Digitized Manuscript Access


This isn’t really a post… I am just frustrated.

A few weeks ago the Wales National Library, Aberystwth made the Hengwrt manuscript available online in digitized form. Of course it was pretty amazing, however, even years before being so generous with this treasure they made the digitized version of the Hengwrt accessible for a small fee via CD-Rom. And I have to say, the CD-Rom version is better in that it allows close zooming, has a comparative text of the Ellesmere, and best of all allows for searching. The online version is not very conducive to scholarship, and unless you know what you are looking for it could take quite some time to find. But still, seeing it in this new format was pretty exciting while I sat there squinting at my screen as if I had never seen the images before.

In 1995 the Ellesmere Facsimile project took place where the manuscript was unbound, most meticulously photographed, and images were produced on various mediums, after which the manuscript was rebound and placed back on display. The restoration project was highly publicized and caused quite the stir at my undergrad institution for years to come (it probably still does). It even came with a companion piece of it that I have now used as a starting point on several occasions.


However, a large part of the things I am working on now have less to do with the Hengwrt, or any well known manuscripts for that matter,  and while I cannot negate that the Hengwrt, along with the Ellesmere, are invaluable to most research of the Canterbury Tales, their importance a lot of the time relies on using the early witnesses as comparisons for the more obscure ones. Which is why access to the lesser known manuscripts is incredibly important, and it is very frustrating when it doesn’t exist. Especially when there are pictures of random pages of certain manuscripts floating around. Why not all of it?

To access some of these if you happen to attend a school that doesn’t have a medieval department (yes, such things exist) is nearly impossible, and then you are left to pretty much fend for yourself however you may. Self determination is great, but lack of resources will stump research far more quickly than laziness. Right now I am relying on what other people have said about a few of the manuscripts I need, which is useful, but some of the questions I have remain unanswered since what I am looking at, others have not done in the same way (otherwise what would be the point?).

Alright, I feel better now… And I suppose I did this to myself so I shouldn’t get too upset…

P.S. In the event anyone wants to know why I am making such a fuss, well, after having completed my Gamelyn piece, I began expanding it. So now I am looking at it not just in terms of Beowulf which I believe to be the original influence/intention for Gamelyn, but broadening the context to include the later chanson de geste tradition, and specifically looking at the Song of Roland. Which, I guess doesn’t at all explain why I am making such a fuss… short story made longer than needed, I am missing things.


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