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The Manuscripts at UGA Project is a long-term research adventure into medieval manuscripts that occurs primarily within the undergraduate classroom. UGA’s Special Collections Library is our “lab,” where we work intimately with handmade books produced before the invention of printing. We undertake projects along two major themes:

  1. The study and literary-historical analysis of one medieval prayerbook, known as Books of Hours, owned by UGA: the Hargrett Hours. These are the “Hargrett Hours Project” courses, and their fruits are visible on the digital facsimile edition (in production) of this manuscript:
  2. The study and scientific analysis of the inks and pigments used to make manuscripts. These Scientific Analysis courses are run with faculty and support from UGA’s Center for Applied Isotope Studies.

Students also frequently undertake independent research projects coming out of these courses, and we occasionally run ad-hoc courses along the same lines that don’t fit neatly into these two categories.

Although they are taught out of the English department, these are not your typical literature classes. We spend limited time reading and analyzing literary texts. Rather, these courses are both seminar and practicum on the physical makeup, use, and decoding of medieval manuscripts. Medieval books predate the printing press: all are handmade (often lovingly and intricately), unique, and highly valuable items. Not only are they gorgeous objects in their own right, but they presume a different relationship between text and reader than do contemporary printed books. So these courses provide students with the tools to understand and appreciate these compelling physical artifacts.

Because these courses presume that the students have no familiarity with medieval anything, the first unit of each course is a practical introduction to medieval manuscript study. Students learn how manuscripts were made, how to handle them, how to read their texts, and how to talk about their decoration. We spend time in the Special Collections Library examining real-live medieval books, and students work with single leaves on their own.

After this introductory unit, the course content diverges, depending on the theme and specific research goals for the semester. In every course, though, students undertake meaningful, independent research that forwards our collective understanding of these ancient books. They also learn to present that research in a variety of formats, for different audiences: blog posts for a general audience, contextual essays for the Hargrett Hours Edition, formal reports, posters, presentations, and more.