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Study information

Working with Medieval Manuscripts and Documents

Module titleWorking with Medieval Manuscripts and Documents
Module codeHISM042
Academic year2024/5
Module staff

Dr Stuart Pracy ()

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Module description

This module introduces you to the main technical skills you will need to study medieval archival material. It offers in-depth training in palaeography (the study of old handwriting), diplomatic (the study of legal documents), codicology (the study of manuscripts as artefacts), and bibliography (the study of libraries and collections). You will also learn how to study and produce critical editions of medieval texts. Each seminar will be taught by members of staff with expertise in that area, and several seminars will involve hands-on experience with medieval manuscripts. In short, this module provides you with the essential skills needed for independent postgraduate research in medieval studies.

Module aims - intentions of the module

Much of what we know about the Middle Ages is based on handwritten medieval manuscripts and documents, which are often unpublished and are difficult to understand without specialist knowledge.

  • This module is designed to give you the skills to start reading medieval sources in the original, and to understand the decisions that editors make when transcribing and publishing them. You will learn how to read and transcribe a range of medieval manuscripts and documents, and to recognise different scripts and abbreviations.
  • The module will also teach you how to understand the technical descriptions of manuscripts found in printed and online catalogues, and provide you with the basic training needed to produce your own descriptions and critical editions of manuscript material. To help develop these practical skills, some seminars will be held in research libraries with access to original documents (e.g. Special Collections at the University of Exeter, Exeter Cathedral Library, and/or Devon Record Office).

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 1. Identify the main letter-forms and abbreviations used in the most common forms of medieval script
  • 2. Understand the basic rules of transcription and be able to transcribe medieval documentary material with an acceptable level of accuracy
  • 3. Locate primary sources and understand the technical descriptions provided by cataloguers and archivists
  • 4. Understand the theory and practice of producing critical editions of medieval texts

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 5. Develop practical research skills relevant to the primary material you will study as an independent researcher
  • 6. Recognise the differences between source types and our approaches to them
  • 7. Understand and apply the correct terminology

ILO: Personal and key skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 8. Demonstrate capacity for independent critical study and thought
  • 9. Work as an individual and with a tutor and peers in an independent, constructive and responsive way (e.g. lead a group discussion or task)
  • 10. Demonstrate the ability to learn and put into practice highly specialised new skills over a relatively short period of time

Syllabus plan

Whilst the content may vary from year to year, it is envisioned that it will cover some or all of the following topics:

  • Early Insular Scripts
  • Insular Square Minuscule
  • Caroline Minuscule
  • Diplomatic
  • Protogothic Script
  • Gothic Scripts
  • Cursive Scripts
  • Codicology
  • Bibliography
  • Textual Editing

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled Learning and Teaching2211 x 2 hour seminars
Guided Independent Study278Independent Study

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Essay plan2-sides A4 maximum1-10Oral and/or written feedback

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Essay503000 words1-10Written and oral feedback
Take Home Examination50A 2 hour timed exam to be completed in a defined 24 hour period.1-10Written feedback

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
EssayEssay1-10Referral/deferral period
ExaminationExamination1-10Referral/deferral period

Re-assessment notes

Deferral – if you miss an assessment for certificated reasons judged acceptable by the Mitigation Committee, you will normally be either deferred in the assessment or an extension may be granted. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of deferral will not be capped and will be treated as it would be if it were your first attempt at the assessment.

Referral – if you have failed the module overall (i.e. a final overall module mark of less than 50%) you will be required to submit a further assessment as necessary. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of referral will be capped at 50%.

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Web based and electronic resources:


  • Electronic Sawyer

  • ‘Kemble’

  • Marburg Lichtbildarchiv


Manuscripts and Book History:

  • The Evolution of the Medieval Book

  • Medieval Manuscript Manual

  • Medieval Writing: History, Heritage and Data Source



  • Anglo-Norman Palaeography

  • DigiPal: Digital Resource and Database of Palaeography, Manuscript Studies and Diplomatic

  • Hill Museum and Manuscript Library: School

  • InScribe: Palaeography Learning Materials

  • National Archives, Latin Palaeography (1086-1500)

Indicative learning resources - Other resources

  • M. P. Brown, A Guide to Western Historical Scripts from Antiquity to 1600 (London, 1990)
  • B. Bischoff, Latin Palaeography: Antiquity and the Middle Ages (Cambridge, 1990)
  • R. Clemens and T. Graham, Introduction to Manuscript Studies (Ithaca, 2007)
  • Derolez, The Palaeography of Gothic Manuscript Books (Cambridge, 2003)
  • M. B. Parkes, English Cursive Hands 1250-1500 (Oxford, 1969)
  • L. D. Reynolds (ed.), Texts and Transmission: A Survey of the Latin Classics (Oxford, 1983)
  • L. D. Reynolds and N. G. Wilson, Scribes and Scholars: A Guide to the Transmission of Greek and Latin Literature,2nd edn (Oxford, 1974)
Credit value30
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites


Module co-requisites


NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date