FYO: How To Look At A Manuscript

Course Description

Medieval books – handmade, unique, messy, beautiful -- were nothing like the mass-produced printed books you have on your shelf. What were books like in the Middle Ages? How were they constructed, written upon, decorated? How is the experience of reading a medieval manuscript – interpreting its layout, use of images, juxtaposition of texts – different from reading those same stories in a modern printed edition? In this hands-on FYO, we’ll use Hargrett Library’s manuscript collection and online digital facsimiles to understand how manuscripts were made and decorated, we’ll mimic the activity of medieval scribes to comprehend the labor-intensive nature of manuscript making, and we’ll focus on one genre of manuscript: richly decorated prayerbooks called Books of Hours.

Workload and expectations:

  • Regular and energetic participation in classroom discussion, events, and exercises.
  • Respectful treatment of the Hargrett library staff and the rare materials you will encounter there. This includes abiding by the library’s rules about food/drink and writing materials.
  • Weekly reading and online viewing assignments. Much of our course material will come from websites about medieval manuscripts and online digital facsimiles, so you’ll need regular access to a computer and a robust internet connection. Please feel free to bring your laptops and tablets to class!
  • Regular (short) written assignments – expect to write 1-2 pages about every other week on the course material. In some cases, these assignments will take non-written (or at least non-typed-up) form and/or will be collaborative projects done with your classmates.
  • Participation in, and writeups of, three Campus Events (as required by the FYO program). One event must be chosen from a list of events related to this FYO’s topic; the other two can be selected from the FYO website’s Events calendar or from other events around campus.

Want to look at some of the manuscripts we’ll be examining? Here’s a link to the Hours of Catherine of Cleves – one of the prayerbooks we’ll study. You can also follow my Twitter Manuscripts list for beautiful, funny, strange, and fascinating images from medieval manuscripts: https://twitter.com/ctcamp99/lists/manuscripts


There are no required texts for this course.

Most of your readings will come from online sources and/or a course reader TBD. But you do not need to purchase any books before the first day of class.


Pictured: the Nativity, from the Hours of Catherine of Cleves, Pierpont Morgan Library MS M.945, fol. 35v. What is that monkey doing in the corner?

Semesters taught: