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BOOKS AND MANUSCRIPTS OF THE GLOBAL MIDDLE AGES


  • Discovering Medieval Books and Manuscripts
  • Literature of the Medieval World
  • Afterlives of Medieval Texts
  • Medieval manuscripts and incunabula are invaluable artefacts that can provide an illuminating insight into global human history and reveal much about the society in which they were created. Bloomsbury Medieval Studies provides numerous ways with which to explore the fascinating topic of medieval manuscript and incunabula studies: from book chapters that explore digital manuscript conservation and the intricate textual history of one of the most popular late medieval Icelandic romances, to exclusive primary text commentary articles and high-resolution scans of important medieval texts.



    Discovering Medieval Books and Manuscripts

    This image is showing the Liber Chronicarum, Senate House
    The Liber Chronicarum (Senate House Library)

    Hartmenn Schedel’s Liber Chronicarum

    Bloomsbury Medieval Studies is happy to introduce a new and exclusive series of Commentary Articles, designed to provide expert introductions and analyses of primary sources. In this article Dr Rosamund Oates sheds light on the historical context, reception and significance of the Liber Chronicarum, also known as the Nuremberg Chronicles. Click here to explore the digitised Liber Chronicarum incunabula (1493) from Senate House Library and discover each page in exquisite detail.

    This is an image showing The Akathistos Cycle
    “Defeated Hymns”. Headpiece, Akathistos, Stanza 20, f. 26r (27r). S. Lorenzo de El Escorial, Bibliotheca del Real Monasterio, R I 19. (© PATRIMONIO NACIONAL)

    The Akathistos Cycle

    This exclusive article from the Encyclopedia of the Global Middle Ages takes a closer look at S. Lorenzo de El Escorial, Bibliotheca del Real Monasterio, R I 19, one of only two extant Byzantine manuscripts that include examples of the Akathistos hymn in Greek. The unusual and innovative compositions of this invaluable manuscript, such as the headpiece miniatures preceding each stanza, capture the reader’s attention and stimulate further contemplation of the hymn’s content, beyond what is presented in the text.

    This picture shows a pop-up sundial in work on time calculation by Salomon de Caus, printed in 1624. Leiden.
    Pop-up sundial in work on time calculation by Salomon de Caus, printed in 1624. Leiden, UB, 676 A 6 (Erik Kwakkel)

    Books Before Print

    Though it is easy to forget, manuscripts existed for over a thousand years before Europe’s first printing press created the 1455 Gutenberg Bible. In Books Before Print, Professor Erik Kwakkel provides an in-depth introduction to the fascinating history of these medieval texts and examines “what is arguably the most notable feature of manuscripts: their individuality”. This intricately illustrated book highlights extraordinary continuities between medieval book culture and modern-world communication through in-depth analysis of medieval pop-up books, posters, speech bubbles, book advertisements, and even sticky notes.


    Literature of the Medieval World

    Picture showing Mid-eight century handscroll made during the Tang dynasty in China
    Night-Shining White (The Metropolitan Museum of Art)

    Night-Shining White

    Bloomsbury Medieval Studies offers carefully chosen images of medieval manuscripts sourced from The Metropolitan Museum of Art, to complement academic research and encourage a well-rounded understanding of medieval history. Click here to explore Night-Shining White, a mid-eight century handscroll made during the Tang dynasty in China. Created by Han Gan, the handscroll features red seals and many inscriptions. One such inscription explains how Han Gan came to depict a vivid image of Night-Shining White, a horse owned by Emperor Xuanzongthe.


    This image shows old books bindings.
    Old Book Bindings (Wikimedia Commons)

    Nítíða Saga

    Arguably one of the most popular late medieval Icelandic romances, the Nítíða saga survives in sixty-five manuscripts ranging from the Middle Ages to the beginning of the twentieth century. It is very likely that the saga once also appeared in many more manuscripts, which are now fragmentary or simply lost altogether. Each time the story was written down, it took on a new form. This chapter from Popular Romance in Iceland explores the textual variation in Nítíða saga’s manuscript tradition, and what these manuscripts can reveal about the Icelandic people who created and read them at different points throughout history.

    Image showing a folio from a twelfth century manuscript of the Pala period. In the middle of the folio, the green female figure is Tara
    Green Tara, folio from a dispersed Ashtasahasrika Prajnaparamita (The Metropolitan Museum of Art)

    Green Tara

    The folio of Green Tara was part of an Ashtasahasrika Prajnaparamita manuscript, a twelfth century text of the Pala period, thought to have originated in Bengal, India or Bangladesh. In the middle of the folio sits the figure of Tara, who is seated on a lotus pedestal underneath a polylobed arch. Beside her are two female figures, one holding a vijra while the other, Mahakali, is holding skullcup and knife. Click here to discover the folio from the Metropolitan Museum of Art and explore each page in detail.

    Afterlives of Medieval Texts

    Picture showing an author writing at his desk
    Roman de la Rose f. 28r (Author at writing desk) (Wikimedia Commons)

    Digital Manuscripts

    While ‘the physical’ and ‘the digital’ are often set in opposition, they share the same belief that these objects’ physical forms—their words, miniatures, margins, fore-edges and bindings—are vitally important to uncovering complex textual meanings, and to recovering the identities, concerns, and desires of the people who made and read these books centuries before us. With this in mind, Bridget Whearty seeks to promote a codicology of the digital medieval book which fosters a richer and more rigorous curiosity into the digital labour that makes and maintains digital medieval books.

    Picture showing the Museum Wolfram von Eschenbach Museum sign visible from the town’s central square.
    Museum Wolfram von Eschenbach Museum sign visible from the town’s central square (Alexandra Sterling-Hellenbrand)

    Museums and Medievalism

    In the recently published Medieval Literature on Display, Alexandra Sterling-Hellenbrand uses collections from two German museums as case studies for a vibrant, imaginative, and provocative enactment of 21st-century medievalism. Click here to join Sterling-Hellenbrand on a virtual tour of the Museum Wolfram von Eschenbach and find out how, in reconstructing and transforming medieval narratives for a contemporary audience, the museum enacts the process of medievalism and reveals how memory, through the lens of the Middle Ages, shapes modern cultural identity and heritage.

    Picture of a maniscript in detail
    Manuscript (Pixabay)

    Manuscript Heritage

    Each manuscript has a story to tell about its afterlife. As a class of artefact, manuscripts have often been subject to huge changes in the ways in which they have been received, used, understood and valued. Some manuscripts are associated with particularly long and eventful afterlives, being the subject of legends of preservation, curation, longevity and transfer of ownership that are still unfolding. The conservation of manuscripts is key to supporting research into the history of medieval texts. Click here to learn more about the historical development of manuscript heritage, and its potential for the future.