Back in the Bodleian

Starting up again after Easter, I was excited to see that the Bodleian’s Weston Library was admitting outside researchers for the first time since before Christmas, and emailed right away to check availability. The lovely staff booked slots for me and I ordered up five manuscripts. There were still hurdles to get over, of course, but they were all of my own making: find reader card (temporarily misplaced after months of disuse and a house move), secure pound coin for the lockers (strangely difficult after a year of avoiding physical money). Having done both, and feeling very fortunate to still be living so close by, I took a stroll in the morning sunshine down to the Weston on Thursday. It was great to be out of the house, frankly, but also to be in the library, and especially to see the familiar faces of the security staff and the librarians.

Examining the manuscripts themselves is brilliant, of course. Over the last few months I’ve been working a lot from monochrome microfilm images, which has been much less than ideal. Even the excellent resources I talked about in my last blog post, which include a lot of digitised manuscripts, can’t totally capture the material reality of these volumes, and given how central this is to the project, I was so glad to get going again. I started with five manuscripts which all contain a similar group of texts, albeit with rather different production values. Two of the group are pictured below. Many of the material differences between them would have been obvious in images, of course, even in monochrome, but it would have been difficult to gauge parchment quality, see all the corrections clearly, or get a concrete sense of their scale, among other things. Beyond this, there’s something about turning the leaves of a manuscript that forces you to engage with its materiality in a way that images just can’t.

Of course, it’s important to remember when handling these objects that they are unlikely to have survived the centuries unaltered or unscathed: originally unrelated booklets may have been bound together later; pages have often been cut down, resulting in the loss or damage of some marginal annotations and finding aids; folios may have been damaged or lost, particularly at the starts and ends of volumes. And even if the manuscript has survived more-or-less as it was when it was produced, we should remain aware that we are examining it several hundred years after the fact, under electric light in a modern library, bringing to it questions, attitudes and experiences very different to those of its original audience. Still, there is so much that can be gained from examining a manuscript in person, and I’ll be excited to share more on this in upcoming blog posts. For now, I’ll end by saying a huge thank you to all the library staff who have been helping to keep research going, in person and remotely, over this past year, and who will hopefully be able to welcome lots more researchers through their doors in the next few months.

– Hannah

Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Bodley 3, fol. 2r
Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Tanner 336, fol. 1r


Introducing ‘Meke Reverence’

One of the most exciting outputs of our project will be the (long-anticipated!) anthology of late medieval religious writing. ‘Meke Reverence and Devocyon’: A Reader in Late Medieval English Religious Literature will be published at the close of this project by Liverpool University Press and the University of Chicago Press, as part of the Exeter Medieval Texts series. The anthology will make around 100 texts accessible to students and academics alike, some for the first time in modern print. The first part of Meke Reverence will present excerpts of canonical texts alongside lesser-known treatises, sermons and tracts, while the second part will show-case specific manuscripts that circulated within late medieval London which we believe are linked to the lost Guildhall Library. Codicological and palaeographical analysis will allow for a fuller understanding of the manuscript contexts in which late medieval readers would have encountered the materials.

Presenting a range of vernacular devotional texts from between 1325 and 1535, the anthology will be arranged in the thematic patterns of compilation that we see in the London pastoral books of the late medieval period. We will therefore be structuring the first part of the volume as follows:

1. Pastoralia and catechetical instruction
2. Sacramentality and clerical reform
3. Models of communal devotional conduct and practice
4. Affective devotion to Christ and his family
5. Speculative and apophatic theologies
6. Scepticism, doubt and tribulations of faith
7. Spiritual exercises in and out of the cloister
8. Penitential scrutiny and the reformation of the self
9. Death, judgement and last things

We’ve been working hard behind the scenes to establish our corpus of texts – materials that either haven’t been published in over a century, or reside in obscure unpublished theses or hidden away within the hundreds of codices just waiting for us to find them. This is where we need your help! Have you been trying to get your hands on a text but can’t find an edition for it? Do you have a text in mind that has been grossly disregarded, just waiting for its moment to shine? Please get in touch! We’d love to hear your suggestions.

For the next several weeks, we’ll be going into each section in a bit more detail, sharing materials that we think will be important for scholars to get a hold of, alongside the canonical texts that we already know and love: we would be delighted to hear of any hidden gems you might have spotted on your travels into the archives and stacks.

Please get in touch via @whitsgift on Twitter, in the comments below this post or via email at



New (Virtual) Beginnings

As a team, we’re used to working in lockdown. Our PDRA interviews were conducted virtually, and although the project got going nearly three months ago we’ve yet to meet up in person. Coming into a new project under these circumstances has been quite daunting and, like all of us, I’m (still) trying to adjust. As a manuscripts specialist, I’m very grateful to have been able to spend a few days in Oxford’s Weston library in late November, but with new lockdown measures now introduced we’re all trying to figure out how to work effectively without library access and in a world where all our team interactions are taking place online.

All this has got me thinking again about the Quadrivium conference which was held virtually at the University of Kent this November. It was heartening to see so many people attend, and to hear how everyone is adapting. Technology is key, of course, and there’s much to be excited about. Professors Elaine Treharne, Jukka Tyrkkö and Mike Kestemont gave three fascinating talks on Digital Futures in Manuscript Studies, while Dr Johanna Green and Dr Diane Scott demonstrated a new camera at the University of Glasgow that captures incredibly detailed manuscript images. While I’m not working with anything quite so cutting edge, I have been trying various digital tools to help organise my research, and I’ve also found digitised catalogues and collections very helpful. Manchester Digital Collections, the Wren Digital Library and British Library Digitised Manuscripts have been particularly useful this month.

The session on Using Libraries in a Time of Pandemic, with contributions from Dr Paul Dryburgh (National Archives), Dr Alison Ray (Canterbury Cathedral Library) and Richard Ovenden (Bodleian Library) gave us all an opportunity to hear about the work that has continued at libraries and archives throughout the year, to share experiences and to hear about online tools and resources. For now, I’m making full use of these, and am compiling a list of manuscripts to consult in person, hopefully in the not-too-distant future. Seeing Professors Linne Mooney and Wendy Scase discussing Working with Manuscripts at Quadrivium made me eager to get back into the library, but also reminded me how much can be achieved when working from images.

Perhaps the most inspiring session of the conference for me showcased the work of the MEMSLib team. An initiative of the Centre for Medieval and Early Modern Studies (MEMS) at the University of Kent, MEMSLib is an online repository of content related to Medieval and Early Modern Studies. The team, Róisín Astell, Dr Daniella Gonzalez, Anna Hegland, Emma-Louise Hill and Anna-Nadine Pike, are all current or recent postgraduate students, and they’ve built something brilliant. The site includes a blog, lists of resources related to 13 subject areas within Medieval/Early Modern studies, online noticeboards, and a forum where members can share resources and discuss ideas. Hearing about the work the team have done and their plans for the future was really exciting.

This has been and continues to be a difficult year, but as we move forward I’ll continue to be buoyed and inspired by the camaraderie, innovation and resourcefulness that was on full display at Quadrivium 2020, and very grateful for the various tools and resources that facilitate our team’s research.

– Hannah Schühle-Lewis