The physical construction of a manuscript was a time-consuming process. It is known partially through medieval documentation (bookmakers rarely wrote about their work) but primarily through an intimate examination of medieval books themselves, in all states of (de)construction. The study of medieval manuscript making has been greatly furthered in recent years b various forms of scientific and materials analysis — hyperspectral imaging, DNA analysis, protein analysis, and more.
At UGA, we are fortunate to have the Center for Applied Isotope Studies, the largest and oldest such facility in the nation. They have a mobile STEM lab designed to be brought into humanities and social science classrooms across the UGA campus, so this series of classes is taught with Dr. Alice Hunt of the Center for Teaching and Learning and with equipment provided by CAIS.
In these courses, we get humanities majors researching historical methods of making ink and paint, re-learning the periodic table, developing robust hypotheses about the inks and pigments used on a manuscript, interpreting graphical readouts from the analysis devices, and writing up their discoveries for various audiences. The goal is to better understand how UGA’s manuscripts were made, whether with standard or non-standard materials and processes. An equally important goal is to encourage interdisciplinary literacy: to help humanities majors understand what the research process, interpretive techniques, and writing conventions look like in the hard sciences.
Equipment used includes a portable XRF device, with additional analysis equipment to be incorporated in future years.