Early Western Manuscripts
Within Special Collections is an exemplary collection of early western manuscripts that serve both as a teaching collection and a study collection. While many of the early manuscripts are single sheets or separate gatherings removed from codices, there are complete codices in the collection. The materials support both the study of the history of the book and the cultural and artistic history of Europe from the ninth century onward. The collection supports study and research on a variety of topics including codicology, palaeography, art history, textual history, theology, and political and economic history.
All materials in the collection are cataloged in the on-line catalog and are available for both individual study and classroom use. We have also created an online presentation of many of the items within the collection.
Each manuscript can be searched by author, title, or subject. Liturgical manuscripts can also be searched by type such as books of hours, antiphonals, or missals. Illuminated manuscripts can easily be found by doing a keyword search search on illumination books manuscripts and can be further limited by country. An example of this is a search for illumination books manuscripts and limit language to Dutch. It is possible to view records for manuscripts only by doing an All Indexes search, as noted above, in conjunction with Format manuscript, which will eliminate printed materials from the search result.
Two general guides to the early manuscripts are available:
• Robert McGrath, ed., Illuminated Manuscripts in the Dartmouth College Library (Hanover: Dartmouth College Library, 1972), is the result of an art history class project. While the catalog is now out of date, the descriptions and illustrations for those materials held in 1972 are excellent. The copy of this guide held at the reference desk in the reading room contains the correct call number for each manuscript.
• A Handlist of Western Manuscripts to 1600 in the Dartmouth College Library contains descriptions of all holdings through 1993. This list is fully indexed by country of origin, date, and donor, making it a useful access tool. A copy of this handlist is available at the reference desk.
Understanding early manuscripts requires not only knowledge of the language, but also of handwriting, chronology, punctuation, and format. The titles listed below may be of assistance:
Bischoff, Bernhard. Latin Palaeography: Antiquity and
the Middle Ages. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,
• Baker Z-114-B5713-1990.
Brown, Michelle. A Guide to Western Historical Scripts
from Antiquity to 1600. London: British Library, 1990.
• Spec. Coll. Ref. Z-114-B76-1990.
Brown, Michelle. Understanding Illuminated Manuscripts:
A Guide to Technical Terms. Malibu: J. Paul Getty Museum,
• Spec. Coll. Ref. ND-2889-B76-1994-cop. 3
Cappelli, Adriano. Chronologia, chronographia e calendario
perpetuo. Milan: Hoepli, 1983.
• Spec. Coll. Ref. CE-11-C325-1983
Cappelli, Adriano. Lexicon Abbreviaturarum. Milan:
• Spec. Coll. Ref. Z-111-C24-1985
de Hamel, Christopher. A History of Illuminated Manuscripts.
2nd ed. London: Phaidon, 1994.
• Art ND-2900-D36-1994
Harper, John. Forms and Orders of Western Liturgy from
the Tenth to the Eighteenth Century. New York: Oxford University
• Baker BV-186.5-H37-1991
Parkes, Malcolm. Pause and Effect: an Introduction to
the History of Punctuation in the West. Berkeley: University
of California Press, 1993.
• Baker P-301.5-P86-P37-1993
A PDF version of this document is available here.