Tag Archives: fragments

Welcome to Babel

Today sees the moment when the project the Centre’s been developing goes live. In reality, it has been there for a few weeks but we have not advertised it to the world yet, to allow for responses to early feedback. As that suggests, this is a site which is ‘live’ in both senses – available and growing. The intention is that it should develop in response to your suggestions, do contact us.

The site is called Lost Manuscripts. It has big ambitions – to build up, over time, a union catalogue of manuscript fragments in the British Isles – but starts small. The pilot project has been to identify and digitise the binding fragments in the Harsnett collection held in the Sloman Library of the Centre’s host institution the University of Essex. What is now available is a small proportion of those descriptions – more will follow. What is in place is the main elements of the architecture of the site which make clear the rationale followed in the catalogue. It involves what we call double-cataloguing: recognising that each fragment is worthy of description in its own right but is also precious evidence of what we have lost, allowing us some insight into a manuscript that once existed.

Where might those manuscripts which are lost but can, to some extent, be reconstructed live. We need a conceptual home for them and, as the website explains, we have imagined that as Babel: come and visit.

Lost Manuscripts, being an ongoing project, should be considered a beta site. The project has been generously funded by the University of Essex and its ongoing maintenance is being supported by its History Department, but, as with any project, there have been constraints of time and finance. So, it comes with some caveats. You might want to read these before using it:

  • only the first batch of fragments is presently uploaded. More will follow in the coming months, with further entries on the highlights page
  • the functionality of the search page is still being built but, at the moment, you should be able to find what is in the catalogue by searching for author, subject or title. Some search tips are available
  • not all fragments are provided with images – some are simply impossible to photograph because of their location in bindings – and some of the images are not to the standard we would like. Those will be replaced as funding allows
  • we are human! There may be mistakes and there may be oversights – and we welcome all comments and feedback

We will be posting updates on this site as we build up the catalogue. In the meantime, we hope you enjoy using this new resource.


Harsnett on Flickr

It was not only manuscripts that were cut up and used in bindings for new books in the sixteenth and seventeenth century: printed texts could suffer the same fate. There are about fifty examples of this in the collection of Samuel Harsnett, Archbishop of York (d. 1631), now held in the library of the University of Essex. They include several interesting specimens, for instance:

  • an English text printed by Wynkyn de Worde which, as Francesca Galligan has shown, may represent an unnoticed printing of Rycharde cuer de lyon
  • two partial copies of a royal proclamation to butchers of 1535, in a binding localisable to London and datable to before 1537
  • a mid-seventeenth century advertisement for a school being set up by one Andrew Minet on Lime Street, London
  • a folio from Erasmus’s De copia (Basel, 1534) re-used in Cambridge in the late 1570s or early 1580s as a flyleaf in a binding for a copy of the Italian émigré Protestant reformer, Peter Martyr Vermigli – an interesting hint at changing priorities within a half century

For various reasons, these printed pieces are not the focus of the present project to catalogue and put on-line the fragments in the Harsnett collection – but it would be a shame not to make them publicly available in some form. So, the Centre has set up an album on Flickr with some images already uploaded there. This news comes with a request: taking our lead from places like the Harry Ransom Center and initiatives like the Sion College Library Provenance Project, run by Lambeth Palace Library, we want you to invite you to engage with these images and add to our knowledge of them. So, friends in the republic of letters, do let us know if you have information about them we don’t have – and we will make sure you are acknowledged.