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MA Medieval and Early Modern Studies / Course details

Year of entry: 2020

Course unit details:
Reading the Middle Ages and Renaissance: Palaeography, Codicology, and Sources

Unit code SALC70042
Credit rating 15
Unit level FHEQ level 7 – master's degree or fourth year of an integrated master's degree
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Offered by School of Arts, Languages and Cultures
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


This module shall investigate the way in which words are presented within a book: types of script, layout on the page, visual accompaniments, physical features. It interrogates the uses of script in various genres, such as administrative and visual-textual sources, as well as in less conventional forms, like charters and rolls. The course provides students with advanced codicological and palaeographical training, valuable skills for those using primary sources at MA level and beyond. Offering a longitudinal and cross-cultural perspective, it investigates issues such as the relationship between the layout of manuscripts and printed books, the dynamics affecting the development of script, and variance in regional presentation of the written word. Co-taught by specialists from across the School, from the John Rylands Research Institute, and the curatorial and conservation team of the John Rylands Library, the course will take full advantage of the unique collections of manuscripts and early-printed books at the Rylands.


The unit aims to:


- Demonstrate the hybridity of textual and visual sources surviving from the medieval and early modern periods, through hands-on contact with material at the John Rylands Library;

- Introduce students to the methodology of, and principal techniques used in source analysis of material from the medieval and early modern periods;

- Contextualise the variety of sources surviving from the pre-modern period, and illustrate how changes in script and decoration were influenced by changing intellectual and cultural demands;

- Provide students with training in the comprehension and transcription of medieval script, and in the principles of manuscript and printed book description


To be confirmed

Teaching and learning methods

11 x 2 hour seminars, utilising the manuscript and early printed book holdings at the John Rylands Library, Deansgate.


Selected readings will be placed on Blackboard, which will also contain further relevant course information and links to relevant websites. The course shall also make use of the digital resources of the John Rylands Library, notably LUNA. Assignments will be submitted online, via Turnitin on Blackboard.

Knowledge and understanding

- Evaluate the relationship between production context and output with reference to written sources;

- Demonstrate an awareness of the basic principles of palaeography, with reference to Latin and vernacular sources;

- Demonstrate an understanding of the principles of codicological description;

- Analyse the continuities and changes in the development of written sources in the medieval and early modern period

Intellectual skills

- Gain experience in primary source analysis, including identification of appropriate material;

- Develop transcription skills, relevant to Latin and vernacular sources;

- Formulate a technical description of a manuscript and/or printed book;

- Devise research questions and engage with existing scholarship

Practical skills

- Handle medieval and early modern manuscripts and printed material according to standards of best practice;

- Navigate library catalogues and book-handlists;

- Devise an independent research project;

- Apply the technical vocabulary applicable to manuscript and printed book studies

Transferable skills and personal qualities

- Develop oral presentation skills through participation in class discussions;

- Manage time through preparation of assignments;

- Use ICT resources for programme support;

- Write fluent prose

Assessment methods

1) Portfolio of transcriptions of medieval and early-modern sources (1,500 words) (40%)

2) Technical description of a manuscript or printed book, with explanatory documentation (2,500 words) (60%)

Feedback methods

Students will receive formative feedback on palaeography samples assigned in the first weeks of the course. Written feedback on submitted assessed work shall be delivered within the time-frame recommended by SALC.

Recommended reading

- Bischoff, Bernard, Latin Paleography: Antiquity and the Middle Ages, trans. Dáibhí Ó Cróinín and David Ganz (Cambridge and New York, 1992)

- Brown, Michelle P. A guide to Western historical Scripts from Antiquity to 1600 (London, 1990)

- Brown, Michelle P., Understanding illuminated manuscripts: a guide to technical terms (London, 1994)

- Derolez, Albert, The Palaeography of Gothic Manuscript Books from the Twelfth to the early Sixteenth Centuries (Cambridge, 2003)

- Gillespie, A., Wakelin, D., The Production of Books in England 1350-1500 (Cambridge, 2014)

- Parkes, Malcolm., English Cursive Book Hands 1250-1500 (Oxford, 1969)

- Parkes, Malcolm, Pause and Effect: An Introduction to the History of Punctuation in the West (Aldershot: 1992)

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 22
Independent study hours
Independent study 128

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Mark Whelan Unit coordinator

Additional notes

Some knowledge of Latin and/or Middle English (and other classical/medieval languages) is an advantage, although not a pre-requisite for this course.

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