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Scraps of treasure

The moving word

Manuscript fragments offer crucial clues for the detective work conducted by researchers working on medieval texts. They may provide scholars with a section of a literary work which does not exist in any other manuscript, or they may offer unique variants on passages known from other copies. Often they document the presence of a text in areas and periods from which we have no other manuscript witnesses, helping us better to chart a text’s diffusion, circulation and fate.

Fragments are frequently recovered from the binding of a codex or of an early printed volume, in which they were used as flyleaves or pastedowns to protect the book’s other contents. Others are the result of the unfortunate practice of cutting illustrations and decorated initials from complete manuscripts and selling them off as valuable collector’s items.

Several of the items in this collection – as well as many other medieval manuscript fragments – were collected or discovered by Francis Jenkinson, Henry Bradshaw’s pupil, who served as University Librarian from 1889 to 1923. As well as the scattered and tattered pages of medieval masterpieces, this section of the exhibition also features some more modern ‘fragments’ – jottings and correspondence written by famous romance philologists as they were working on these textual remnants.

View a video introduction to ‘Scraps of treasure’ here.