1st Edition

Their Hands Before Our Eyes: A Closer Look at Scribes
The Lyell Lectures Delivered in the University of Oxford 1999

ISBN 9780754663379
Published September 28, 2008 by Routledge
280 Pages

USD $160.00

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Book Description

This new book by Malcolm Parkes makes a fundamental contribution to the history of handwriting. Handwriting is a versatile medium that has always allowed individual scribes the opportunity for self-expression, despite the limitations of the pen and the finite number of possible movements.The purpose of this study is to focus on the writing of scribes from late antiquity to the beginning of the sixteenth century, and to identify those features which are a scribe's personal contribution to the techniques and art of handwriting. The book opens with three chapters surveying the various environments in which scribes worked in the medieval West. The following five, based on the author's Lyell Lectures at the University of Oxford, then examine different aspects of the subject, starting with the basic processes of handwriting and copying. Next come discussions of developments in rapid handwriting, with its consequent influence on new alphabets; on more formal 'set hands'; and on the adaptation of movements of the pen to produce elements of style corresponding to changes in the prevailing sense of decorum. The final chapter looks at the significance of some customized images produced by handwriting on the page. The text is illustrated with 69 plates, and accompanied by a glossary of the technical terms applied to handwriting, which in itself makes a significant contribution to the subject.

Table of Contents

Contents: Preface; Part I Scribes and Their Environments: Before 1100; 1100-1540 Religious orders in England; 1100-1500 Secular scribes in England: clergy, scholars, professional and commercial scribes. Part II Scribes at Work: Which came first reading or writing? The function and processes of handwriting and the problems of copying; The hasty scribe; cursive handwriting in antiquity and the Middle Ages; Set in their own ways: scribes and book hands c.800-1200; Features of fashion: scribes and style c1200-1500; Through the eyes of scribes and readers: handwriting as image; Part II Glossary, Indexes and Select List of Printed Works: Select glossary of technical terms applied to handwriting; Index of scribes referred to by name or pseudonym; Index of manuscripts cited; Select list of printed works cited; General index.

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M.B. Parkes (1930 - 2103) was Professor Emeritus of Palaeography in the University of Oxford, and Fellow emeritus of Keble College. He was a Senior Fellow of the British Academy, a Corresponding Fellow of the Medieval Academy of America, and had been Visiting Professor at the University of Konstanz (1974 and 1980), James T. Hill Visiting Professor at the University of Minnesota (1991), and Visiting Professor of Latin at Harvard University (1997).


’Malcolm Parkes is an English by-word for expertise in medieval palaeography ... his publications on this subject have become the standard of reference. ... The published version of (The Lyell Lectures) ... does not disappoint. ...In the second part, Parkes offers us a feast of what he does best: meticulous analysis of the developments of English handwriting throughout the Middle Ages. ...Their Hands Before Our Eyes is densely packed with information, with copious references to previous publications by Parkes and others that laid the groundwork for this overview. The footnotes include lists of manuscripts now attributed to each scribe Parkes discusses. Its broad scope ranges from the fifth to the sixteenth centuries, encompassing not only British but Continental handwriting as well.... There is almost nothing to fault in this book.’ Times Literary Supplement ’This book will be of particular interest to scholars who work with medieval books and documents, and especially to those who already have a good foundation in the basics of paleography and are interested in a study of writing that goes beyond a description of various hands to an analysis of writing as a process imbedded in, and responding to, various cultural contexts. ...This is an important work by a distinguished scholar of medieval handwriting, a study that highlights the critical role that the art of paleography continues to play in shaping our understanding of the religious, intellectual, and artistic contours of the Middle Ages. ... Parkes has a [...] gift for showing those of us who work with medieval manuscripts and documents new ways to see what we had thought was familiar.’ The Medieval Review ’All in all this is a thoroughly well-researched, readable and informative work, attractively presented, and reflective of the author's deep knowledge of the subject matter.’ Rare Books Newsletter ’Dr. Parkes's services to English paleography now extend over more than half a century and provid