Analyses of the materiality of medieval manuscripts

Materiality analyses from Medieval Heroes and Monsters (first-year writing course, Eng 181), Fall 2015. Assignment sheet and resources. Click each image below to view a student’s full essay.

For this composition, students analyzed the material context of a medieval manuscript. The following list of topics and questions provided students with a starting point for thinking about the material aspects of medieval literature and how materiality can affect our interpretation of medieval texts:

  • Content: What types of texts does the manuscript contain?
  • Size: How could the manuscript be used?
  • Language: Who could read/write the manuscript?
  • Origin: Where was it made? Who made it?
  • Owners: For whom was it made?
  • Binding: When was it bound or rebound?
  • Illustrations: What colors of ink are used? What’s the relationship between text and image? What does this tell us about the manuscript’s use?

I provided students with links to several fully digitized manuscripts, while some chose to find their own medieval manuscript in consultation with me. Students published these materiality analyses on their websites, and thus they considered the rhetorical possibilities of digital publishing as well as the more general audience (educated but not specialists) that might read these compositions.