Guest Post, Manuscripts, Outreach

Teachable Features 1: Binding Error, MS Bodl. 565

I’ve just written a blog for Teaching the Codex, the manuscript pedagogy initiative I run with my colleague, Dr Tristan Franklinos. We are launching a series called ‘Teachable Features’, as a resource for teachers to give quick demonstrations, as well as for anyone interested in learning about manuscripts who does not have immediate access to them.

“I originally described this binding error (amongst other issues relating to the manuscript) in an article for the Bodleian Library Record (April 2015, pp. 22-36), and it is by kind permission of the editor, Dr Alan Coates, that I am able to outline the issue here for Teaching the Codex. Images of the manuscript are reproduced by permission of the Bodleian Library.”

Source: Teachable Features 1: Binding Error, MS Bodl. 565

Articles, Manuscripts

William Wey’s Itinerary to the Holy Land: Bodleian Library, MS Bodley 565 (c. 1470)

I’m very excited that my article on binding errors and scribal identity in MS Bodl. 565 is available in the latest issue of the Bodleian Library Record (April 2015). In lieu of an abstract, here is the first paragraph:

In 1456, the middle-aged Master William Wey, bursar of Eton College, set out on the first of several pilgrimages which were to take him to Santiago de Compostela, Rome, and twice to Jerusalem. His descriptions of these journeys survive in a single manuscript, Bodleian Library, MS. Bodl. 565, which has not thus far been the subject of a detailed study. This has allowed the perpetuation of a binding error, despite two separate publications of its contents.

And here is an image of the manuscript in question: DSCF3387

Guest Post, Manuscripts, Papers

  Source Criticism in the Digital Age

I was asked to translate this Call to Action from the Verband der Historiker und Historikerinnen Deutschlands, originally written by Eva Schlotheuber and Frank Bösch. There has been a significant reduction in the teaching of fundamental historical skills (palaeography, codicology etc) in German universities. This situation is hardly unfamiliar to us in the UK.

Here is Eva Schlotheuber on the background for the debate:
In Germany, a move to organise programmes of study on a modular basis has led to the virtual disappearance of academic source criticism from the university curriculum. As a result, a third of university chairs in the area of ancillary historical skills (palaeography, codicology, epigraphy etc) have been lost in recent decades. At the same time, however, there has been substantial financial and scholarly investment in the digitisation of archival and manuscript sources, largely thanks to the DFG (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft), the main German research foundation. If, however, we are to make full use of this digitisation project, it is imperative that the gap in skills training is addressed, before we find ourselves facing a situation in which the Faculty also lacks the relevant expertise. Our aim is to begin a debate about the discipline’s scholarly foundations, culminating in in a discussion at the Historikertag (the annual convention of all German historians) in Hamburg in September 2016.

Please read and comment over at the original English post – discussion is an integral part of this process!

See the whole Call to Action at the Teaching the Codex WordPress site:

  Source Criticism in the Digital Age

Conferences, Manuscripts

Teaching the Codex

I am co-organising an interdisciplinary colloquium on the pedagogy of palaeography and codicology, working with Tristan Franklinos, a colleague in Classics. You can follow us on Twitter @teachingcodex, and have a look at our WordPress in order to see our motivation behind organising the day. Registration will be open shortly, but in the meantime, our timetable is now available online. Have a look below!


Images, Manuscripts

Bodleian Library, MS e Mus. 160: Beyond the Text

The subject of my first post is the image in my header picture. It’s from an English manuscript, Bodleian Library MS e Museo 160. It is a Carthusian manuscript, written around 1520, probably in Yorkshire, and I first encountered it during my Masters. This is essentially a brief overview of a paper I wrote then, and gave as part of a talk to the Medieval German Seminar earlier this term. The manuscript is a miscellany, the first section of which is a history of the world through holy figures and for the first 26 folia, each page has a picture frame. These have been used in different ways, and clearly not all with regard to the book’s original use.

I will just focus on the first section, the verse chronicle of human history, expressed through holy men and women from Adam and Eve to its author’s contemporaries. From folio 1 verso to folio 26 recto, half of each page is marked out with a frame for a picture. As you can see here, many were left blank. Apologies for the image quality in this case.

blank frame

In fact, I think we can only say with any kind of certainty that the first two were filled in as intended because these are the only pictures with an obvious connection to the title above, and each part of the pictures are labelled.

MS e Mus 160 f.1v MS e Mus 160 f. 2r

There are essentially two other styles of image. The first is a similar man with a pointed hat and a blank banner who appears under the headings of Daniel, Hosea, and Amos, and again under Habakuk and Zephaniah. I don’t discount the possibility that these images are meant to be those prophets, but the connection is less obvious than in the earlier pictures, and they are not labelled.

MS e Mus 160

In his final appearance, he sits alongside something quite different: Tudor figures which appear to have been drawn by children.

Drawn by older child?

MS e Mus 160 f. 24v

Given that the scribe left so many frames for images, and began to fill them in, we can conclude that they were a fairly important part of his design. Since he finished the words, and not the images, we can assume that it was the words that really mattered. I don’t have many theories about the man in the pointed hat, beyond pointing out that I think that the artist who began to draw him on folio 20 recto did not finish, and that someone less skilful drew the bottom part.

MS e Mus 160 f. 20r

I am fairly sure that the drawings of the Tudor figures are the work of a child because of the style and proportions – the pictures don’t look like a quick sketch by an adult, however unfamiliar they are with drawing.

So here are some suggested conclusions about the book. It is of little obvious value in itself, being of a low standard, and was probably a Carthusian monk’s personal devotional project. It may well therefore have been acquired after the Dissolution of the Monasteries with a collection of more valuable books. I could theorise about how it ended up accessible to a child, assuming that these images are the work of children, but I’d rather just think about this later (child) artist taking ownership of the book. With its empty picture frames, it’s clearly incomplete. The child – or more probably, children, as the pictures are of slightly different standards – did not scribble on the text, but interacted with the frames, filling them with pictures, as previous owners had done. They understood the concept of frames, even trying at one point to decorate them (although unfortunately I don’t have an image of that). They kept inside the frames to a reasonable degree, and made frames within frames. They found a book which was unfinished, but was intended to be illustrated, and so they illustrated it. Here, then, in a book which is far from a prestige item, we see people taking ownership of their book by attempting to complete it.