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Manuscripts in Special Collections

An overview of manuscripts in Special Collections and how they're made.

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Distinctive Collections Engagement Librarian

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Jillian Sparks

What is a manuscript?

What is a manuscript? To begin to answer that question we can analyze the word itself. Derived from the Latin words "manu" (hand) and "scriptus" (written), manuscript simply means handwritten. A manuscript can take all kinds of forms from letters and diaries to books. Whatever the format, the defining feature is that the document was written by hand.

This guide will explore features and the examples of manuscript material held in Special Collections. It looks at how these manuscripts were created in order to contextualize the materiality of these objects. While we commonly default to thinking about medieval manuscripts when thinking about manuscripts, there are a wide variety of manuscripts across cultures. We are lucky to have both examples of European medieval manuscripts and 18th-20th-century Asian manuscripts in our Bodman-Lang East Asian collection.

manuscript leaf with illuminated initial student notebook 19th-century commonplace book Sumatran sutra on bark