A Manuscript Miscellany is a collaborative production of the college teacher-participants in a 2005 NEH summer humanities institute. “The Handwritten Worlds of Early Modern England“ sought to compare the states of scholarship and consolidate research on the role of manuscripts in a variety of discourses for a variety of audiences in a period extending from the late middle ages into the eighteenth century.
Our goal was to look more closely at the surviving manuscript materials (such as those that fill a rare-book library like the Folger) to write a more nuanced history of the period. We examined literary, domestic, epistolary, devotional, dramatic, legal, and business documents and texts with an expert visiting faculty. We surveyed the state of manuscript studies in these genres, and we asked repeatedly, how do we re-envision the period that saw the rise of the printing press when we take into account the role of handwritten works?
We hope you enjoy and learn from a sample of our work. Our postings include an introduction by Steven W. May, the institute's director and a complete syllabus. We also gather individual commentaries and class assignments by our program participants, each featuring some selections from the Folger's collections (many complete with transcriptions). Each commentary challenges received wisdom, such as the assumption that manuscripts are drafts, moving always towards a final, fixed product in print, for instance. Collectively, they provide exciting new materials for undergraduate teaching and scholarly research. Among other topics, our commentaries investigate the intimations of privacy, immediacy, and authenticity that adhere to that which is written by hand; they ask what professional and social spaces are occupied by those engaged in the production, transmission, and reception of manuscripts, and how those variables change over time and within discourses. They provide new light on such topics as authorship and literacy in a time (not so unlike our own) of multiple and overlapping mediums of expression.