Today sees the second instalment of the Lost Manuscripts pilot project made publicly available. The project takes as its focus the manuscript fragments to be found in the bindings of books once owned by Samuel Harsnett, Archbishop of York (1561-1631). He bequeathed his library to his hometown of Colchester, for the edification of the local clergy. In the twenty-first century, they are used by other seekers after knowledge as they are now housed at the University of Essex in the new extension to the Albert Sloman Library.
This latest instalment involves just over a score of fragments, eight new lost manuscripts and three highlight pages. The items include ones which remind us that the process of dismantling old manuscripts did not have to wait to the Reformation to begin, and others which reveal to us some of the different practices among binders, with some more concerned to use pristine parchment and so cut the margins off the text, recycle those margins and discard the text itself. The batch also includes the first example of a fragment in the English language, and adds to the small number of fragments with musical notation.
If you have any questions or information about these fragments, do drop us a line.
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.