ENGL 4230: The Medieval Book as Object


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, focusing on one specific genre of manuscript: the beautifully decorated prayerbooks known as Books of Hours. (Here's one that we'll spend time with: http://www.themorgan.org/collection/Hours-of-Catherine-of-Cleves).

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 have the chance to work with single leaves on your own.

The second third of the course will be theoretical, setting us up for the final, practicum section. Because Books of Hours were written in Latin -- in a time when most people knew little to no Latin -- they pose specific interpretive problems. How did people use Books of Hours? How did non-Latinate people read these Latin texts? What does "literacy" look like in the Middle Ages? How did these standardized prayers work alongside more inventive texts? And what can a Book of Hours do that a poem or a story can't?

The final section of the class will focus on praxis. Specifically, we will work in the Special Collections Library with the Book of Hours that UGA owns, answering the many questions this artifact poses. Who owned it? Where was it made? What texts does it contain? How might it have been used? What happened to the book -- in the post-medieval era, and once it came to America?

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 sometimes by the course material, 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 will happily waive the prereqs for any upper-division student in another department. If you are in History, Classics, Art History, or Romance Languages, 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. Please email me (ctcamp at uga.edu) and we'll set you up with the override.

Required Texts

Used copies of any of these texts are fine!


Please check the English department course listings page for time/room information.

Pictured: The Nativity from the Hours of Catherine of Cleves, Pierpont Morgan Library MS M.945, fol. 35v.

Semesters taught: