Medieval Manuscripts and the History of Script for OLLI

Course meetings: Fridays 11:45-1:15, March 11-May 13, 2022, in person

Email Carin

☛ NB! I’ll be adding to this page as the course goes along, so check back often.

Under WEEK-BY-WEEK RESOURCES, below, I will post handouts and links to images so you can view on your own computer the manuscripts we look at together in class and related items. At the bottom of this page are links to sites we will visit often during the term that host many digitized manuscripts, and to other useful resources.

Week 1 (March 11) Introduction and overview; how we talk about script

Download the Week 1 Handout (PDF).

Slides from week 1 are in this Dropbox folder as a PDF (very large file!)

Week 2 (March 18) The book in antiquity; ancient Roman scripts

Week 2 handout: papyrus, parchment, roll, codex, shelfmarks.

Week 2 handout part 2: ancient Roman scripts.

Powerpoint from Week 2 class as PDF.

Lecture on YouTube by William A. Johnson on the roll-to-codex transition. (Discussion of the charts of roll vs. codex survivals starts around 44 min. in.)

Week 3 (March 25) Scripts of Christian late antiquity: Uncial and Half-Uncial

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 (April 1): Insular manuscripts: Half-Uncial and the new majuscule and minuscule scripts of England and Ireland

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

Powerpoint from Week 4 on Insular scripts and the elements of an early medieval Gospel book

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.

Week 5 (April 8) Insular manuscripts, cont’d.: Manuscripts of Pre-Conquest England

London, British Library, MS Cotton Tiberius C II The Tiberius Bede. Bede, Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum. Southern England, ca. 800. Anglo-Saxon minuscule. (This is a copy of Bede’s Latin original, the composition of which was finished in 731.)

Cambridge, Corpus Christi College, MS 41 An 11th-c. copy of the early-10th-c. translation into Old English of Bede’s Historia Ecclesiastica. Anglo-Saxon minuscule.

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

A fascinating blog post about the Paris Psalter, a manuscript containing King Alfred’s Old English translation of the Psalms.

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 6 (April 15) Scripts of Gaul/Francia before Charlemagne and the emergence of Caroline Minuscule

Precaroline Scripts handout (PDF)

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:

Cologne, Erzbischöfliche Diözesan- und Dombibliothek, MS 63. St. Augustine’s commentary on the Psalms, written between 785-819 by three named women scribes of Chelles Abbey. (See MS description under “Geschichte der Handschrift” for direct links to the folios that have scribal signatures.)

St. Gall, Stiftsbibliothek, MS 75. An “Alcuin Bible,” a pandect (copy of the whole bible in one vol.) made in the 9th century at Tours. Copied after Alcuin’s lifetime, but contains the text of the Vulgate established by Alcuin (d. 804) and a team of scholars for Charlemagne around the year 800.

Gospel Book, Getty Museum Ms. Ludwig II 1. Lorsch, ca. 826-838.

London, British Library, MS Harley 208. 9th-century collection of letters of Alcuin. Contains an alphabet, including Old English characters, and the Lord’s Prayer written for practice across the top of pages starting at fol. 87v. MS written in the 9th c. at St. Denis; marginal jottings made ca. 1000(?) after the MS had traveled to York.

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.

Cologny, Fondation Martin Bodmer, Cod. Bodmer 88mer 88. France(?), late 10th century/early 11th century. Works of Horace.

Paris, BNF, MS lat. 9768. France, ca. 1000. Contains the Strasbourg Oaths on fol. 13r.

Week 7 (April 22) Caroline Minuscule continued; scripts of Spain and Southern Italy

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

The Silos Apocalypse, London, BL, MS Add 11695, ca. 1091-1109, San Domingo de Silos

Slides from Week 7 class

Week 8 (April 29) The transformation of Caroline minuscule to Gothic script; Universities and the book trade

HANDOUT: The transformation of Caroline to Gothic

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 9 (May 6) Gothic Cursives and Humanist Script


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 10 (May 13) Early Printing

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


Terminology for Manuscript Studies by Siân Echard.

HMML School and Folio: Online lessons in paleography and thickly-described manuscript pages (authored by Carin for the Latin materials)


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