), [subscriptions available]
University of Pennsylvania, Franklin online catalog. See also Penn in Hand and Henry Charles Lea Library.
Medieval Manuscripts in Microform Repositories in North America:
- These are specialized repositories. Other libraries may have extensive collections of microformed manuscript books, see, e.g., the University of Pennsylvania’s holdings.
Hill Museum and Manuscript Library
Plante, Julian, with Donald Yates, Checklist of Manuscripts Microfilmed for the Hill Monastic Manuscript Library, 2 vols. Collegeville, MN: Hill Monastic Manuscript Library, Saint John's University, 1967-1978, Austria & Spain.
- Descriptive Inventories of Manuscripts Microfilmed for the Hill Monastic Manuscript Library, Collegeville, MN: Hill Monastic Manuscript Library, Saint John's University, 1980- 1990, including Portugal (3 vols.) and Austria (3 vols.).
Jordan, Louis, and Susan Wool, Inventory of Western Manuscripts in the Biblioteca Ambrosiana: from the Medieval Institute of the University of Notre Dame, 3 vols., Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1984-1989.
Thomas M. Izbicki, "Microfilm Collections of Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts in the United States," Collection Management 15 (1992): 449-473.
Some Publishers of Manuscript Facsimiles and Dealers in Manuscripts:
Libreria musicale italiana, Lucca (Ars Nova music facsimiles)
Library of Congress Subject Headings for Medieval Manuscripts:
Example for Facsimiles:
- Manuscripts, Anglo-Norman – Facsimiles
- Manuscripts, Latin (Medieval and modern) -- England -- Facsimiles
- Illumination of books and manuscripts, Medieval -- England
- Illumination of books and manuscripts, English
Examples for Manuscripts:
- Manuscripts, Latin -- 13th century
- Manuscripts, Medieval
- Manuscripts, Renaissance
Reading Shelf Marks:
There is no one system of shelf marks even in the same library. Among the larger libraries with multiple systems are the Vatican Library, the British Library, Oxford’s Bodleian Library, Milan’s Bibliotheca Ambrosiana and the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris. These systems can be based on libraries transferred to a major repository from a collector, family or institution. A single series of manuscript numbers might later receive a series of volumes listed as Additional. Even a single system may distinguish by language of contents (e.g. lat. for Latin; graeci for Greek), size of volume (fol. for folio), subject matter (Jur. for law) or place on the shelves of the library (Ambrosiana, C 222 inf. = case C. number lower tier). Cambridge and Oxford colleges have their own collections (e.g., Cambridge, Trinity R.16.2).
Vatican (major collections)
- A.S.P. = Archivo San Petro
- Barb. - Barberini
- Borgh. = Borghese
- Ottob. = Ottoboni
- Palat. = Palatini, from Heidelberg
- Reg. = Reginensis, i.e. Christiana, queen of Sweden
- Ross. = Rossiana
- Urb. = Urbinati, i.e. dukes of Urbino
British Library (Selected):
- Additional = open-ended series of manuscript acquisitions
- Cotton, e.g. Tiberius A. I, shelf marks from busts atop the presses in which Robert Cotton’s library originally was housed
- Royal, presented by King George II
Oxford, Bodleian (selected):
- Add. = Additional = open-ended series of manuscript acquisitions
- Auct. = Auctarium, e.g., MS. Auct. F. 3. 14
- Canon. = Canonici
- Rawl. = Rawlinson
Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale (BN):
- Arsenal = Bibliothèque de l’Arsenal
- MS Français = French manuscripts
- MS Latin
- NAL or Nouv. Acq. Lat. = new Latin acquisitions
Many libraries are placing scanned images on the texts on the Web, and digitized images can be requested directly. The Vatican Library, for example, has its request forms readily available. Payments can be made by fund transfer or check. US banks, however, often have problems doing transfer to agencies in Europe.
Another approach to consider is employing a vendor or an agent based in Europe. This approach might be better for smaller research libraries like the Pontificia Biblioteca Antoniana in Padua, even when they accept requests for reproductions online.