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The British Library’s Digitized Medieval Manuscripts

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medieval-literatureAny student of medieval history should be immediately aware of the British Library’s efforts to digitize roughly 25,000 medieval manuscripts. This effort is bringing about a golden age of access to source material for medievalists.

Yet, what is remarkable about the British Library’s effort is the interface they have created for navigating the pages. This is not just a set of PDF files, which are cumbersome to navigate. For example, look at this copy of Beowulf. Viewers can click on the page to zoom in, or use their mouse wheel for zooming in and out. In addition, the arrow keys quickly move the pages back and forth.

Aside from Beowulf, there are other prominent works including Leonardo Da Vinci’s magnificently illustrated Notebook, and 15th century copies of Xenophon’s Hellenica and Plutarch’s Alexander.

One thing that any medievalist will tell you about old manuscripts is the writers knew how to create attractive books through penmanship and drawings. The style is always identifiable as medieval. For example, check out this depiction of the Siege of Troyes from Wavrin’s Croniques (c. 1470 – c. 1480). Zoom in and admire the detail of the walls, armor, and weapons. There are endless examples of these drawings in this work and others spread throughout the collections.

At the time of this writing, there are over 1,800 manuscripts available, but this is an ongoing project and the British Library is posting updates on their blog. The blog not only provide updates, but it is also adds analysis and color commentary of the manuscripts, which very entertaining.

By Scott Manning
Online Learning Tips, Student Contributor

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