Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Medieval Manuscripts Questions ... And Answers?

I have often thought that it would be a good idea to have a site like CERL's "Can You Help?": this allows people to seek help in identifying the provenance of (mainly printed) books. It seems to me that there should be another version of this concept, tailored for those of us interested mainly in medieval manuscripts, and addressing a wider range of questions.

Such a site could set out to address different kinds of questions, such as:
  • dating or localising a manuscript by its script or decoration
  • identifying artists or scribes
  • identifying unusual iconography
  • reading difficult handwriting or partially erased inscriptions
  • identifying the text of a fragment
  • interpreting provenance evidence such as heraldry
  • and so on.
We all need help with such issues at some time or another, and in my experience other people are usually very willing to share their expertise

As an experiment, I therefore thought that I would start a new blog, where I would post occasional questions of my own, and also those of anyone who sends them to me. In particular, I currently need help identifying and locating some manuscript leaves and cuttings -- for reasons I will reveal later in the year -- of which I only have old photographs. I think that there is a very good chance that readers will recognise some of them.

I will start by posting a few of my own questions, as examples, but welcome submissions from readers for me to post on their behalf. Please fill out the Contact form below, or email your questions to me at with the following:
  • a title in the form of short summary of your question
  • a photograph of the manuscript in question, of adequate size and quality
  • all known relevant contextual information (e.g. present location, link to online description or images, recent publications, etc.)
  • a series of terms that I can use as tags to make your query findable as the number of blog-posts grows, including if possible the physical form, country, century, language if not Latin, and genre of expertise needed, e.g.:
    • fragment, Italy, 13th-cent., iconography
    • codex, France, 12th-cent., localisation
    • cutting, England, 13th?-cent., date
    • miniature, Netherlands, 15th-cent., attribution
    • leaf, Germany, 14th-cent., heraldry
I may edit your text and your photo for clarity, and change the tags. If I get a cluster of new enquiries in quick succession, I may spread-out their posting over a longer period.

I will not post questions if it seems that the enquirer is just too lazy to do some basic checking, or if it seems that they are trying to get help with school homework!

I will leave Comments open, so anyone who provides answers will get public recognition for their contributions, but I will moderate them, so that subscribers do not receive spam. Apologies in advance if your comment does not get published quickly; this may be due to time-zone differences, etc.

I will use a tag "unsolved" for questions that require more input and "solved" if a question is definitively answered: this will allow people to filter searches only for unsolved/solved questions.

If the Comments on a particular question become numerous I will try to summarise the current state of knowledge near the top of the post, so that readers do not spend time re-doing work that has already been done by someone else.

I welcome suggestions for how to improve the usefulness of this experiment.

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