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M-40. Latin Paleography, 1100-1500

Albert Derolez

An introduction to this neglected field, including reading, transcribing (and expanding abbreviations), identification, classification, dating and localization of the principal kinds of Gothic and humanistic book script. Examples of Latin texts (and, exceptionally, French and English ones) will be studied from photocopies, slides, and manuscript fragments. The course is designed for all those who have to deal with late medieval MSS.

For many years, there has been a striking contrast in the scholarly attitude toward Latin scripts of the early and of the later Middle Ages. While the paleography of the early medieval and Caroline periods has been the object of serious academic study, late medieval scripts have hitherto mostly been examined (1) for reading literary and documentary texts and (2) for dating manuscripts. As manuscripts of the later Middle Ages are incomparably more numerous than early medieval codices, this is a paradoxical situation, one that needs to be redressed. Accordingly, this course will try to systematize our knowledge about the gothic and humanistic scripts in all their diversity of forms and styles. It will include: the examination and reading of examples of Latin texts (exceptionally French or English ones); the study of abbreviations; the typology and nomenclature of scripts, according to the Lieftinck-Gumbert system and other systems; the dating and localization of scripts; the techniques and principles of historical and diplomatic transcription and editing. Students will be required to make a series of transcriptions.

The course will have a practical character, concentrating on a broad range of scripts. Starting from the tangled image presented by late medieval manuscripts, a much-needed systematization will be developed, and gothic and humanistic scripts will be given a place in the history of handwriting in the West.

The course is intended for scholars and researchers, librarians and antiquarian booksellers with a strong knowledge of Latin who, sooner or later, are likely to deal with late medieval manuscripts. All students in this course must have had some previous formal introduction to paleography; in their personal statement, applicants should indicate the extent of their previous paleographic training and their knowledge of Latin, and briefly describe any relevant research projects on which they are now (or shortly expect to be) working.

Course Resources

Course History


Albert Derolez has taught this course many times since 1988.