Course Convenor: Professor Michelle Brown

This course will provide an intensive introduction to manuscript culture during Late Antiquity, the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. The historical contexts for manuscript production will be explored and the landscape populated with some of those who commissioned and made these remarkable works. Techniques of production, terminology and methods of description and cataloguing will be examined and a brief survey of palaeography and codicology will be provided. Styles and principal trends will be studied, with the aid of digital images, slides, facsimiles and primary sources (with valuable opportunities to examine manuscripts at the British Library, the V&A and Senate House Library). The Course Tutor and additional lecturers are all acknowledged experts in their fields and will share their experience and perspectives as scholars and curators.

Course Outline


1 Making Medieval Manuscripts: materials, techniques and people (1)
2 Making Medieval Manuscripts: materials, techniques and people (2)


3 Studying Medieval Manuscripts (1)
4 Studying Medieval Manuscripts (2)
5 Viewing of manuscripts (Lambeth Palace Library)


6 Survey of Scripts & Codicology, part 1, pre-1200
7 The Book before 1200
8 Survey of Scripts and Codicology, part 2, post-1200


9 Urban Book Production and Late Medieval Manuscripts (1)
10 Urban Book Production and Late Medieval Manuscripts (2)
11 Viewing of Manuscripts (Senate House Library)


12 Book of Hours and the Transition of Manuscript to Print, with viewing of manuscripts (Victoria & Albert Museum)
13 Book of Hours and the Transition of Manuscript to Print, with viewing of manuscripts (Victoria & Albert Museum) 

Outcomes for Students

  • To gain an overview of the principal historical phases, styles and contexts for manuscript production during Late Antiquity, the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. 
  • To gain a grounding or refresher in terminology and methodology for description and cataloguing of manuscripts.
  • To gain an overview of palaeographical and codicological developments.
  • To examine some of the contributions of those who made and commissioned these works and the varying project circumstances.
  • To have an opportunity to consult original manuscripts under the guidance of leading authorities in their fields.

Recommended Introductory Reading

Medieval books in general

Brown, M. P., Understanding Illuminated Manuscripts: A Guide to Technical Terms (Malibu and London: J. Paul Getty Museum and British Library, 1994).
De Hamel, C., A History of Illuminated Manuscript , 2 nd edn (London: Thames and Hudson, 1994).
Parkes, M.B., Scribes, Scripts and Readers: Studies in the Communication, Presentation and Dissemination of Medieval Texts (London and Rio Grande: Hambledon, 1991).

Literacy and Learning

Carruthers, M., The Book of Memory, a Study of Memory in Medieval Culture (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990).
Reynolds, L. D., and N.G. Wilson, Scribes and Scholars: a Guide to the Transmission of Greek and Latin Literature , 3 rd edn (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991).

Making Medieval Manuscripts

Alexander, J. J. G.,  Medieval Illuminators and Their Methods of Work (New Haven: Yale, 1992).
Brown, M. P., The British Library Guide to Writing and Scripts (London & Toronto: British Library & Toronto University Press, 1998).
de Hamel, C., Scribes and Illuminators (London: British Museum, 1992).
Needham , P., Twelve Centuries of Bookbinding, 400-1600 (New York & Oxford: Pierpont Morgan Library & Oxford University Press, 1979).


Brown, M. P., Guide to Western Historical Scripts from Antiquity to 1600 (London: British Library, 1990).

The Book Before 1200

Brown, M. P., Anglo-Saxon Manuscripts (London, British Library, 1989).
_ed., In the Beginning: Bibles Before the Year I000 ( Washington DC : Smithsonian Inst., 2006).
McKitterick, R., The Carolingians and the Written Word (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989).
Nordenfalk, C., Early Medieval Book Illumination (New York: Rizzoli, 1988).

Urban Book Production

Bataillon, L.J., et al., eds ., La production du livre universitaire au moyen âge (Paris: Éditions CNRS, 1988).
Manuscripts and their Makers. Commercial Book Producers in Medieval Paris 1200-1500, 2 vols. (London, 2000).


Alexander, J.J.G, The Decorated Letter (London: Chatto and Windus, 1978).
Watson, R., Illuminated Manuscripts and their Makers (London: Victoria & Albert Museum, 2003).



Michelle Brown is Senior Research Fellow and Professor Emerita of Medieval Manuscript Studies at the Institute of English Studies, School of Advanced Studies, University of London. She is a Visiting Fellow at St Chad’s College, University of Durham, a Fellow of the Courtauld Institute and a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries. She was formerly the Curator of Medieval and Illuminated Manuscripts at the British Library and a Visiting Professor at the Institute of Medieval Studies, University of Leeds. She has published, lectured and broadcast widely on the cultural history of the Middle Ages. Her publications include ‘A Guide to Western Historical Scripts from Antiquity to 1600’, ‘Understanding Illuminated Manuscripts: a Glossary of Technical Terms’, ‘The Book of Cerne’, ‘The British Library Guide to Writing and Scripts’, ‘The Lindisfarne Gospels: Society, Spirituality and the Scribe’, ‘The Lindisfarne Gospels and the Early Medieval World’, ‘The Holkham Bible’ and ‘The Luttrell Psalter’. The exhibitions she has curated include ‘Painted Labyrinth: the World of the Lindisfarne Gospels’ (BL, 2003) and ‘In the Beginning: Bibles Before the Year 1000’ (Smithsonian Inst., 2006-7).