Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Their Hands before Our Eyes: A Closer Look at Scribes

Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Their Hands before Our Eyes: A Closer Look at Scribes

Article excerpt

M. B. Parkes, Their Hands Before our Eyes: A Closer Look at Scribes, The Lyell Lectures Delivered in the University of Oxford 1999 (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2008). xix + 188 pp.; 69 plates. ISBN 978-0-7546-6337-9. £65.00.

Originally presented as Lyell Lectures in Bibliography at the University of Oxford (May- June 1999), Malcolm Parkes's Their Hands Before our Eyes takes a closer look at writing in the medieval period and the scribes involved in the process. The volume consists of three parts. The first is devoted to the context of writing: chapter ? discusses antiquity to noo and chapters 2-3 the period from ? ioo to about 1 500, focusing respectively on the religious orders and secular scribes. Reading these chapters is a humbling experience, for it demonstrates the breadth and depth of Parkes's knowledge, and just how many manuscripts he has seen. The numerous case studies he presents here provide important, and often intimate, keyhole looks into the world of manuscript production, and the lives and times of its inhabitants. The first part also demonstrates that the aim of this book is not to provide a synthesis of writing in the medieval period but to contribute to its history by focusing on the evidence provided by the manuscripts themselves, in particular their palaeography.

While the first part is concerned with the context of writing, the five chapters that make up the second part focus on writing itself, in particular its execution. This is Parkes at his best. This part includes investigations of important palaeographical issues usually not discussed in such explicit and clear terms, such as rapid handwriting (chapter 5, 'The hasty scribe'); the 'aspect' of an individual scribe's handwriting (chapter 6, 'Set in their own ways'); and fashion (chapter 7, 'Features of fashion'). …

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