1 November 2015

Tutorial: how to correctly reference manuscripts

I thought I might show you how to read that tangle of numbers and letters and often foreign-language words that might crop up in a book, article or blogpost that is referencing a manuscript and how to correctly generate that style of reference too. 

So, first question: Why do I need to bother to reference manuscripts correctly? Surely, if I have the image, that's enough, right? Well, frankly, no - it's not. Why? 

Firstly, you need to know when and where it was made. Images are fairly useless unless you know whether they are relevant to your research interests. Without source information, it's also impossible to relate them to other images and other sources (effigies, brasses, archaeological finds, textual information, etc.).

Secondly, you need to know the context of the images. Many manuscript images depict biblical, historical or allegorical figures. For example, one might mis-date the development of greaves in Western European armour by several decades if one didn't know that Goliath is always depicted as wearing greaves in medieval manuscripts as he is described as wearing them in the bible.

Thirdly, you might want to access the same manuscript again. Libraries and museums around the world are scanning their manuscripts and uploading high-resolution, zoomable facsimiles. So, it's entirely possible that in a year or two you may be able to access a much better quality copy of the image than you currently have ... but only if you know where to find it. Also, by using source information, you may be able to access more images from the same manuscript, which may be useful for your research.

Fourthly, other people may want to access the manuscript. Either to check your sources or to find images for themselves. Costuming and reenactment works increasingly through the goodwill of numerous people who put their research and projects online for free, to inspire and inform others. So, why not pay it forward a bit?


So, next question: How do I reference a manuscript image correctly?

Well, here's an example for you:

The Luttrell Psalter (BL Add. MS 42130, f. 147v). (Source).

You may well know that image already. It's a pretty well-known image from a pretty well-known manuscript: The Luttrell Psalter. And yes, we could just say "Luttrell Psalter" and be done with it. But, if you did that, you and anyone else who wanted to go back and have a look at the image and, say, see if they could get a higher resolution look at those arrowheads, would have to wade through over 300 double pages of manuscript, page by page, to find the image

Then, imagine if it was this manuscript and you'd just written down "Roman de la Rose". Little did you know, when trying to find it again, that there are over 300 extant copies of Le Roman de la Rose and over 130 exist as digital facsimiles. It is this sort of thing that does not a happy medievalist make (doubly so when it's your own lack of referencing that is making you tear out your own hair in frustration).

So, we need a page number. However, nobody had invented page numbers when manuscripts were transcribed. Instead, the convention is to call the pages "folios", with each folio consisting of the back and the front of a single leaf of parchment/vellum. Each folio gets a number. Those archers are on folio 147, or f. 147 for short.

Of course, one also wouldn't mind knowing which side of the leaf of parchment/vellum the image was on. That's where the little "v" and "r" comes in. They stand for "verso" and "recto". In books where the text is read left-to-right (such as most Western manuscripts), verso is the left side and recto the right. So, ours is on f. 147v - the left-hand side of folio 147.

Now we have a page number, we just have to give the manuscript its proper title. For the Luttrell Psalter, that's BL Add. MS 42130. BL stands for British Library (most official manuscript names start with the location where it's currently held). Add. stands for Additional, the British Library collection which the manuscript is grouped in. MS stands, rather understandably, for manuscript.

So, our Luttrell Psalter image is found at: Great Britain, BL Add. MS 42130, f. 147v.

One can consider it to be a sort of step-by-step address for finding the image:
  1) In the British Library in Great Britain...
  2) In the 'Additional' collection...
  3) In the manuscripts...
  4) Look for a single manuscript by its unique number, 42130...
  5) Look on the 147th folio...
  6) Look on the left-hand side of the leaf...
  7) There's your image!

Happy researching! Hope you find this useful.

(This post is cross-posted at my other blog, Medieval Manuscripts Unlocked.)

No comments:

Post a Comment