FYOS: Sciencing the Crap out of Medieval Manuscripts

Medieval books – handmade, unique, messy, beautiful - are 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? What kinds of pigments, inks, and papers did they use? And how can we use modern science to better understand medieval book-making techniques? In this hands-on FYOS, we’ll use Hargrett Library’s manuscript collection, online digital facsimiles, and the materials analysis instruments provided by UGA's Center for Applied Isotope Studies to understand how manuscripts were made and decorated. Expect to mimic the activity of medieval scribes, to learn to read XRF and FT-IR spectra (and to learn what those acronyms mean), and to contribute meaningfully to our body of knowledge about the medieval manuscripts at UGA.

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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.
  • Respectful treatment of the materials analysis instruments. No faster way to get yourself kicked out of the class than to mishandle these items.
  • 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.


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.



Semesters taught: