Medieval Manuscripts and the History of Script for OLLI

☛ NB! This is the Spring 2021 course page. The Spring 2022 course will be similar, but do check back for an updated syllabus &c. in February or thereabouts.

Course meetings: Tuesdays 1:45-3:15, March 2-April 20, 2021 via Zoom

Email Carin

Syllabus (PDF)

Scroll down to WEEK-BY-WEEK RESOURCES for the week 1 handout. Stay tuned for more images, links, and other resources coming soon. 


Week 1 (March 2nd)

Download the Week 1 Handout (PDF) so you can follow along and zoom in on images offline.

Here is a handout with images of Ancient Roman scripts which we may start looking at in week one and will continue using in week 2.

Week 2 (March 9th)

Week 2 handout: papyrus, parchment, roll, codex, shelfmarks. (We will start this week with this handout and then move on to the Ancient Roman Scripts handout from Week 1.)

Week 3 (March 16th)

Week 3 handout: Uncial and Half-Uncial Script, abbreviations

St. Gall, Stiftsbibliothek, MS 1394 We will explore this collection of very old manuscript fragments preserved at St. Gall to understand how manuscript descriptions are organized, to see some of the scripts we’ve looked at “in the wild,” to see Uncial script over time, and to see fragments of the pre-Vulgate version of the Latin Bible.

London, British Library, MS Harley 1775 The Harley Gospels. Gospel book written in Italy in the last quarter of the 6th century, of the type that would have been brought to England with missionaries from Rome.

Cambridge, Corpus Christi College, MS 286 The St. Augustine Gospels, another 6th-century Italian Gospel book that definitely was in England in the 7th c. and may have been brought with the Roman mission to the English.

London, British Library, MS Add. 89000 The St. Cuthbert Bible. A copy of the Gospel of John written in England in the early 8th century and preserved in St. Cuthbert’s coffin. Has the earliest surviving original binding of a European codex.

The Codex Amiatinus, a pandect completed by 716 in Wearmouth-Jarrow, is now completely digitized: Florence, Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, MS Amiatino 1.

Week 4 (March 23rd): Insular manuscripts

HANDOUTS: Timeline of early medieval Britain and Ireland and Insular Scripts

The Lindisfarne Gospels London, British Library, MS Cotton MS Nero D IV. Lindisfarne (Northumbria, England), ca. 700. Insular Majuscule = Insular Half-Uncial.

The Irish Gospel Book of St. Gall St. Gallen, Stiftsbibliothek, MS 51. Ireland, ca. 750. Insular Majuscule = Insular Half-Uncial.

The Book of Kells Dublin, Trinity College, MS 58. Iona (?), ca. 800. Insular Majuscule = Insular Half-Uncial.

Schaffhausen, Stadtbibliothek, MS Gen. 1 Adomnan, Life of Columbanus. Iona, between 688 and 713. Insular minuscule.

London, British Library, MS Cotton Vespasian A I The Vespasian Psalter. England, 2nd quarter of the 8th century, with 9th-century glosses and other later additions. Uncial with glosses in Anglo-Saxon minuscule.

London, British Library, MS Cotton Tiberius C II The Tiberius Bede. Bede, Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum. Southern England, ca. 800. Anglo-Saxon minuscule.

London, British Library, MS Cotton Vitellius A XV The Beowulf Manuscript. England, ca. 1000. Anglo-Saxon minuscule.

Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Junius 11 The Junius Manuscript/The Cædmon Manuscript. England, ca. 1000. Old English versifications of Old Testament material, with illustrations.

Cambridge, Corpus Christi College, MS 12 Alfred the Great’s translation of Gregory the Great’s Pastoral Care. England, 11th c., with glosses by the 13th c. Tremulous Hand of Worcester. Anglo-Saxon minuscule and later additions in Gothic scripts.

Week 5 (March 30th)


This week we will use this collection of images sorted by script. (Some are duplicated in the links to individual manuscripts below.)

Of seasonal interest:

The Golden Haggadah, London, BL, MS Add 27210 (select images), early 14th c. from northern Spain

The Monte Cassino Exultet Roll, London, BL, MS 30337, ca. 1075-1080, Monte Cassino, Italy

Pre-Caroline Scripts:

Luxeuil Minuscule, late 7th c.: Paris, BNF, MS lat. 9427

Laon a-z script, 8th c.: Universitätsbibliothek Freiburg i. Br., Hs. 483,12 (can be downloaded from that page for a closer look)

Laon, 8th c.: London, British Library, MS Add. 31031

Script of Chelles, a women’s monastery, 8th c.: Bodleian Library MS. Douce f. 1 (can be downloaded from that page for a closer look)

Pre-Caroline from northern Italy, end of the 8th c.: Karlsruhe, Badische Landesbibliothek, Perg. Aug. 181

Caroline Minuscule:

9th-century MSS listed under Caroline Minuscule at this page

The Reichenau Gospels, Walters Art Museum, MS W.7. Reichenau, Lake Constance, Germany, mid-11th c.

Week 6 (April 6)


Links to full manuscripts of which samples are in the handout:

Protogothic: the Rochester New Testament, Walters MS W.18 (12th c.)

Protogothic: Proverbs with gloss, Bamberg, Staatsbibliothek, MS Msc.Bibl.69 (Laon, ca. 1135 – 1140)

Gothic Textualis with elaborate layout: Bologna legal manuscript (Digestum vetus cum glossa), Basel, Universitätsbibliothek, MS C I 1 (13th c.) (Read about the author of the gloss here.)

Gothic Textualis formata: Dominican Psalter, Fribourg, Bibliothèque cantonale et universitaire, Ms. L 90 (15th c.)

Additional MSS to look at:

Two 13th-c. Parisian portable, one-volume bibles recently sold at Christie’s: one, two. Click on the images to zoom in and take a look at the script and decoration.

Aquinas, Quaestiones and Quodlibeta. Basel Universitätsbibliothek, MS B III 8 (14th c.) Pecia markings e.g. on fols. 101r, 109r.

Galen’s medical treatises from the University of Paris. London, BL, MS Harley 5425 (13th c.)

Week 7 (April 13th)


The Book of Hours: A Medieval Bestseller — essay from the Metropolitan Museum explaining the structure of the Book of Hours, with links to examples in the Met’s collections

Books of Hours at the Walters


Handout: Examples of Gothic cursives (PDF). Links to full MSS are in PDF.

Milan, Biblotheca Trivulziana MS. 1080. Dante, Divina Commedia (Florence, 1337)

The Ellesmere Chaucer, Huntington Library MS EL 26 C 9. (London, ca. 1400-1410)


St. Gall, Kantonsbibliothek, MS VadSlg 298. Eusebius, Chronicon. Florence, ca. 1410-1420. Copied from an exemplar by Poggio, in close imitation of his handwriting. Humanist Minuscule.

Cologny, Fondation Martin Bodmer, MS Bodmer 137. Plato, Phaedo (in Latin translation). Italy, early 15th c. Humanist Minuscule, but note tell-tale Gothic features.

Collegeville, Hill Museum & Manuscript Library, SJU MS 4. f. 5r. Ca. 1470. Humanist Cursive (Italic).

Week 8 (April 20th)


Videos on making type: Punchcutting, Tempering Punches & Striking Matrices, Casting Type, Dressing Type

Gutenberg (42-line) Bible (the beginning of Genesis, JPEGs you can download)

Ransom copy (paper)

LC copy (vellum)

Württemberg copy (paper)

Vatican copy (vellum)

Early books in Roman type (single-page JPEGs you can download)

Lactantius, Opera, Sweynheym & Pannartz, Subiaco 1465 (Scheide copy)

Lactantius, Opera, Sweynheym & Pannartz, Subiaco 1465 (Bodleian copy)

Vergil, Opera, Vindelinus de Spira, Venice 1470

Eusebius, De evangelica praeparatione, Nicolas Jenson, Venice 1470

First book printed in England (JPEG you can download)

Chaucer, Canterbury Tales, William Caxton, Westminster 1476


The British Library: Digitised Manuscripts (and see also The British Library Medieval Manuscripts Blog)

e-codices (Swiss collections)

Vatican Library digitized manuscripts

The Walters Art Museum: NEW search and browse interface and list of all items with access to all image formats

Digitized manuscripts at the Vatican Library (Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana) (and see also this blog with guide to recently-digitized Vatican MSS)

vHMML (Virtual Hill Museum & Manuscript Library)

Catalogue of Earlier Latin Manuscripts from the National University of Ireland, Galway


The Codex Sinaiticus Project

Lorsch Digital Library

The Reichenau-St. Gall Virtual Library

Additional images stored locally:

MS images sorted by script

Unsorted MS images

Abbreviations illustrated