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Medieval Writing Website

Research Report by Alison Walker
(created 3/7/06; version 1.0)

Related Categories:New Approaches to Reading Print Texts

Original Object for Study description

The website “Medieval Writing: History Heritage and Data Source” provides its users with a broad overview of types, styles, and information on the culture of medieval writing from 400-1500 A.D. “Medieval Writing” showcases images from many types of documents, including manuscripts, legal, administrative and papal documents; the website provides an in-depth analysis of each type of document and its uses during the medieval period. Secondly, “Medieval Writing” offers paleography lessons so its users can become proficient in the various book hands and document hands used from the 6th to the 16th Centuries.

Australian scholars Drs. Dianne and John Tillotson created “Medieval Writing: History Heritage and Data Source” as “an interactive computer program to teach paleography.” The website is not affiliated with any university or certificate program, but has been built from the ground up by Dianne Tillotson.

This website houses information on medieval authors, scribes, and libraries; tools and materials used in medieval book-making; definitions and analysis of the wide array of medieval documents and manuscripts; manuscript decorations; discussions on the concept of medieval literacy; and an assortment of paleography exercises.

The section titled “Why Read It” provides a basic overview of medieval writing for the novice, explaining where to find manuscripts, using manuscripts as historical sources, and the fundamentals of how to read a medieval manuscript.

The second section, “What is Paleography,” begins with a definition of paleography, but soon moves on to a history of medieval scripts that includes examples from Roman, post-Roman, Caroline minuscule, Gothic variations, and Classical revival. This section also includes information regarding abbreviations in Latin manuscripts, providing lists of Nomina Sacra, commonly abbreviated words, contractions, proper nouns and English abbreviations. Finally, “What is Paleography” gives a brief history on punctuation in medieval documents and manuscripts.

“Authors, Scribes, and Libraries” is the website’s third section. It provides an overview of monastic scribes, scribes of the Carolingian Court, as well as the topic of authorship in the medieval period.

The section titled “The Written Word” is the most useful section to academics and graduate students. Here the user finds categories of works, types and categories of documents, and the contents of medieval books. This section has a plethora of illustrations of papal bulls, charters, writs, and many other medieval documents that oftentimes are left out of surveys of medieval documents. It also gives its users examples of the many types of medieval manuscripts, including medical works and herbals, psalters, and private devotional manuals.

“Tool and Materials” gives a breakdown of the different types of paper and parchment, quills, inks and colorings; it also studies scribal errors and corrections.

The section titled “Forms of Manuscripts” provides information and images relating to wax tablets, rolls, and other types of manuscripts.

“Decoration” is an exhaustive study of page design, calligraphy, initials and borders, miniatures, bookbindings and seals. This section has many useful images, especially on the many types of medieval seals.

The section, “The Concept of Literacy,” provides information on the different forms of literacy in the Church, law, administration, as well as the laity.

The final section on “Paleography Exercises” give lessons on manuscripts from 6 Centuries. The website shows a page from a manuscript, and the user can examine the page by translating, examining a transcription, or participating in exercises.

“Medieval Writing” gives its users online access to the basics of medieval paleography by providing its users with paleographical lessons that are “designed to be accessible to anyone who likes to play with puzzles.” The interactive lessons are “designed to allow you to explore a document or a block of text from a manuscript book, pointing out significant features and encouraging you to try to read the script”.

Research Context:
Learning the multiplicity of medieval book and document hands as well as the many types of medieval documents usually requires intensive study with knowledgeable paleographers and codicologists and access to manuscripts or reasonable facsimiles. This project is valuable for Classicists, Medievalists, History of the Book, Paleography, Codicology, and Historians, all of whom need access to paleographical information for their fields.

Technical Analysis:
“Medieval Writing” uses frames for the most part; the paleography lessons have recently been updated to use Flash 5 instead of DHTML in order to keep up-to-date with browser technology. The site is updated consistently, and continues to grow and change as new images from manuscripts and documents are scanned in.

Evaluation of Opportunities/Limitations for the Transliteracies Topic:
This website is a perfect example of an individual creating a powerful tool for academics and college students alike. “Medieval Writing” provides paleographical and codicological tools to anyone with an internet connection. Academic textbooks are oftentimes expensive and hard to get, and academic CD-ROMs quickly go out of print. Providing such a wealth of information in clear, concise terms gives high school teachers, college professors, undergraduate and graduate students access to material that otherwise would not be available.

Resources for Further Study:

Point(s) for Expansion:

  tl, 03.07.06

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