Seminar VIII: The Medieval Miscellany

This week’s session puts the theme of ‘the book as evidence’ firmly in the foreground. Among the most fascinating of all medieval manuscripts are those that bring together a set of diverse but carefully chosen texts for a purpose. Depending on the range of the materials which they assemble and the way in which they are arranged, miscellanies of this kind can provide precious insights into the cultural worlds and concerns of their makers. They speak to the ingenuity of their sponsors, to their ability to re-direct earlier materials to meet new needs and purposes, to the changing priorities of religious communities and literary patrons, and to the ways in which materials circulated to the centres where these books were assembled and copied.

In this week’s seminar, we will discuss three very famous but contrasting examples of books of this kind: the first is an 'educational' miscellany from the tenth century, the second a complex historical miscellany from the twelfth century which itself contains at least two earlier assemblages of material, and the third an exceptionally famous and rich fourteenth-century collection of poems, literary and historical texts in Anglo-Norman (‘the French of England’), Latin and Middle English.

Topics for Discussion

  1. For what purpose were each of the three examples below put together?
  2. To what extent is it possible to distinguish stages in their compilation?
  3. Can we detect changes in the uses to which they were put?

Note: to answer these questions you need to think about the concerns or themes that contect their contents and the ways in which the texts ‘complement’ or, perhaps, ‘comment’ on one another.

Texts for Discussion

  1. Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Auct. F.4.32 / St Dunstan’s Classbook
  2. Cambridge, Corpus Christi College, MS 139
  3. London, British Library, MS Harley 2253

Some Other Examples which Might be of Interest

  • Hartzell, K. D., ‘A St Alban’s Miscellany from New York’, Mittellateinisches Jahrbuch, 10 (1975), 20–61. Subject = New York, Pierpont Morgan Library, MS M.926.
  • McGurk, P. (ed.), An Eleventh-Century Anglo-Saxon Miscellany, British Library Cotton Tiberius B.v Part 1, Early English Manuscripts in Facsimile 21 (Copenhagen, 1983).

Useful Reading

  • Boffey, J., and J. J. Thompson, ‘Anthologies and Miscellanies: Production and Choice of Texts’, in J. Griffiths and D. Pearsall (ed.), Book Production and Publishing in Britain 1375–1475 (Cambridge, 1989), pp. 279–315. ZC3ea.B.
  • Lendinara, P., L. Lazzari and M. A. D’Aronco (eds), Form and Content of Instruction in Anglo-Saxon England in the Light of Contemporary Manuscript Evidence: Papers Presented at the International Conference, Udine, 6-8 April 2006, Fédération Internationale des Instituts d’Études Médiévales, Textes et Études du Moyen Âge, 39 (Turnhout, 2007).
  • Nichols, S. G., and S. Wenzel (eds), The Whole Book: Cultural Perspectives on the Medieval Miscellany, Recentiores: Later Latin Texts and Contexts (Ann Arbor, MI, 1996).
  • Parkes, M. B., ‘The Influence of the Concepts of Ordinatio and Compilatio on the Development of the Book’, in J. J. G. Alexander and M. T. Gibson (eds), Medieval Learning and Literature: Essays presented to Richard William Hunt (Oxford, 1976), pp. 11541 [MBM]; rpt. in M. B. Parkes, Scribes, Scripts and Readers: Studies in the Communication, Presentation and Dissemination of Medieval Texts (London, 1991), pp. 3570 [LDea.B].
  • Treharne, E. M., Living Through Conquest: The Politics of Early English, 1020–1220, Oxford Textual Perspectives (Oxford, 2012). Available online at MiLibrary.

< Seminars