As I was ranting in my LJ last night about the nightmare of creating a table format Manuscript Description, Brandon started me thinking about the possibility of broader problems with the manuscript-describing conventions in Anglo-Saxon studies.
I’ve found three main problems with the descriptions of my manuscript (London, B.L., Cotton Nero A.i- part B):
* Firstly, none of the comprehensive descriptions (Wormald’s Making of English Law, Ker’s Catalogue, Loyn’s facsimile introduction) are written at the level I want them. You more or less have to know what’s in the manuscript before you can understand the descriptions. Loyn’s introduction, being the most comprehensive, has been the most useful to me, but even he assumes the reader knows what he’s talking about. In the early stages of research (not having much idea of Anglo-Saxon legal history or of manuscript studies), what I really wanted was a description which told me in a few sentences for each entry what sort of text it was (law, homily, Institutes of Polity, other tract), whether or not it was by Wulfstan, and what general topics it dealt with. I can find all these things out, that’s what God invented research for, but it struck me as odd that none of the descriptions provided that.
* Secondly, all the descriptions are presented as lists, meaning that you can only really use them by reading through in the order in which the texts appear in the MS. What I wanted, when I was first starting my enquiries, was the ability to scan quickly through and isolate all the homilies, or all the laws, or all the chapters of the Institutes.
* Thirdly, except for Wormald’s table in The Making of English Law (p. 200-201), they don’t note quire divisions within the list. If you’re sitting there with Wormald’s book, or his article Archbishop Wulfstan and the Holiness of Society, and trying to figure out which texts were in the MS at which point in its life, this is most frustrating. Wormald’s table was obviously designed for this purpose, breaking the MS into five sections, but the list of contents is in such a shorthand form that again, unless you knew the works of Wulfstan well, you’d find yourself unable to isolate any themes or patterns to the groupings of texts.
Accordingly, I’m making myself a table which will do all of these things at once. If Micrsoft Word doesn’t drive me insane in the process, I will end up with a lovely guide which should be of great use throughout the rest of the year.
Brandon suggested to me, in response to the Livejournal rant about the difficulties of making tables, that I’m not the only one frustrated by Ker and co, and that although invaluable, his methods may be getting a little out of date. Brandon has heard word of a paper given somewhere by Elaine Treharne talking about the need for a new approach to manuscript descriptions, so I guess I’m not the only one frustrated.
Which brings me to the Questions of the Day:
For the Anglo-Saxonists:
* What, if any, do you think are the weaknesses of Ker’s Catalogue?
* Which scholar do you feel presents the most easy-to-read manuscript description format?
* Can anyone give me references to (recent-ish) articles or books in which the principles of manuscript description are discussed? Has there been “scholarly debate”, as they say, about the need to update our approach?
For all and sundry:
* What do you want in a manuscript description? What makes a description easy to use? What sort of features do you look for first? What features do you want to group together or to compare? (Do you want to be able to quickly scan the the orthography section and locate common features of all the scribes? Is it important to be able to quickly compare notes concerning the wear & tear on different sections? Which of these would be MOST important to your work?)
* If you prepare descriptions for your own reference, what sort of format do you use?