Inks and Pigments

As we near the end of term, our final Omeka catalogue entries are looming and the final pieces of our manuscripts are slowly being put together (figuratively of course). With this in mind, I came to the realization that my manuscript really has no provenance or origin that jumps up from the page in the form of a watermark or colophon. It was then brought to my attention in class that I will have to look at the ink and colours used in my manuscript – an incredibly taunting task to be performed, considering I am lacking in the history of pigments and inks. It was this that sparked the idea of this blog post; what do all these beautiful ink colours mean on these manuscripts and how did they come about.

I will not go into great detail over how the ink and pigments were made (as we have already learned about that), however as a quick recap: black ink was made from oak galls, and coloured inks were generally made from mineral pigments (red ochre, umber, yellow ochre).[1] Black ink made up the whole of the writing, with red ink (for which lead is the basis) for the rubric headings, though sometimes they appear in blue or green.[2] It is also noted that coloured inks were not only used for decorative purposes, but could be used to indicate a hierarchy of importance, such as saints’ names or feast days in a calendar.[3]

Upon further inspection of my manuscript throughout the semester, it is evident that it includes a lot of colour due to the miniature paintings that are located on the sides of each psalm. Along the edges of the text, and in the beginning initial of certain words, there is a metallic gold colour. The gold colour in most manuscripts is in fact not done with liquid pigment, it is actually made with “immensely thin sheets of beaten out metallic gold known as gold leaf”.[4] It was a tedious process that involved a brush that was used to apply gesso (plaster compound) so that the surface area of the page would be slightly raised, and then when dry it was smoothed and the gold leaf was applied with glue and sugar, to make it more adhesive.[5] Due to the skill, and money, needed to add gold leaf to manuscripts, it was usually something important that was being created, or someone with wealth (institution or patron) was commissioning such a piece to be made. Though, while my manuscript features lots of gold, there does not appear to be any raised surfaces where the gold is, which could indicate an older medieval manuscript if the gold initials were only painted on with a liquid gold suspension.[6]

While it is a difficult task to try to find out where my manuscript came from, doing further research definitely helps in trying to recognize certain aspects of medieval manuscripts that were done in certain periods. So, if you are ever stumped with trying to pin point the origin or provenance of your manuscript, look no further than the ink, pigments and style of writing!

Here are some further readings that offer way more detail into pigments and inks:



[1] Douma, Michael, curator. “Medieval Age (500-1400),” para. 2, Pigments Through the Ages, 2008,

[2] Tillotson, Dianne, “Inks and Colourings (2),” para. 3, Medieval Writing, 2011,

[3] Tillotson, Inks and Colourings (2), para 5.

[4] Tillotson, Inks and Colourings (2), para 11.

[5] Tillotson, Inks and Colourings (2), para 11.

[6] Tillotson, Inks and Colourings (2), para 14.

Preparing for the Final Omeka Entry

With the end of the term quickly approaching it is clear by the energy in class last Monday that everyone is feeling a little overwhelmed. This is a feeling that I am not impartial to. When I first read our Omeka assignments I began to worry about how I was going to finish my lengthy research papers for my other classes in addition to this large project. However, when you look at it more closely, the majority of the work required for this project has been completed, or at least partially completed, in the weekly exercises and in class workshops. If it was not completed, Marc has given us the tools to be able to complete it much easier than we would have been able to do on our own.

I am lucky and have been able to keep up with the weekly assignments and homework but I understand that is not a reality all the time. I have compiled a list of things that I plan to do this coming week in preparation for my catalogue entry and thought that I would share it as a blogpost in case anyone was looking for a starting point.

#1 – Go through the weekly plans on our class website here:

While this does not give you all of the answers you will need in regards to your particular manuscript, it helped me to compile a list of important topics to cover. These topics include writing supports, paleography, abbreviations, codicology, and others. Making this list also helped to refresh my memory on some of our class discussions and reminded me of some important details that should be included in my catalogue entry.

#2 -Consult your in class notes

In this class I opted to hand write my notes and did not end up typing them out afterwards (something I always convince myself I will do every semester, yet never gets done). Every time we would discuss a topic relevant to my manuscript I would write it down in my notebook. This left me with a lot of very useful notes and ideas that I would lose completely if I do not go through my notes.

#3 – Consult in class handouts

A number of times during this semester Marc handed out some very useful reference materials in class that can be very useful to help your catalogue entry. Like handwritten class notes, the important information on these handouts is lost if you do not take the time to go over them again.

#4 – Skim over your textbook/readings one more time

We were assigned these readings because they are helpful and relevant to the topics required for our cataloguing. Skimming over them again may allow you to discover little details you forgot but can be added to your entry.

#5 – Browse various cataloguing databases

It is sometimes useful to view other databases to compare handwriting, or search for clues on your manuscripts provenience. In addition to these, catalogue entries found in databases can help to give you a clearer idea on what to include in your own work.

I hope some of this has been helpful! See you all in class.

Week 9: Codicology

Hello everyone and welcome to week nine with me, your host. Paige Bryenton. Codicology is the study of the physical manuscript and is apart of that process. When going over the material for this week, I did not realize how many different aspects go into the physical manuscript depending on its use. When looking over the readings for this week, Introduction to Manuscript Studies and Quick Guide to Liturgical Manuscripts, I found chapter 12 on manuscript genres in Clemens the most relevant to our course since most of us are dealing with liturgical texts and calendars. It is a good resource for more in-depth information on the the physical manuscript and what type of topics were written down. The Quick Guide to Liturgical Manuscripts is a useful tool in understanding more finer differences between different types of texts and is a great companion to Clemens.

The document


Some questions I would like to bring up is:

  1. When comparing the distinct letter forms discussed in the readings, which one was closest to letter forms we use today?
  2. a) What manuscript genre does yours fall under? b)What was its use? c) Is it a common document?
  3. Were the authentication methods used for charters effective?


What the %!@* are emojis?!

Automatically, when you read that title I am sure you filled in %!@* with your own thoughts, but what I really meant was “heck”. It is interesting to see how we have programmed our brains into reading symbols.

What the heck are emojis, and how do they fit into this medieval history class? Well, in the next 400 words or so,  I hope to bring some insight into this thought.

For me, transcribing my manuscript was extremely difficult. What I found even more frustrating was that we have endless resources online that could have assisted me (such as Latin abbreviations, alphabets and even guides on how manuscripts were written). Even with this resources, I was at a loss because I was not even sure what I was searching for. This got me thinking about emojis, and the language that we use every day. Are we documenting the meanings that we transcribe to emojis, and is that information even important enough for someone to consider documenting?

Let’s play a game. Take a look at these emojis and in the comments, leave your guesses to what movies you think that have been described in these emoji scenes. For us, this might be easy (or not). Imagine, however, in a hundred years (or longer), someone else trying to transcribe the meaning of the emojis. We have given emojis new meanings (the peach, and eggplant are just two examples of emojis that have new innuendos – not in this image, but in the context of texting now).

For example, the first one is the movie “Sex and the City” Image from:

This is important to consider because our use of language reveals how our society reflects language. I would argue that we do not value language as much as those in medieval times did (or so I think that they did). We tend to skip words, ignore punctuation and add in images as often as we can. We limit ourselves to 240 characters or an Instagram caption. I do not think that we master linguists (honestly, I have no idea if linguists is a word and I think that proves my point), have decided that we can get our point across in as few words as possible, but rather I think we have become – lazy.

Emojis, can do the work for us. Just as abbreviations did the work for the monks who transcribed manuscript on manuscript. I think, their abbreviations were justified as they were probably sore from writing for hours as a day, versus us, taking one minutes (probably less) to send out a tweet.  It is important for us to examine how we use language in relation to how medieval manuscript transcribers used language. When we make parallels in our work, we will soon begin to understand their work better. I do not think that we are going to be finding any emojis in manuscripts any time soon, however, perhaps the emoji is the modern abbreviation (even more advanced than lol or rofl).

For your enjoyment, I have included a few emoji idioms to see if we can decipher what they say… Now we know how students in 3018 will feel deciphering our texts (if we live past clime change of course).

First one, “Hot Potato” Image from:

A ‘Not-so-New’ Practice

I used to believe that certain practices from the past were lost to current society as time moved on. For example, how often do you find a piece of paper today that has been made by hand? It came as a startling eye-opener then when I learned that the practice of shortening words to write quicker was not as new as I initially thought. Avid texters and tweeters should be made aware of the fact that, though the actual abbreviations change throughout history, part of the reasoning for this habit remains the same.

Prior to the ‘lols’ and ‘btw’ that currently dominate text messages, medieval scribes possibly used abbreviations to lessen the amount of time it took them to transcribe. Does this sound familiar to anyone? When you look at a manuscript with abbreviations there can be various dashes and amalgamations of letters (for example xpi and di) that represent condensed words. Also, as a student I often use punctuation to shorten words in my class notes (n. often stands in for the word ‘north’) because it means I can keep up with the professor. This is not an original idea or practice because Adriano Capelli notes this exact form of abbreviation in his dictionary on medieval abbreviations. With the realization that abbreviations are part of our history, ’lols’ and ‘omgs’ then signify the present generation’s role in the story of human communication.

For anyone investigating medieval abbreviations, they know that it can be a frustrating process. The urge to scream ‘what does this mean’ or ‘why would you write that’ indicates that what was once common knowledge to these scribes has disappeared over time. It is interesting to make a comparison between a modern historian studying medieval abbreviations and one who, centuries from now, investigates twenty-first century abbreviations. No doubt this scholar will experience a similar frustration considering how rapidly our abbreviations change. Furthermore, the understanding that ‘lol’ does not necessarily mean someone literally ‘laughed out loud’ is important contextual information future academics might not possess. This comparison demonstrates the importance of the context that lies in every abbreviation. I know that ‘g2g’ stands for ‘got to go’ because I grew up with this knowledge, just as a scribe might have known that ‘xpi’ represents ‘Christi’ because he transcribed it multiple times. Additionally, future historians will have a difficult time decoding our abbreviations due to the emotional meaning often lurking in our text messages. While sometimes I lament the task of decoding a medieval manuscript I certainly do not envy historians who examine twenty-first century abbreviation.

Abbreviations did not magically appear alongside the growth in texting. This is a practice with strong historical roots, evident in the presence of abbreviations in medieval manuscripts. Even students today who try to transcribe their professor’s lecture employ a technique these monks used, suggesting that the technique lingers as well. Next time I hear someone complain that texting words like ‘ppl’ (people) and ‘pls’ (please) signals the downfall of written language I hope this person is ready for an impromptu history lesson.