What is a manuscript?


manuscript is a resource written by hand.
 

folio is a leaf or page of a manuscript. The front side of the folio is called the recto, and the back side of the folio is called the verso.

Illumination is the decoration on a manuscript.

A facsimile is a reproduction of a manuscript, book, map, piece of art, etc. which accurately replicates the scale, materials, color, condition, etc. of the original resource. A partial facsimile is a reproduction of only part of a resource. Facsimiles are used by researchers who cannot access the original resource, and by libraries and museums to allow a form of access to resources while preserving the originals.
 

Codicology is the study of the structure and physical features of a manuscript.

Paleography is the study of handwriting. 

Diplomatic is the study of the conventions and formulae of documents.
 

How to cite them?

The purpose of a manuscript citation is to 1) locate the manuscript, and 2) locate the place in the manuscript being referenced.

A manuscript citation contains the following: title of manuscript (optional), location of repository, name of repository, manuscript number, folio or section of manuscript.
 

Example:

White Book of Rhydderch, Aberystwyth, National Library of Wales, Peniarth MS 4, f. 63r


A few notes:

  • This manuscript is manuscript four in the Peniarth collection.
  • MS is the abbreviation for manuscript.
  • Folio is abbreviated as "f.".
  • Recto and verso are abbreviated as "r." and "v." respectively.
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Introduction to Manuscript Studies

Raymond Clemens & Timothy Graham 
2007

This resource describes in detail the process of making a manuscript and defines the various parts of a manuscript. It also explains how to read a manuscript, and gives examples of some of the common genres of manuscripts.

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The Cambridge Companion to Medieval British Manuscripts

Orietta Da Rold & Elaine Treharne, editors 
2020

This resource explains what manuscripts are, and how, why, and where we study them, in the context of medieval British manuscripts.

Resources at Harvard

Finding Manuscripts in HOLLIS


Strategy 1: Call numbers

In the Advanced Search form within HOLLIS, use the "Code: Local call number" Search Filter (via the drop-down option) to search for MSXX*, where "XX"  stands in for HOLLIS’s abbreviation for the desired language. For example:

MSIR* is the call number for Irish language manuscripts.

MSWEL* is for Welsh language manuscripts.

MSBRE* is for Breton language manuscripts.


Strategy 2: Resource Type limits

In the Advanced Search form within HOLLIS, type in a keyword (e.g., Scottish) and then chose the Resource Type "Archives/Manuscripts" (via the drop-down option). Run the search. 


Strategy 3: Language option(s) and keywords

This approach will retrieve a variety of material types, but it also captures some manuscripts, and you may use the Resource Type limit listed in Strategy 2 to filter the results after the fact.

Here's how to do it: In the Advanced Search form within HOLLIS, use the "Code: MARC language" Search Filter (via the drop-down option) to select your preferred language (e.g., Scottish Gaelic) or select it from the Language drop-down menu on the right. You may combine this approach with either Strategy 1 or 2 above, or enter the following keyword phrase, which may surface manuscripts that were not systematically described as such in the system: hand OR hands OR manuscript*. This is the most arbitrary of the strategies, since many manuscripts do not include language codes in their cataloging.


Houghton Library Irish Manuscript Collection

Harvard has a collection of Irish-language manuscripts, a large portion of which contain Irish poetry, some of which is Ossianic. The materials also include prose tales, genealogies, proverbs, a play, grammars, personal documents, and catalog lists. 
 

Harvard University, Houghton Library, MS Ir 1

Catalog title: Poems : manuscript, 1885 Feb
Creation date: 1885
Description: 52 pages, bound
Contents: A compilation of eighteenth and nineteenth century Irish poetry, including poems by Pairas Mac Gearailt.
 

Harvard University, Houghton Library, MS Ir 2

Catalog title: Ogham nó sgribhinn-rúin ʼar sínsear : manuscript, 1886
Creation date: 1886
Description: 44 pages, bound
Contents: A compilation of Irish poetry, including "Ogham Chraohh" and "Tuireamh na h-Éireann". Materials are in Irish with translations and notes in English. This compilation contains examples of Ogham script.
 

Harvard University, Houghton Library, MS Ir 3

Catalog title: Cómhráidhte idir Páttraice agus Oisin : manuscript, 1820 and undated
Creation date: 1820
Description: 106 pages, bound
Contents: A compilation of Irish poetry, including two anonymous poems. The compilation includes Ossianic poetry.
 

Harvard University, Houghton Library, MS Ir 4

Catalog title: Lists and catalogs of Irish manuscripts : manuscript, [18--]
Creation date: 1800s
Description: 159 pages, bound
Contents: A compilation of materials related to collections of Irish manuscripts, including catalog lists of Irish manuscripts in the British Museum and Trinity College Dublin collections, an index of the Irish manuscripts in John Windele (1801-1865) the Irish antiquarian's library, a catalog of books related to Irish for sale, and newspaper clippings related to Ireland and Irish books. Materials are in English and Irish.
 

Harvard University, Houghton Library, MS Ir 5

Catalog title: Commonplace book : of Irish verse and prose : manuscript, [ca. 1865]
Creation date: c. 1865
Description: 170 pages, bound
Contents: A compilation of Irish prose and poetry, as well as lists of names and dates, a transcription of a tomb epitaph, and prayers. Materials are in Irish, English, and Latin.
 

Harvard University, Houghton Library, MS Ir 6

Catalog title: Ag so Duainaire Aodha mac Seain Ui Bhruin ó Glen Moluara : manuscript, 1726-1728
Creation date: 1726
Description: 119 leaves, bound
Contents: A compilation of Irish poetry, genealogies, and documents related to the Byrne family. Materials are in Irish and English. 
 

Harvard University, Houghton Library, MS Ir 7

Catalog title: Folk poems and ballads : manuscript, 1841-1843
Creation date: 1841
Description: 196 pages, bound
Contents: A compilation of Irish prose and poetry, as well as a list of Irish contractions. The compilation includes Ossianic poetry.
 

Harvard University, Houghton Library, MS Ir 8

Catalog title: Focal nó dó ins an teanga Gaoidheilge, Aibrean 21, 1898 : manuscript, 1898 Apr. 21
Creation date: 1898
Description: 3 pages, bound
Contents: An address presented before the Philo-Celtic Society, presumably of Boston, on 21 Apr. 1898, praising Irish language, music and land.
 

Harvard University, Houghton Library, MS Ir 9

Catalog title: Commonplace book : of Irish poetry : manuscript, [ca. 1833]
Creation date: 1833
Description: 72 pages, bound
Contents: A compilation of eighteenth-century Irish poetry.
 

Harvard University, Houghton Library, MS Ir 10

Catalog title: Agalamh Oisín agus Páttraigh : manuscript, 1800
Creation date: 1800
Description: 242 pages, bound
Contents: An early modern Irish version of the collection of Finian lays known as the Agallamh Oisín agus Phádraig with notes in English.
 

Harvard University, Houghton Library, MS Ir 11

Catalog title: Commonplace book : of Irish poems and grammatical notes : manuscript, [before 1754?]
Creation date: 1754
Description: 136 pages, bound
Contents: A compilation of materials composed of an introduction to the Irish language and Irish abbreviations, and religious poems in Irish with notes in English.
 

Harvard University, Houghton Library, MS Ir 12

Catalog title: Leabhar na cCath : iona bhfuil suim mhór do togaidhe Eirionn. Agus go h-airighthe Cleic Gaidheal re Lochlonnaigh dá n-ionarbadh ar Eírinn. Iar na ttiomarga as iliomad seinleabhar mbarrantamhla. Agus iar na sgríobha le Peattair mac Míchael ui Longáin a cCaraig na bhFear. Cuim usaide Aindreis mhaith Ui Shúilliobháin a cCorca : manuscript, 1828
Creation date: 1828
Description: 412 pages, bound
Contents: A compilation of stories about Irish battles, possibly from the fifteenth-century Book of Lismore. 
 

Harvard University, Houghton Library, MS Ir 13

Catalog title: Poems : manuscripts, ca. 1849-1854
Creation date: 1849
Description: 428 pages, bound
Contents: A compilation of Irish poetry, as well as religious invocations in English and various signatures and stamps.
 

Harvard University, Houghton Library, MS Ir 14

Catalog title: Suiridh Ghoill an macMhoirne = The courtship and adventures of Goll, the son of Moirne : manuscript, [18--]
Creation date: 1800s
Description: 91 leaves, bound
Contents: Two Irish tales in verse, "The courtship and adventures of Goll, the son of Moirne" and "Oidhe Chloinne Uisneach: The adventures of the sons of Uishneach". The tales are written in Irish with English translations on the facing pages. 
 

Harvard University, Houghton Library, MS Ir 15

Catalog title: Beatha Bharra o Charcaigh = Life of St. Finbarr of Cork : manuscript, 1894 Nov.-Dec
Creation date: 1894
Description: 81 pages, bound
Contents: An Irish transcription with English translation of the Life of St. Finbarr written by Michael O'Clery in 1629.
 

Harvard University, Houghton Library, MS Ir 16

Catalog title: Toraidheacht Ceallachain Caisil air Lochlannachaibh : manuscript, 1767-1768
Creation date: 1767
Description: 288 pages, bound
Contents: A compilation of Irish prose tales. The tales are "Toraidheacht Ceallachain Caisil air Lochlannachaibh", "Sgeal na Cairrige S[g]arloide", "Fághail Craoibhe Cormaic", "Tochmhairc Fearbláidhe", "Agallam na Seanóirachta", "Eachtra Chlainne Tomáis", and "Pairliament Clainne Tomáis".
 

Harvard University, Houghton Library, MS Ir 17

Catalog title: Cúirt an Mheádon Oídhche / le Brían mac Giolla Méidhir : manuscript, 1845
Creation date: 1845
Description: 64 pages, bound
Contents:  A compilation containing a transcription of Brian Merriman's "Cúirt an Mheádon Oídhche", five Irish poems by Seághan Ua Tradhma with partial English translation, and a prose text of "Eachtra agus Parliament Chlann Tomáis mac Lóbhais".
 

Harvard University, Houghton Library, MS Ir 18

Catalog title: Gaelic folklore : manuscript, [18--]
Creation date: 1800s
Description: 18 pages
Contents: Four Irish folktales. The tales are "An Sluadh Righe", "Biatach ma Charthaigh", "Righdhe Chrind", and "Tourist".
 

Harvard University, Houghton Library, MS Ir 19

Catalog title: Commonplace book: of Irish sagas and verse : manuscript, 1819 Sept.-1820
Creation date: 1819
Description: 39 pages, sewn quire
Contents: A compilation of Irish prose and poetry with accompanying introductions and, occasionally, an English translation.
 

Harvard University, Houghton Library, MS Ir 20

Catalog title: An Seanchas Muimhneach : manuscript, [ca. 1736]
Creation date: 1736
Description: 174 pages, bound
Contents: A compilation of genealogies of families in Ireland. Materials are in Irish, English, and Latin.
 

Harvard University, Houghton Library, MS Ir 21

Catalog title: Eachtra an mhadra maoil : manuscript, [18--]
Creation date: 1800s
Description: 114 pages, bound
Contents: A compilation of Irish prose and poetry. Materials are in Irish and English. 
 

Harvard University, Houghton Library, MS Ir 23

Catalog title: Commonplace book : of Irish prose and poetry : manuscript, 1821-1825
Creation date: 1821
Description: 193 pages, sewn quires
Contents: A compilation of Irish prose tales and poems, as well as a list of books and prices dated 1857 to 1858. The tales are the "Passion of Christ", "Merlino maligno", "Comrádh an Anam damanta sa Chuirp", and "Gratis beate Marie vergine". The poems are "Ollamh Eigin", "Marranna Phadraig naomhtha", "Tuirreamh Shaeghain Uí Chunnaill ar cCundae Chiarruidhe le raitir tiareamh na hEirionn", "Aithraighe Sheaghain de thoradh", and the Ossianic poem, "Laoidh na Seallgadh". Most of the materials are in Irish. Exceptions are the prose "Passion of Christ" contains notes in English and Latin, and the book list is in English.
 

Harvard University, Houghton Library, MS Ir 25

Catalog title: O'Clery's glossary : manuscript, 1843
Creation date: 1843
Description: 224 pages (1 volume)
Contents: A transcription of the glossary composed by Michael O'Clery, with glosses in English and Greek.
 

Harvard University, Houghton Library, MS Ir 27

Catalog title: Dráma breite Criosta : manuscript, [19--]
Creation date: 1900s
Description: 16 leaves
Contents: An autographed manuscript of a play in one act concerning the birth of Jesus Christ by Douglas Hyde.
 

Harvard University, Houghton Library, MS Ir 28

Catalog title: Commonplace book : of Irish verse : manuscript, [182-]
Creation date: 1820s
Description: 316 pages, bound
Contents: A compilation of an untitled prose work possibly of the Life of St. Malchus, and Irish poetry from the seventeenth and eighteenth century. 
 

Harvard University, Houghton Library, MS Ir 34

Catalog title: Irish proverbs : manuscript, [before 1856]
Creation date: 1800s
Description: 40 leaves, bound
Contents: Three collections of Irish proverbs with translations in English and Latin.
 

Harvard University, Houghton Library, MS Ir 35

Catalog title: Irish songs : manuscript, [before 29 Mar. 1906]
Creation date: 1906
Description: 12 leaves, bound
Contents: A compilation of Irish songs with annotations. Materials are in Irish and English.
 

Harvard University, Houghton Library, MS Ir 37

Catalog title: Ridire an ċlóċa uaiṫne : manuscript, ca. 1933
Creation date: 1933
Description: 8 leaves (1 volume)
Contents: A text of the Irish folktale "Knight of the Green Cloak", a variant of the "The Maiden Without Hands" folktale (ATU 706 tale type). It may be related to the version of the tale collected from an Irish immigrant in Worcester, Massachusetts, and published by Douglas Hyde in the Béaloideas journal in 1933.

Celtic Manuscript Collections


Many manuscripts are preserved as part of library collections. A number of them have been either transcribed into digital texts, or have actually been digitized as images.


Searching for Manuscripts in WorldCAT

WorldCAT is a union catalog that allows you to search the collections of over 41,000 member libraries, mainly in the United States, but also extending to 82 other nations. Once connected to WorldCAT, proceed as follows:

  1. Choose Expert Search.
  2. Under Limit Type To, choose “Archival Materials.”
  3. Under Subtype Limits below that, choose “Any Format”>”Manuscript.”
  4. Finally, enter your search terms, whether in the form of a subject heading, title word, author name, or keyword(s).

Once you have results, you may further limit, using the button on the results page that shows two arrows pointed at each other.
 

British Library Manuscripts

The British Library collection contains ancient, medieval, modern, and contemporary manuscript and archive material from around the world. The  collections include historical, literary, political, scientific, and religious papers as well as maps, charters, seals, rolls, and papyri.
 

National Library of Ireland Manuscripts

The National Library of Wales has approximately one million items in its collections spanning nearly a thousand years. They are mostly manuscripts relating to the island of Ireland, or written by Irish people in Ireland or overseas.
 

National Library of Wales Manuscripts

There are approximately 40,000 manuscripts in The National Library of Wales, and together they form the most important collection of Welsh manuscripts in the world.
 

National Library of Scotland Manuscripts

The National Library of Scotland is the repository of the major collections of manuscripts and archives which cover many aspects of the lives, activities, and interests of Scots at home and abroad.
 

Medieval Manuscripts on the Web

This website, created and maintained by Siân Echard at the University of British Columbia, includes links to websites hosting images and information about medieval manuscripts around the world.
 

Manuscripts of Lichfield Cathedral

Includes information about, and images of, English manuscripts reflective of Celtic influence, most famously the St Chad Gospels. Marginal notes in this manuscript include some of the earliest surviving examples of written Old Welsh.
 

The Book of Kells

Digital images of the famous Book of Kells, a masterpiece of medieval art.
 

British Library Digitized Manuscripts

The British Library website contains descriptions of the manuscripts in its vast collection, including some in Irish, Welsh, Cornish and other Celtic languages. Digital images of some of these can also be accessed.
 

Digital Bodleian, Western medieval Manuscripts

Oxford University’s Bodleian Library contains one of the world’s greatest collections of medieval manuscripts. The library’s main collection contains several items from Ireland, while the collection of Jesus College (which can be accessed through the same site) contains several in Welsh. Many of these can be viewed online, including the Red Book of Hergest (Oxford, Jesus College MS 111).
 

CODECS Catalogue of Celtic Manuscript

This catalogue is still under construction, but includes entries on many medieval manuscripts containing Celtic-language texts. Digital images of some of these are available via links to libraries and other repositories.
 

Manuscript Sources to Old and Middle Irish Tales (MS-OMIT)

Manuscript Sources to Old and Middle Irish Tales (MS-OMIT) is a database for facilitating research on Early Irish prose and prose-and-verse tales. It includes: 1) a list of early medieval narrative texts in the Irish language until approximately 1150 with (a) references to their medieval and early modern manuscript sources (with a few exceptions until the 17th c.) and (b) information about their availability in print (with a few exceptions from ca. 1870); 2) a list of abbreviated manuscript names which appear in the list of narrative texts together with a short explanation and a reference mostly to the corresponding library catalogues and, as the case may be, to facsimiles and diplomatic editions. 
 

Irish Script on Screen

A large collection of digital images of manuscripts written largely in Irish, from repositories in Ireland, Britain and beyond.
 

Llyfrgell Genedlaethol Cymru/National Library of Wales

Holds most of the major medieval Welsh MSS, now fully digitized, including the White Book of Rhydderch, Book of Taliesin, Book of Aneirin, Black Book of Carmarthen, Hendregadredd MS, Welsh Laws of Hywel Dda, Book of Llandaff, and more.
 

Welsh Prose 1300–1425

Transcriptions of medieval Welsh texts of different genres.
 

CODECS Tionscadal na Nod

A collection of examples of manuscript abbreviations used by medieval Gaelic scribes.