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Reviewed by:
  • The Oxford Handbook of Latin Palaeography ed. by Frank T. Coulson and Robert G. Babcock
  • Lisa Fagin Davis

Manuscript studies, paleography, codicology

The Oxford Handbook of Latin Palaeography. Edited by Frank T. Coulson and Robert G. Babcock. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2020. xxii, 1052 pp. Hardcover, $200; Ebook, $180. ISBN: 9780195336948.

T he Oxford Handbook of Latin Palaeography (OHLP) does exactly what it sets out to do, and more. In keeping with Leonard Boyle’s conception of “integral palaeography”—the idea that the study of paleography is not an isolated discipline but rather is intimately entangled with other aspects of the handwritten book—the volume moves beyond examinations of different script styles to wide- ranging discussions of everything from codicology and textual genres to the technical aspects of manuscript cataloguing. Written by an international “Who’s Who” of Latin paleography, with smooth and expert translations from German, Italian, and French when necessary, the volume provides welcome introductions to Latin bookhands from late Antiquity to the Renaissance, with additional sections covering codicology, manuscript culture, and book history. Each essay includes an extensive bibliography, and many are illustrated (in black and white in the print edition but in color online). The Oxford Handbook of Latin Palaeography should quickly become a staple on bookshelves and in classrooms, and many of the essays will become instant classics (I have already added several to my Latin Paleography syllabus).

The volume is divided into five sections: “Script” (580 pages in 34 chapters), “Material Embodiment and Techniques” (112 pages in 8 chapters), “Cultural Setting” (44 pages in 4 chapters), “Selected Scriptoria and Libraries” (116 pages in 8 chapters), and “Varieties of Book Usage” (166 pages in 9 chapters). The back matter includes an index of manuscripts cited and a general index. The editors note in their introduction that manuscript decoration and illumination have been intentionally excluded “for reasons of length and cost,” an appropriate and sensible decision. [End Page 362]

“Part I: Script” covers the standard paleographical topics, from ancient Rome to the humanists, with special essays on punctuation, abbreviation, and numerals. This section includes several scripts that sometimes get short shrift in paleography syllabi, like New Roman Cursive, Beneventan, and Visigothic. The most successful essays—such as Theresa De Robertis on New Roman Cursive, Robert G. Babcock on Uncial, Francis Newton on Beneventan, Anna A. Grotans on the scripts of St. Gall, and Peter Stokes on Insular Script—are those that include both historical context as well as descriptive criteria (it is worth noting that the great scriptorium of St. Gall is treated twice, here and again more generally in Part IV). The lengthy section on Gothic, which includes eleven different essays, demonstrates just how complex are the origins and development of the wide variety of Gothic scripts. This section begins with a copiously illustrated methodological and terminological introduction by Albert Derolez that should be required reading in any paleography seminar (the essay is essentially an abstract of his paradigm- changing monograph The Palaeography of Gothic Manuscript Books from the Twelfth to the Early Sixteenth Century). Theresa De Robertis returns for essays on the origins of Humanistic script and its development in Italy; these, too, are standouts in the collection.

Most of the essays in “Part II: Material Embodiment and Techniques” do not break new ground, nor was that their intent, as the contributions are meant to be introductory. Exceptions include the theoretical and aspirational “Application of Quantitative Methods to the History of the Book” by Ezio Ornato and “Comparative Codicology” by Malachi Beit- Arié, both of which lay out forward- thinking methodologies that may be usefully applied by other researchers. Collectively, the essays in “Part III: Cultural Setting” provide a useful introduction to the culture of book production, both monastic and secular. Paul Saenger’s contribution surveys visual evidence, including layout and punctuation, to demonstrate the gradual transition from vocalized to silent reading in the early Middle Ages, and Alison Beach brings her usual aplomb to a discussion of scribal demographics. In “Part IV: Selected Scriptoria and Libraries,” the case studies on Lindisfarne by Michelle P. Brown, Monte Cassino by Francis Newton, and Paris by Richard H. and Mary A...


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pp. 362-365
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