Cataloging Medieval Manuscripts, from Beasts to Bytes

This article investigates the history of cataloging medieval manuscripts in order to determine a paradigm for digital catalogs of the present. Inspired by the work of Suzanne Briet (1894–1989), it argues in favor of a culturally informed “documentation” that considers not only the complexity of medieval manuscripts as information objects, but also anticipates the diverse interests of users who depend on digital images and supporting metadata to access manuscripts as primary sources for research. Presented here is a faceted metadata structure that considers the premodern manuscript as physical, textual, historical, as well as digital information. This approach is built upon various traditions for cataloging medieval manuscripts, from Cassiodorus in the sixth century to the electronic databases and digital catalogs of the present.