Fragments of the Past: Working with Medieval Books
This will not be your typical literature class. We will spend limited time reading and analyzing literary texts. Rather, this course will be both seminar and practicum on the physical makeup, use, and decoding of medieval manuscripts. Medieval books predate the printing press: all are handmade (often lovingly and intricately), unique, and highly valuable items. Not only are they gorgeous objects in their own right, but they presume a different relationship between text and reader than do contemporary printed books. We'll get you the tools to understand and appreciate these compelling physical artifacts. In particular, we'll focus on the physical construction of books; the path that books took from their medieval owners to modern libraries; and the way they are handled, stored, and catalogued in modern archives.
The first third of the course will be a practical introduction to medieval manuscript study. You’ll learn how manuscripts were made, how to handle them, how to read their texts, and how to talk about their decoration. We'll spend time in the Special Collections Library examining real-live medieval books, and you'll work with single leaves on your own.
In the second third of the course, we will be helping the Special Collections Librarians to design a new sub-site for the Hargrett Library website specifically highlighting the medieval and early printed items in their collections. You'll get an introduction to librarianship and archival care, the opportunity to make recommendations, and practice in writing professional proposals. In the course's final third, we will be learning about medieval inks and pigments before scientifically analyzing these fragments' materials (with the help of the STEM on the Move technology from UGA's Center for Applied Isotope Studies).
Expect to participate daily and energetically, to do much group work (trust me, it is more friendly that way), to write regularly, to be frustrated by the course material, to do research that means something, to be amazed often by medieval scribes and artists -- and to study intimately books much older than this august institution.
Although this is an upper-division ENGL course, I encourage students in other departments -- History, Classics, Chemistry, Art History, Romance Languages, and others -- to sign up. This class will allow you to apply your discipline-specific skills in a truly interdisciplinary environment. If you just like medieval stuff, come geek out with us over beautiful books.
If you want to see the kind of work done by students in an earlier version of this course, check out our course blog, The Hargrett Hours Project. We'll be blogging about our processes and discoveries in this course too!
- Raymond Clemens and Timothy Graham, Introduction to Manuscript Studies. Cornell University Press. ISBN: 9780801487088
- Michelle P. Brown, Understanding Illuminated Manuscripts: A Guide to Technical Terms. Getty/British Museum. ISBN: 0892362170
- Michelle P Brown, A Guide to Western Historical Scripts from Antiquity to 1600. Toronto. ISBN: 978-0802072061
- more materials will be assigned in PDF or web copies, or will be read from reserve texts in Main Library