This web site is conceived as an electronic book. In 2005, when we set out on this intellectual journey, we would not have imagined that we would be writing a preface to an e-book, since we had simply envisaged our manuscript catalogue as an electronic database, with the Project's other research findings published in more traditional paper form. The fact that we are able to present a great deal of new research as an integral part of this website is a sign of rapidly changing scholarly research methodologies, technologies, output possibilities and increased impact potential. Here you will find what we have achieved to date in our Catalogue, together with some of our already-published work, and newly commissioned writings, forming a holistic and cogent book on the production and use of English manuscripts in the long post-Conquest period.
From the conception of the project to the final delivery, we aimed to identify, analyse and evaluate all manuscripts containing English written in England between 1060 and 1220; to produce an analytical corpus of material from late Anglo-Saxon England, through the Norman Conquest and into the high Middle Ages; to investigate key questions including the status of written English relative to French and Latin; and to raise awareness of agenda informing the production of so many texts in English during this important period.
Pursuing these aims has allowed us to bring to light a number of important discoveries:
- Hundreds of texts are written in English between 1060 and 1220 right across England. Their extent varies from the big homilaries to single annotations in manuscripts. A whole range of kinds of writing is done in English: laws, sermons, saints' lives, land charters, medicinal recipes, prayers;
- English is written and used with Anglo-Norman and French, showing a picture of continuity and change, a world of linguistic and cultural layers where English, Latin and French, old and new, Anglo-Saxon and Anglo-Norman are interleaved.
- We have also discovered that many of the categories traditionally used investigating manuscripts and texts are unrealistic and restrictive; for instance the terminology for describing manuscripts and scripts; the way we conceive of the manuscript page - many of the most interesting discoveries we have made have been in the margins of texts, which contradicts the common idea that marginalia is less important than what is in the centre of the page; the ways in which we casually consider scribes, their training and their work without real thought to how the scribes were trained, what scriptoria (institutional manuscript production centres) consisted of, etc..
In other words, while some of our project work is usefully synthetic, bringing together scholars and their research in one place, a great deal of it is potentially revisionary, and we can expect exciting results for years to come from our data. Because all of our data is freely available, we hope many researchers will use it to the advantage of the field.
The Cultural Contexts section offers discursive material and contextual information on the research we have undertaken. In that section we discuss the raison d'être of the project and the wider implications of the findings that have emerged from our work. The Project team have edited this e-book and, along with a team of scholars, have contributed essays on a variety of specific issues and wide-ranging topics. We are very grateful to these contributors and to every other person whose contributions have been so important to the completion of this Project.