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On Medieval Scribes

CCCC MS 367 f. 58v.  By kind permission of the Master 
and Fellows ​of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge.

Medieval scribes wrote their version of a model script. Their representation of this script is called a 'hand'. In this project, we have studied multiple scribal hands, but our chief concern has been to determine what methods of information retrieval were utilized from the later eleventh to thirteenth centuries. Multiple visual cues were available to scribes, ranging from inter-textual space, rubrics (usually adjacent) to minor intratextual capitals and major decorated Litterae Notabiliores. Page layout (mise-en-page) became more complex as the twelfth century progressed, with running headers, section enumeration, and capitula becoming common methods for readers to find their way around the folios of the manuscript and the texts within it. Scribes worked for (or were themselves) manuscript compilers; artists and decorators (or miniators) illuminated, drew and rubricated manuscripts, generally after the main body of the text was completed. Most manuscripts are, therefore, a collaborative endeavor, often carefully planned beforehand to make the best use of expensive resources of membrane (usually sheep or calf), ink, paints and gold.