Poetry in the Medieval World

New TORCH Network approved

by Ugo Mondini

Poetry in the Medieval World is a network that explores premodern literature from a global perspective. Its aim is to address broad questions and seek answers building on contemporary discussions in comparative and world literature through a cross-disciplinary approach.

Our case study is currently poetry between c. 600 and c. 1250 CE. Poetry is a multifaceted phenomenon: it answers to different needs, travels across communities, and undergoes continuous changes. It is rooted in shared culture and knowledge; its intercultural communication or its appreciation by posterity can, at times, fail. There are recurring features: vivid images, complex words and rhythm, but also recitation music and singing. It is an expression of beauty and harmony. Even if poetry requires specialised experts to be scrutinised, yet its study should be easily approachable and crucial to the understanding of premodern literature, but also of literature as a whole. This – and way more – is the realm of poetry the Network will explore.

The Network creates an infrastructure for an open dialogue on medieval poetry with reading groups every two weeks, lectures by national and international scholars, and two annual meetings. The focus of our discussion is the production and transmission of poetry, its historical reception, and the challenges of translating it into modern languages, with a particular emphasis on English.

The Network connects people driven by scholarly curiosity. Therefore, we are extremely keen on receiving expressions of interest for collaboration from people at any phase of their career. If you are interested in this project and want to contribute to it actively, please email Ugo Mondini. The first events in Hillary 2024 will be shared in the coming weeks on the TORCH Networks website and the network’s X account (@PoetryMedieval), both of which are currently under development.


  1. Fujiwara no Yukinari (Kōzei), Excerpt from Bai Juyi’s “Autobiography of a Master of Drunken Poetry Recitation”
  2. David singing, MS BNF Par. gr. 139, f. 1v

Oxford Medieval Graduate Conference 2024 – Call for Papers

Call for papers for the 2024 Oxford Medieval Graduate Conference. Full screen-readable details are in the blog post.

The Oxford Medieval Graduate Conference is back on April 8-9, 2024 with the theme of ‘Signs and Scripts’!

We are delighted to announce this call for papers and invite proposals relating to all aspects of the broad topic ‘signs and scripts’ in the medieval world. Submissions are welcome from all disciplinary perspectives, whether historical, literary, archaeological, linguistic, interdisciplinary, or anything else. There are no limitations on geographical focus or time period, so long as the topic pertains to the medieval period.

Areas of interest may include but are not limited to:

  • Semiotics and semantics
  • Ways of (mis)reading
  • Palaeography and codicology
  • Spiritual / cosmological signs
  • Codes and conduct
  • Behavioural script
  • Dramatic script; theatre
  • Monuments; inscriptions
  • Heraldry; signboards
  • Graffiti and marginalia
  • Scripts of the body; tattoos
  • Textiles

We ask that all presenters attend in person with hybrid participation available for attendees who cannot travel to the event.

Submission Guidelines

Papers should be a maximum of 20 minutes. A limited number of bursaries are available to help with travel costs, and we welcome applications from graduate students at any university.

Please send abstracts of 250 words to oxgradconf@gmail.com by 17th December, 2023.

Oxford’s Medieval Meadow

by Jocelyn Wogan-Browne

Hinksey Meadow is first on record in a grant by Henry I to Abingdon Abbey 1102 x 1110, and it’s still there, in West Oxford in walking distance of Oxford Railway Station, one of the rarest, most species-rich meadows in Britain. But it’s threatened with destruction – by the Environment Agency.  The EA is insisting that it should build only the most destructive version of its Oxford Flood Alleviation Scheme, scooping out a  5 km channel through the Oxford green corridor from Botley to Sandford Lock, through Hinksey Meadow.

The UK has lost 97% of its meadows since World War II, including so many floodmeadows that the Thames Valley contains a quarter of those remaining. Hinksey Meadow is even rarer than that: it  is a wildflower floodplain meadow with type MG43a grassland, of which only four square miles survive in the UK as a whole.  It’s of much higher diversity than, for instance, Port Meadow.

Hinksey Meadow has survived for the best part of a thousand years because it’s part of a sustainable agricultural collaboration between humans and their environment: managed grazing fertilizes the meadow, and the meadow’s hay cut provides food for stock with no need for industrial fertilizer.  Hinksey is also an invaluable seedbank for the future of regenerative farming.  

Image1. Part of the scheme area, showing the direction floodwater takes and the location of the EA’s channel (up to 200 metres wide). Red arrow marks site of Hinksey Meadow

The channel requires

  • digging out c.400,000 cubic metres (700,000 tonnes) of soil and gravel
  • removing 3780 mature trees and 11 kms hedgerows
  • destroying habitat for many species of insects, birds and animals
  • destroying existing braided floodplain streams and wild life corridor
  • destroying iconic Oxford riverine willowlined landscapes
  • compulsory purchase of some 1000 parcels of land in and around the scheme area
  • release of sequestered carbon: grassland is second only to peat in its capacity

Hinksey Meadow cannot survive digging up and hydrological interference.

Landscape artist Elaine Kazimierczuk painted the Meadow for a charity auction to raise funds for its defence: see her at work and hear why, even on the grey windy English summer’s day the weather gave her,  she feels so passionately about the Meadow

The  EA’s channel offers

  • a small increase in alleviation to a few dozen houses and shops at massive financial and environmental cost
  • a big ticket scheme that will ultimately enable more development in and around the floodplain

And it is not needed:

  • up to 85-90% of the scheme’s protection is offered by much smaller localised flood defences such as bunds and earthworks
  • independent experts in hydrology and cost/benefits have shown that no channel works very nearly as well, without the enormous environmental destruction, and have also proposed several other alternative strategies.

Why does the EA insist on the channel?

It won’t say.  In the absence of clear reasons, we can only speculate that it decided on the channel (its characteristic response in twentieth-century flood schemes) in advance and then worked backwards to try to find mitigations. Independent experts pointed out that the EA used the wrong DEFRA metric for the area’s biodiversity in its application.  In its revised application the proper metric turned the EA’s claimed 10% increase in biodiversity into a biodiversity loss.

The EA now claims it will

  • translocate MG4a grassland. This cannot be done according to independent experts: such grassland takes hundreds of years to create.
  • create wetlands and plant saplings onsite and offsite (in unspecified locations somewhere in Oxfordshire)
  • secure environmental partners and get landowners to help with the costs of monitoring and maintenance

This leads to absolute loss of irreplaceable bio-diversity and interlocking mature eco-systems at least 30 years to wait before saplings become mature trees – if they are maintained. (For the effects  of a riverine EA scheme in 2022 see this BBC Interview)

Some of the trees that will be lost within and beside the Oxford meadows
The Willow Walk, the path by Hinksey Meadow
The EA’s proposed replacement for Willow Walk

What can be done? Objectors have secured a Public Enquiry into the scheme. The Enquiry opens 10 am on Tuesday 14 November 2023 for a month at The King’s Centre, Osney Mead, Oxford OX2 0ES (walkable from the railway station).  FIND US | The King’s Centre (kingscentre.co.uk)

You can

1. Support the Public Enquiry by joining a peaceful demonstration 10am on 14th November outside the King’s Centre entrance. Feel free to bring your own signs and banners. Please do get in contact at the email below if you would like to come on the 14th.

2. Sign the petition to Save Hinksey Meadow

3. Spread the word! And if you know people who might be able and willing to contribute to the defence of the meadow, direct them to the Go fund me page

References and more information

Any questions to Jocelyn Wogan-Browne, FMAA
SCR Associate St Edmund Hall, University of Oxford
Thomas F. X. and Theresa Mullarkey Chair in Literature (Emerita), Fordham University
olim Professor of Medieval Literature, University of York

Tolkien 50th Anniversary Seminar Series

The last three talks will be of special interest to medieval graduates working in Old English (or Old Norse): Grace Khuri (Nov. 8) will look at compound personal names starting with Ælf- (‘Elf’) that Tolkien encountered in his set texts as an undergraduate (c. 1913-1915) and how these contributed to building (what Tolkien himself later called) his ‘Elf-centric’ mythology for The Book of Lost Tales (c. 1917-1919) — the earliest version of what would later become The Silmarillion (1977), the epic, mythic-legendary prehistory of Middle-earth. The following week is Dr. Laura Varnam’s lecture on ‘Tolkien and Beowulf’ (Nov. 15), and the last lecture of the term will be given by Dr. Simon Horobin on ‘Tolkien the Philologist’ (Nov. 22).

Although there is an online booking system that now states that all these lectures are full, there have been many no-shows at these seminars and the organizers have said that anyone can come along now (without booking) and there should be room to fit everyone in. For those who cannot make it (due to teaching commitments, lectures, tutorials etc.), the talks will be recorded on a case-by-case basis (depending on the permission of each speaker). If there are any questions about this, contact Dr. Stuart Lee at stuart.lee@ell.ox.ac.uk

St John’s Digitization Project

(By Sophie Bacchus-Waterman, Special Collections Photographer, St John’s College)

As Special Collections Photographer for the Digitization Project at St John’s College, I photograph the manuscripts and early printed books from our Special Collections. Given that we have over 20,000 early printed books and over 300 manuscripts, and it would be impossible for one person to digitize them all, we have devised a shortlist of items which will be made available online during this project. These might be manuscripts with significant cultural or historic value, interesting provenance, unique texts, or items that are regularly requested by researchers. Several items have already been made available on Digital Bodleian, and more are being added regularly.

Grazer Conservation Cradle

Books being photographed are placed onto the Grazer Conservation Cradle. The cradle is set to a 120° opening angle. If a book is not able to be opened at that angle, it is supported with foam wedges. Along the side of the cradle is a vacuum bar, on which the page being photographed is placed. Each page of the book being photographed is placed onto the vacuum bar, which, when switched on, acts like a vacuum and gently pulls the page into place. Along the vacuum bar is a ruler, which allows anyone viewing the book on Digital Bodleian to see its size. The colour swatch lets me keep the lighting and colour accurate from page to page.

Vacuum bar, ruler, and colour swatch on the cradle

Images are taken with a PhaseOne camera, which is directly parallel to the page being photographed. The camera can be moved closer or further away using a control panel on the side of the cradle. If I’m working with a smaller book, for instance, the camera might need to be closer to the cradle than if I’m working with a larger book. The cradle can also be adjusted with the control panel, and moved up or down as necessary, or left and right with a small dial. As I move through a book, the cradle might need be adjusted accordingly.

Control panel and dial for adjusting the cradle

Besides photographing the internals of our books, I also photograph the externals, using a flatbed and a wall-mounted Canon camera, in the setup seen in the photograph below.

MS 164, a 14th century French manuscript with a velvet binding, on the flatbed

The book is placed on the flatbed, and I photograph its front and back covers. It is also placed on its fore edge and spine, carefully supported with small towers of foam blocks on either side, which are covered with black cloth. I also include a ruler and colour swatch in photos of the externals, for the same reason as they are included in the internal shots.

Photographing MS 61

MS 61 was always high on our priority list for items to be digitized. A 13th century bestiary made in York, richly illuminated, MS 61 is one of the jewels of our Special Collections. If you would like to read more about it, you can see its catalogue description on Medieval Manuscripts in Oxford Libraries, encoded by my colleague, Sian Witherden.

I knew that MS 61 would initially pose challenges, due to its extensive use of gold leaf. Each illumination is backed with a thick ground of gold leaf, which reflects light when photographed. Given the amount of gold on certain folios, the light reflected in such a way that the gold looked white, an effect known as “specular highlights”, as seen in the below left photograph. In order to photograph a manuscript with extensive gold leaf, the lamps in the Photography Studio must be pointed upwards, away from the cradle. The light then bounces off the ceiling and onto the gold leaf, as seen in the below right photograph.

St John’s College, MS 61, fol. 9r

Once the issue of lighting the gold leaf was resolved, MS 61 was a dream to work with. For an 800-year-old manuscript, it was incredibly easy to handle. Written on high quality vellum, it was sturdy, its pages turned easily, and its modern binding meant that it was happy to open to the 120° angle of the cradle. As with the other books I’ve worked with so far, MS 61 was placed onto the cradle – it opened easily, and was handled with the usual care I handle the Special Collections items, but it didn’t need any extra support while out.

As I moved through the manuscript, I was struck by the incredible illuminations throughout it. Even after centuries, it is in a stunning condition, almost as if it had been made yesterday. In order to accommodate the manuscript, I moved the cradle left and right, and up and down, as needed, so that it was resting comfortably on the cradle. Above everything else, the preservation of whatever book I am working with is paramount to the project. Luckily, MS 61 didn’t require any extra support, or prove difficult at all.

The social media response to MS 61 being digitized was astounding, but also hardly surprising. MS 61 is one of the most beautiful and treasured items in our collection, and a lot of people have been excited to see it online. Not only is it a privilege to work with such stunning and rare books in my role, but knowing that the Digitization Project is facilitating research and introducing people to our collection online makes it all the more rewarding.

If you would like to see more of our collection, please visit our Digital Library, where you can read more about our collection, and see what has already been made available to view online. If you would like to read more about MS 61, take a look at this Book of the Month blog post here.

Rare Jewish Languages at Oxford

Jewish languages are essential and incorporeal parts of Jewish history, creativity, culture and identity. Most of them are currently in danger of extinction while others are already dead, known only from early writing. Various research programmes stress the immense role of vernacular languages in Jewish life and culture as well as point to their fragility, yet universities offer very few learning opportunities for most of these rare Jewish languages. 

Created in August 2021 by the Oxford Centre for Hebrew & Jewish Studies (OCHJS) in collaboration with the Institut des Langues Rares (ILARA) at Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes (EPHE), Paris, the Oxford School of Rare Jewish Languages (OSRJL) offers free, online teaching of rare Jewish languages and their cultural-historical contexts—along with a public lecture seriesacademic blogVisiting Fellows programmeJewish music classes (this year focusing on the history of Yiddish music!) and language Cafés—accessible at no cost to accepted students and members of the general public around the globe. By doing so, the OSRJL aims to preserve, spark interest in, enable access to and reflect on the nature and role of Jewish languages as rich linguistic facets of Jewish life and history. It is the first school of its kind globally. 

You can read about the OSRJL’s second year, 2022–23, in our recently published Impact Report:

Already, 2023–24 is shaping up to be an exciting year for the OSRJL! We received 671 applications for language classes beginning in Michaelmas Term 2023 alone—more applications than we received in total across all 3 terms in 2021–22 and 2022–23. Clearly, interest in rare Jewish languages is on the rise, and we greatly look forward to facilitating access to and engagement with them in the coming year and beyond.

We are expanding our language offerings this year to include classes on 3 languages new to the programme—Haketia, Judeo-Hamadani and Kivruli. Doing so means we will be teaching a record 18 languages (listed below) alongside continuing our many other activities!

Languages to be taught through the OSRJL in 2023–24 include:

  • Haketia    (Dr Carlos Yebra López, University College London)
  • Baghdadi Judeo-Arabic    (Dr Assaf Bar Moshe, Freie Universität Berlin)
  • Classical Judeo-Arabic    (Friederike Schmidt, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München)
  • Judeo-French    (Dr Sandra Hajek, Georg-August-Universität Göttingen)
  • Judeo-Greek    (Dr Julia G. Krivoruchko, University of Cambridge)
  • Judeo-Hamadani    (Professor Dr Saloumeh Gholami, Goethe-Universität Frankfurt)
  • Judeo-Italian    (Dr Marilena Colasuonno, University of Naples)
  • Judeo-Moroccan    (Haviva Fenton)
  • Judeo-Neo-Aramaic    (Dr Dorota Molin, University of Oxford, University of Cambridge)
  • Judeo-Persian    (Dr Ofir Haim, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, & Maximilian Kinzler)
  • Judeo-Provençal    (Dr Peter Nahon, Université de Neuchâtel)
  • Judeo-Tat    (Professor Gilles Authier & Dr Murad Suleymanov, EPHE, Paris)
  • Judeo-Turkish    (Professor Laurent Mignon, University of Oxford)
  • Karaim    (Professor Henryk Jankowski, Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznań)
  • Kivruli    (Dr Hélène Gérardin, Institut National des Langues et Civilisations Orientales/EPHE)
  • Ladino    (Dr Carlos Yebra López, University College London)
  • Old Yiddish    (Dr Diana Matut)
  • Yiddish    (Dr Beruriah Wiegand, OCHJS, University of Oxford)

Some of the languages we teach—such as Classical Judeo-Arabic, Judeo-French, Judeo-Provençal, Judeo-Persian and Judeo-Greek—are extinct, and our teaching is therefore based, at least in part, on medieval texts and manuscripts written in these languages.

While applications for classes beginning in Michaelmas Term 2023 are now closed, applications for language classes beginning in Hilary Term 2024—including Advanced Beginners Judeo-French, Beginners Judeo-Greek, Beginners Judeo-Tat and Advanced Judeo-Turkish—will open in November 2023. To receive notifications about these and future application opportunities, as well as other activities of the OSRJL, follow the Oxford Centre for Hebrew & Jewish Studies on social media (X: @OCHJSnews, Facebook: Oxford Centre for Hebrew & Jewish Studies, LinkedIn: Oxford Centre for Hebrew & Jewish Studies and Vimeo: OCHJS) and/or sign up to its Activities Email List by emailing academic.administrator@ochjs.ac.uk. To learn more about the OSRJL programme as a whole, please visit our website or email us at osrjl@ochjs.ac.uk.

We hope to see you in one of our classes and/or at one of our events soon!

Madeleine Trivasse (OSRJL Coordinator; Academic Registrar & Publications Officer of the Oxford Centre for Hebrew & Jewish Studies)

With: Professor Judith Olszowy-Schlanger (OSRJL Founder; President of the Oxford Centre for Hebrew & Jewish Studies; Professor of Hebrew Manuscript Studies, EPHE, PSL; Fellow, Corpus Christi College)

Celeste Pan (OSRJL Administrator; DPhil Student, Faculty of Asian & Middle Eastern Studies, University of Oxford)

CMTC research talks

The Centre for Manuscript and Text Cultures (CMTC) is a research group based at The Queen’s College in the University of Oxford. We are scholars working in different fields of the humanities with a common interest in pre- and early modern texts, their materiality, transmission, and dissemination. For further information please visit our websitehttps://cmtc.queens.ox.ac.uk/. Most of our research talks are recorded and uploaded to our YouTube channel CMTC Mediahttps://www.youtube.com/channel/UCNAJFkc6gzBVgseJ_IRrpLw. If you like CMTC Media please subscribe to the channel and turn on notifications to receive regular updates on the new content available.

There are two CMTC events in Michaelmas term:

Michaelmas Term Lecture:  25 October 5.15pm  (week 3), Memorial Room, The Queen’s College

Prof. Mary Carruthers (NYU and St Hilda’s, Oxford): Understanding Solid Figures in Early Medieval Manuscripts:  how Rhetoric and Geometry interact

Work in Progress Seminar:  7 November 3.30pm (week 5), Memorial Room, The Queen’s College

Dr Anthony Ellis (University of Bern): ‘Greek’ in the Medieval Latin manuscripts of Josephus:  reconstructing the philological workings of a late antique translator
Dr Sara de Martin (Oxford): Reassessing the transmission of Strato com. fr. 1 K. A.

Archive Michaelmas 2022

(1)  “Work in Progress” colloquium
Tuesday 8th November 2022, 3,30–5,00pm UK timeMemorial Room, The Queen’s College (and Zoom)(please register through the link provided below: Zoom links will be sent by email by 9,00am UK time on the day of the talk)
Benedetta Bessi (Venice/Stanford): ‘Towards a Digital Edition of the Liber insularum by Cristoforo Buondelmonti’
Joseph Mason (New College, Oxford): ‘Oral and Written Transmission in Old French Song: a reassessment’

Please register here (whether you are planning to attend in person or online)

(2) Michaelmas Term Lecture
Wednesday 23rd November 2022, 5,15–6,45pm UK timeMemorial Room, The Queen’s College (and Zoom)(please register through the link provided below: Zoom links will be sent by email by 9,00am UK time on the day of the talk)
Nikolay Tarasenko (Kyiv/Pembroke College, Oxford): ‘What Can the “Greenfield Papyrus” (pLondon BM EA 10554) Tell Us about Its Owner?’
Please register here (whether you are planning to attend in person or online)

Middle High German Lecture Series

In Michaelmas 2023, Dr Nikolaus Ruge (Universität Trier) returned to Oxford as Visiting Lecturer in German Historical Linguistics at the Faculty of Medieval and Modern Languages and delivered an updated lecture series on Middle High German. This was mainly designed as an introductory course for students of the German Paper IV ‘Historical Linguistics’ but the recordings are available to a general audience interested in medieval languages. The first two lectures were recorded by Dr Ruge in person in the Taylor Institution Library, Room 2, lectures 3, 4, and 7 were recorded by him, lectures 5, 6 and 8 from his script on his behalf by the Oxford tutors for Paper IV. The first lecture also saw the launch of the 11th edition of the popular study guide ‘Old and Middle High German’ (utb Sept 2023).

I. Teaching Middle High German: time, space, language (panopto recording, handout), 13 Oct 2023
II. Early Middle High German (1050-1170) (panopto recording, handout), live on 20 Oct 2023
III. ‘Classical’ Middle High German (1170-1250) (panopto recording, handout) recorded on 14 Oct 2023
IV. Late Middle High German (1250-1350) (panopto recording, handout) recorded on 14 Oct 2023
V. Graphemics and Phonology (panopto recordinghandout), recorded on 9 November 2023 by William Thurlwell
VI. Morphology (panopto recordinghandout), recorded on 9 November 2023 by William Thurlwell
VII. Word formation and Lexis (panopto recordinghandout), recorded on 19 October 2023
VIII. Morphosyntax and Syntax (panopto recordinghandout), recorded on 9 November 2023 by Joshua Booth

Lectures are accessible once they are recorded via the Panopto folder Paper IV, all lectures are included in the playlist “German Historical Linguistics” https://tinyurl.com/PaperIVHistoricalLinguistics. Thanks for help with the English translation of the lectures to William Thurlwell, for technical and topical support to Henrike Lähnemann.

The textbook for this lecture course is The Oxford Guide to Middle High German. The set text for Middle High German is Helmbrecht in the edition by Karl-Heinz Göttert (2015). Oxford students can access further resources such as reading lists and essay topics via the Canvas page.

The Trouble with Prefixes

Consummatum est, inclinato capite tradidit spiritum.
‘”It is accomplished”, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.’

(Homiliae XL in euangelia, homily 37.9, Gregory the Great)

These were the last words of bishop Cassius of Narnia as recorded in Bodleian Library, MS. Laud Misc. 429. The manuscript contains Homiliae XL in euangelia by Gregory the Great (see Bodleian online). Cassius of course quoted from the Bible, Jesus’ last words according to John 19.30. The quotation appears at the end of folio 149v which also contains two scratched glosses in the upper margin, barely visible to the naked eye: ‘[…] braht’ and ‘upbraht’. At first glance, the glosses and the quote have no obvious connection. They stand on opposite sides of the folio (fig. 1) and, semantically, the two similar glosses do not seem to relate to any Latin on the page. It was only when the glosses were captured in a detailed image with the Selene scanner of the ARCHiOx project (ARCHiOx: research and development in imaging) that it was possible to learn more about their origin and meaning.

Fig. 1: Folio 149v of MS. Laud. Misc. 429 (Oxford, Bodleian Library). The position of the scratched glosses is marked in red, the quote by Cassius of Narnia is marked in green.

With the Selene scanner, a clear image of the 3D surface of the object can be created. This is particularly useful for scratched glosses, translations and comments not written with a pen but impressed into the parchment with a stylus. Scratched glosses can usually only be seen by shining a torch onto the parchment at a very shallow angle. But with the new recording system the glosses can be made visible within the context of ink glosses and the main text. Corrections in the main text also become much clearer. Suddenly a sequence of short horizontal scratches become visible, showing where the scribe erased ink with a small knife (fig. 2), apparently to adjust word endings and punctuation. Furthermore, there are longer, finer lines crossing the page that stem from preparing the parchment.

Fig. 2: 3D‑render of the scratches on folio 149v recorded with the Selene scanner. In the top margin, the lexical scratched glosses are visible. On the bottom of the picture are scratches which stem from text erasures.

In the recording, the lexical scratched glosses on folio 149v are clearly visible, except for the first letters. They read (1) ‘[…] braht’ and (2) ‘upbraht’. The words appear right next to each other but are divided by a clear gap. These are not the only lexical glosses in the manuscript. Throughout the text, there are Latin and Old High German glosses, for example the Old High German word ‘agaleizor’ in the right margin of folio 159r and the Latin ‘lapidem’, a few lines below and interlinear (see the digitised manuscript and Hofmann 1963, p. 144). As for the glosses on folio 149v, the second half of the words gives clues as to their language. ‘‑braht’ is the past participle of the Old High German verb ‘bringan’ (see AWB 1,1384), with the basic meaning ‘to bring’ (or in case of the participle, ‘brought’). The first part of the words should therefore be a prepositional prefix which modifies the basic verb. The first part of gloss (2), ‘up’, is known as a prefix – but not in Old High German. The Old High German equivalent of the word is ‘ûf’, with the ‘‑p’ undergoing the Second Consonant Shift (up > uf). That the gloss still has the ‘‑p’ shows that it must belong to a language which did not go through this sound change. To explain this mix of linguistic features, it is necessary to consider the history of the manuscript.

MS. Laud Misc. 429 was written in a German writing centre, possibly Fulda, at the beginning of the ninth century (Bischoff & Hofmann 1952, p. 58; Mairhofer 2014, p. 680). It was in Würzburg from the fifteenth century at the latest and was given to the Bodleian in 1637 (Mairhofer 2014, p. 680). However, it is not unlikely that the manuscript came to Würzburg much earlier because of the intertwined history of the two monasteries. In the eighth century, Saint Boniface and his missionaries came from England and founded several monasteries, including the Würzburg cathedral chapter and Fulda as part of its diocese (Bischoff & Hofmann 1952, p. 5). As they were closely related, the monasteries frequently exchanged manuscripts in the eighth and ninth centuries, or would order manuscripts from each other’s scriptoria (see Bischoff & Hofmann 1952, pp. 142, 168). Fulda was therefore subject to the same Anglo-Saxon influence that has been widely researched for the Würzburg monastery. Anglo-Saxon traces can be seen palaeographically and linguistically in the manuscripts created during that time (Bischoff & Hofmann 1952, pp. 5ff.; Hofmann 1963, pp. 33–4). Written long after Saint Boniface’s death, when the main impact of the Anglo-Saxon mission had already waned, MS. Laud Misc. 429 still shows signs of Anglo-Saxon script (‘Symptome dafür sind die leicht spachtelförmigen Oberlängen, die mit dreieckigem Ansatz beginnenden, tiefgespaltenen r der rcc-Ligatur.’, Bischoff & Hofmann 1952, p. 58). Ties between early medieval scriptoria of the Würzburg diocese and Anglo-Saxon writing tradition remained strong over the centuries and MS. Laud Misc. 429 is evidence for that.

Fig. 3: Close‑up of gloss (2) ‘upbraht’.

On a different note, there is another, though rather minor possibility for the origin of the scratched glosses. Apparently, there have been exchanges between the Low German and East Franconian region since the Old Saxon Heliand was written under consideration of texts which stem originally from Fulda (Schubert 2013, p. 213). Linguistically, the scratched glosses are acceptable Old Saxon forms. Old Saxon did not undergo the second consonant shift, hence the ‘up‑’, and ‘braht’ is the past participle of ‘brengian’, the Old Saxon equivalent of Old High German ‘bringan’ (Gallée 1993, §408). Even though there is no evidence of an Old Saxon verb ‘upp‑brengian’, ‘upp‑’ is known as verbal prefix (Tiefenbach 2010, p. 431). It is similar with the possible prefixes of gloss (1) which will be considered later. Arguably, these could be two Old Saxon hapax legomena (words which are only evidenced once), however, connections between the scriptorium of Fulda and Old Saxon scribes are hardly documented. On the other hand, the link to Anglo‑Saxon writing is not only supported by other manuscripts from Fulda and by the palaeographical characteristics of the script of MS. Laud Misc. 429 but also matches the linguistic evidence seen in gloss (2): ‘up’ (fig. 3) can very well be an Old English form (predecessor of modern English ‘up’) and the combination of an Old English prefix with an Old High German verb stem is a typical result of Anglo-Saxon influence in German writing centres. Since none of the ink glosses show Old English features (see Hofmann 1963, pp. 114–5) it could be that ink and scratched glosses stem from different scribes who followed different writing traditions.

Fig. 4: Close‑up of gloss (1) ‘[…] braht’. The prefix could be read as ‘hu’, but note the difference between the first letter and the penultimate letter ‘h’.

The prefix of gloss (1) is not as easy to decipher. The first letter could be an ‘h’, even though it looks quite different from the ‘h’ in the second half of the word (fig. 4). The latter has a very round curve, while the former shows a sharp bend. And neither in Old English nor Old High German is ‘hu’ a documented verbal prefix.

Fig. 5: Prefix of gloss (1) ‘[…] braht’ with the possible reading ‘zu’ in comparison with the ‘z’ in an ink gloss on fol. 159r (image was rotated to align the letters).

Another possible reading is palaeographically less clear but would make sense lexically: ‘zu’. The lines of the first letter could be a crooked ‘z’ (compare the ‘z’ of ‘agaleizor’ on folio 159r), which, to be fair, would miss some strokes (fig. 5). But an Old High German prefix ‘zu‑’ (or ‘zuo‑’) is indeed recorded in combination with ‘bringan’ (AWB 1,1405; the Old English equivalent would be ‘tó‑’, see Bosworth‑Toller online). Both readings assume that the second part of the prefix is a ‘u’. However, the curves of the letters in ‘braht‑’ are very round and those of the potential ‘u’ are not. Because scratched glosses had to be scratched into the parchment with a stylus which was not a very reliable writing instrument, letter shapes could be distorted (Glaser & Nievergelt 2009, p. 207). Differences between the letters within a gloss could therefore happen and could have a number of reasons. The gap after the prefix, for example, could mean that the scribe paused and then held the stylus differently. But it is curious that the letters of the second part are all very neatly rounded and the first ones are not.

Fig. 6: Prefix of gloss (1) ‘[…] braht’ The image on the right shows the same prefix with mark‑up that illustrates the possible reading ‘vul’, excluding the strokes that connect the letters.

A reading which would take the sharp bends of the beginning a bit more into account would be ‘vul’. Just as in gloss (2), this prefix would be Old English, the Old High German equivalent being ‘fol’. Old English ‘full’ is recorded as a verbal prefix (e.g. ‘fullbétan’, Bosworth-Toller online) and the Old High German variant even exists in combination with ‘bringan’ (‘fol(la)bringan’, AWB 3,1049). However, this reading would assume a ‘v’ with an ascender and an ‘l’ which is missing one (fig. 6). Just as ‘zu braht’, it is palaeographically odd but seems lexically sensible.

The meaning of gloss (1) can be narrowed down by semantically interpreting gloss (2). Both glosses end in ‘braht’ which suggests that they relate to each other. Double glosses are often either synonymous and were meant to provide the reader with lexical variants, or they give alternative semantic interpretations of the lemma. This could be achieved by altering the prefix of a verb. Old English ‘up’ and ‘bringan’ together can have the meaning ‘bring it to pass’, in which ‘up’ is ‘marking effectual action’ (see Bosworth-Toller online; here as an adverb related to a verb, but also recorded as a prefix). In Old High German, only one instance is known in which ‘uf’ appears together with ‘bringan’, in the Muspilli: ‘die pringent sia sar uf in himilo rihi’ (Steinmeyer 1916, p. 66; see AWB 1,1391), and here it means ‘to take (someone) up (to somewhere)’. The form ‘upbraht’ is a past participle. Assuming that the gloss copies the grammatical form of its Latin lemma to translate it in context, it could correspond to Latin consummatum from the aforementioned bible quote. The Latin would fit the possible meaning ‘bring it to pass’, or rather ‘brought to pass’. Their position in relation to each other is rather unusual as they are at opposite ends of the page – glosses are mostly in direct proximity to the word they translate. However, the word summarises the whole tale of Cassius who awaited his death for years after hearing a vision from one of his priests. His last word, ‘accomplished’, could relate not only to his death but also to the long period of waiting. Glossing it on top of the page is similar to a headline.

In this regard, gloss (1) can be expected to have a similar meaning. Of the three presented readings, ‘hu braht’ is the least fitting one. The adverb exists only in Old English and is the predecessor of modern English ‘how’. It references the quality of a verb (Bosworth-Toller online) which does not fit very well in this context. The second variant, ‘zu braht’, works better. The Old High German verb ‘zuobringan’ can have the meaning ‘to bring about’ (AWB 1,1405) – even though the according Old English prefix does not match (‘a prefix denoting separation, division’, Bosworth-Toller online). And finally, the last reading ‘vul braht’ is semantically closest to ‘upbraht’. Old High German ‘fol(la)bringan’ means ‘to finish something, to accomplish something’ (AWB 3,1049). Old English ‘ful’ is a verbal prefix which ‘denotes the fulness, completeness or perfection of the meaning of the word with which it is joined’ (Bosworth-Toller online). Judging from these interpretations, the two glosses could have been designed to give lexical variants which are broadly synonymous for the Latin lemma.

Fig. 7: Profiles of the scratches of gloss (1) on the left and gloss (2) on the right as recorded with the Selene scanner. The line in the glosses marks where the profile was measured.

Again, the ARCHiOx recording reveals more information about the motivation behind the double glosses. Measuring the depth and width of the scratches of the two glosses in the 3D-image shows that their profiles do not match (fig. 7). That means that it is very likely that they were not written in one go. Either the scribe, the writing instrument or the date of writing changed, or possibly all three at once. Whatever the reason for the changing profile was, there was most definitely an interruption between writing the two glosses. Maybe one of the glosses seemed unsufficient to a glossator to translate the lemma, maybe someone working with the text wanted to give a variant of the translation – or maybe a later reader had the same problems in identifying the first gloss as I had and decided to add a more legible translation. With the help of the ARCHiOx recordings, it is possible to gain much more information about a fascinating linguistic phenomenon. The detailed images can paint a clearer picture of how people in the Middle Ages worked with texts. In the case of MS. Laud Misc. 429, the glosses can not only be linked to a rich history of language exchange, but we now have proof that that the manuscript was the subject of work processes that are much closer to today’s way of studying than one would think.

Image credit

Fig. 1: Bodleian Library (Oxford, Bodleian Library MS. Laud Misc. 429, digital.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/objects/afcff8df-3047-4b21-8279-67f27c114424/, accessed 1 September 2023), with mark‑up by the author

Figs. 2–4: John Barrett, ARCHiOx

Fig. 5: left: John Barrett, ARCHiOx; right: Bodleian Library (Oxford, Bodleian Library MS. Laud Misc. 429, digital.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/objects/afcff8df-3047-4b21-8279-67f27c114424/, accessed 1 September 2023), rotated detail by the author

Fig. 6: John Barrett, ARCHiOx, with mark‑up by the author on the right image

Fig. 7: John Barrett, ARCHiOx


AWB = Althochdeutsches Wörterbuch. Auf Grund der von Elias v. Steinmeyer hinterlassenen Sammlungen im Auftrag der Sächsischen Akademie der Wissenschaften zu Leipzig. Bearbeitet und herausgegeben von Elisabeth Karg-Gasterstädt und Theodor Frings. Leipzig 1952-2015ff., http://awb.saw-leipzig.de/cgi/WBNetz/wbgui_py?sigle=AWB (accessed 1 September 2023).

Bischoff, B. & Hofmann, J. (1952): Libri Sancti Kyliani. Die Würzburger Schreibschule und die Dombibliothek im VIII. und IX. Jahrhundert. Würzburg: Ferdinand Schöningh.

Bodleian online = A catalogue of Western manuscripts at the Bodleian Libraries and selected Oxford colleges, medieval.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/catalog/manuscript_7230 (accessed 1 September 2023).

Bosworth-Toller online = Joseph Bosworth, An Anglo-Saxon Dictionary Online, edited by Thomas Northcote Toller, Christ Sean, and Ondřej Tichy. Prague: Faculty of Arts, Charles University, 2014. https://bosworthtoller.com (accessed 1 September 2023)

Gallée, J.H. (1993): Altsächsische Grammatik. 3rd ed. Tübingen: Niemeyer.

Glaser, E. & Nievergelt, A. (2009): ‘Griffelglossen’, in Bergmann, R. & Stricker, S.: Die althochdeutsche und altsächsische Glossographie. Ein Handbuch. Vol. 1. Berlin/New York: De Gruyter, 202–229.

Haubrichs, W. (2013): ‘Volkssprachige (theodiske) Schriftlichkeit in Fulda (8.–11. Jh.)’, in Schubert, M.: Schreiborte des deutschen Mittelalters. Skriptorien – Werke – Mäzene. Berlin/Boston: De Gruyter, 196–215.

Hofmann, J. (1963): ‘Altenglische und althochdeutsche Glossen aus Würzburg und dem weiteren angelsächsischen Missionsgebiet’, Beiträge zur Geschichte der deutschen Sprache und Literatur (Halle) 85, 27–131.

Mairhofer, D. (2014): Medieval Manuscripts from Würzburg in the Bodleian Library, Oxford: A Descriptive Catalogue. Oxford: Bodleian Library.

Steinmeyer, E. (1916): Die kleineren althochdeutschen Sprachdenkmäler. Berlin: Weidmannsche Buchhandlung.

Tiefenbach, H. (2010): Altsächsisches Handwörterbuch. Berlin/New York: De Gruyter.

Medieval Matters: Week 1

On behalf of everyone here at OMS, I’d like to wish you a huge welcome (or welcome back) to Oxford Medieval Studies! Whether you are returning from your vac, or joining us for the first time, we are thrilled to have you here. This newsletter, and the medieval booklet (attached as a reduced-sized pdf to this week’s email, or viewable in full glory online here) will serve as your guide to all things medieval happening in and around Oxford.

In 2023/24, I will be taking the opportunity to feature extracts of letters from the Epistolae project, headed by Professor Joan Ferrante and based at Columbia University. Epistolae catalogues letters to and from medieval women. This open-access work was pioneering in digital humanities, feminist scholarship and open-access dissemination. In 2022, Epistolae was preserved as a static project and is now published by Columbia University Libraries. Featuring quotations from these letters is intended not only to link Oxford’s medievalists to an exciting resource outside of Oxford, but also to provide an inspirational and aspirational model for exciting interdisciplinary, boundary-pushing, open-access and digital humanities work. The values of the project align strongly with what OMS is trying to achieve as an international and interdisciplinary community invested in digital outreach, and I hope you enjoy reading the weekly quotations as much as I have enjoyed selecting them.  To learn more about the Epistolae project, see this youtube video.

On the same note, but turning closer to home: in 2023/24 each email will be accompanied by an image from the extremely newly digitised St John’s College MS 61, which is now available thanks to hard work by Sophie Bacchus-Waterman (Special Collections Photographer) and the Bodleian Digital Library Systems and Service.

Over the past ten years, OMS has become one of the largest communities of medievalists worldwide. There is a phenomenal breadth and diversity of research taking place at Oxford, and a wide range of exciting creative practice and public engagement activities. This year at OMS, we are hoping to feature one blog post each week to highlight the range of work going on, and to draw attention to the range of work that goes on here. We have a range of exciting blog posts coming up for you in future weeks, but this week we are starting with a blog post on blogging itself! Have a look for lots of helpful tips on using blogging to share your medieval research with a broader audience.

Please see below for the week’s announcements, events, and opportunities:


  • Meet the Medievalists: Join us on Tuesday 10th October at 5pm at Wellbeloved Room, Harris Manchester College for a social start to the year! This will include an announcement for the
  • OMS Small Grants scheme MT23 which is now open! The TORCH Oxford Medieval Studies Programme invites applications for small grants to support conferences, workshops, and other forms of collaborative research activity organised by researchers at postgraduate (whether MSt or DPhil) or early-career level from across the Humanities Division at the University of Oxford. For full details, see our blog post or meet us at Meet the Medievalists to see what small grant recipients did last year!
  • New Journal: We are pleased to announce the publication of a new journal, Manuscript and Text Cultures, from the Centre for Manuscript and Text Cultures, Oxford. The Centre is an academic hub for interdisciplinary activities related to the study of pre-modern manuscript and epigraphic traditions from around the world. Issues 1 & 2 of the journal are now available. Issue 2, Navigating the Text: Textual Articulation and Division in Pre-Modern Cultures can be read online at https://mtc-journal.org
  • New Book Publication: Jane Bliss is pleased to announce the publication of Douglas Gray’s last book From Fingal’s Cave to Camelot. Jane writes: ‘After Gray’s death, I was given access to his files and, since I knew what he was working on, produced two books. The first, Make We Merry More and Less, is available from Open Book Publishers in the normal way. This one was published by me privately.’ For the pdf, please contact (jane.bliss@lmh.oxon.org). Print copies are also available: Jane will send a copy on receipt of 17 pounds plus postage (to cover the printing costs).


Monday 9th October:

  • The Medieval Latin Manuscript Reading Group meets at 1-2pm on Teams. A friendly venue to practice your Latin and palaeography on a range of texts and scripts over the year. Sign up to the mailing list to receive weekly updates and Teams invites.
  • The Medieval History Seminar meets at 5pm in the Wharton Room, All Souls College. This week’s speaker will be Andrew Jotischky (RHUL) ‘Graze, Forage, Cook: authenticity and authority in medieval monastic reform‘. The seminar will also be available via Teams: the Teams session can be accessed by logging in to Teams with your .ox.ac.uk account and joining the group “Medieval History Research Seminar” (team code rmppucs). Alternatively, it can be accessed via this link. If you have any difficulties please email: medhistsem@history.ox.ac.uk.

Tuesday 10th October:

  • The Medieval English Research Seminar will meet at 12.15 in Lecture Theatre 2. This week’s speaker will be David Wallace (University of Pennsylvania), National Epics [nationalepics.com]: The Elusive Case of England. There will be a sandwich lunch provided afterwards. All welcome!
  • The Medieval Church and Culture Seminar meets at 5pm at Wellbeloved Room, Harris Manchester College. This week is ‘Meet the Medievalists’ – a special social event, with introduction to Oxford Medieval Studies (OMS). Come for a cuppa and hear what’s in store with OMS this term. All are welcome!
  • The Medieval French Research Seminar will meet at the Maison Francaise d’Oxford on Norham Road. Drinks will be available from 5pm; presentations start at 5.15pm. This week’s speaker will be Laura Endress (Zurich) ‘Missing links or contaminated witnesses? Exploring the manuscript tradition of the Suite-Vulgate du Merlin‘. All are welcome! For more information or to be added to the seminar maillist, please contact helen.swift@st-hildas.ox.ac.uk.

Wednesday 11th October:

  • All Souls Library Open Day for Oxford Students will be held at 10-12 and 1-5pm at All Souls, Catte Street Entrance. Come and see the Library and apply to be a Reader. No food and drink, but for today only, photography is allowed! No booking needed, but you will need to bring your University Card to get in through the entrance.
  • The Medieval German Seminar meets at 11.15am, at Somerville College. In Michaelmas Term, we are going to discuss the forthcoming study edition by Christine Putzo of Konrad Fleck’s ‘Flore und Blancheflur’. We will meet in Almut Suerbaum’s office in Somerville College. Further information and reading recommendations via the teams channel; if you want to be added to that: please email Henrike Lähnemann. This week we will have a shorter organisational meeting.
  • The Medieval Latin Document Reading Group meets at 4-5pm on Teams. A document is sent out in advance but homework is not expected. Please contact Michael Stansfield (michael.stansfield@new.ox.ac.uk) for further details and the Teams link.
  • The Late Antique and Byzantine Seminar meets at 5pm at The Ioannou Centre for Classical and Byzantine Studies 66 St Giles and online via Microsoft Teams by clicking here. This week’s speaker will be Stratis Papaioannou (National Hellenic Research Foundation, Athens), ‘Portraits of the Reader during the Middle Byzantine Period’.

Thursday 12th October:

  • The Medieval Hebrew Reading Group meets at 10-11am in Catherine Lewis Lecture Theatre, Clarendon Institute, and online via Zoom. In order to attend via Zoom, please register here. This reading group is an opportunity to practice reading directly from images of medieval Hebrew manuscripts in an informal setting. All skill levels are welcome! There will be coffee, tea and cake afterwards in the Common Room of the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies for those attending in person. For further information, please email joseph.ohara@ames.ox.ac.uk.
  • The Germanic Reading Group meets at 4pm, online via Zoom. Please contact Howard Jones Howard.Jones@sbs.ox.ac.uk to request the handouts and to be added to the list. This week’s reading will be OHG Otfrid extracts (Howard Jones leading).
  • The Celtic Seminar meets at 5pm, online via Zoom. Please contact a.elias@wales.ac.uk for the link. This week’s speaker will be Martin Crampin (CAWCS), ‘Emblems of the Past: saints, stained glass and early medieval antiquitie’.
  • The Oxford Bibliographical Society meets for a lecture at 5.15pm in the Weston Library lecture theatre. This week’s speaker will be  William P. Stoneman (formerly Curator of Early Books and Manuscripts at Harvard University’s Houghton Library), ‘A Golden Collector of the Golden Age’: Charles Walker Clark (1871-1933) and his library of incunables’. The talk is hosted jointly with the Bodleian’s Centre for the Study of the Book. We will also be streaming the talk on Zoom; if you would like to get the link, do please get in touch with sarah.cusk@lincoln.ox.ac.uk.
  • The Old Occitan Literature Workshop meets at 5-6pm at St Hugh’s College, 74 Woodstock Road, Office A4. The topic of this week’s meeting will be ‘Is this… Fin’amor?’ (Jaufre Rudel (1125-48): Vida, “Lanquand li jorn son loc en mai”; Bernart de Ventadorn (1147-70): Vida, “Can vei la lauzeta mover”). To sign up, or for any other queries, email Kate Travers: katherine.travers@st-hughs.ox.ac.uk

Friday 13th October:

  • The Medieval Coffee Morning meets as usual 10:30am in the Visiting Scholars Centre of the Weston Library (instructions how to find it) with presentation of items from the special collections, coffee and the chance to see the view from the 5th floor terrace.
  • The Anglo-Norman Reading Group meets at 5-6.30pm, in the Julia Mann Room, St Hilda’s College, and Zoom. Please let us know if you would like to attend, either in person or on Zoom; reminders including the Zoom link will be sent to those who have expressed interest. To register interest, or for more information, please contact Jane Bliss jane.bliss@lmh.oxon.org and/or Stephanie stephanie.hathaway@gmail.com.


  • Codicology Workshops: 25 October, 15 November and 29 November, 1:30-3pm, Horton Seminar Room, Weston Library. This series of workshops using the Bodleian Special Collections is aimed at Oxford University postgraduate students who wish to learn more about the history of the book, with a particular focus on its construction and materiality. Sessions will cover various aspects of medieval and early modern codicology, from ink to binding, from page to provenance. The originality of this series lies in the fact that the sessions are taught by Bodleian curators, researchers and conservators, bringing together their expertise and different approaches to the book. Sessions focus on inks and pigments, writing surfaces, bindings, decoration and provenance, and are offered in Medieval Studies, History and English. For more information and to register: bookcentre@bodleian.ox.ac.uk.
  • Teaching with manuscripts. Monday 4 Dec. (week 9), Horton Room, Weston Library, 2-3.30pm. This workshop is for anyone involved in small-group teaching who is considering incorporating medieval manuscript material in their classes. We will cover the practicalities of arranging classes and selecting material and explore what works and doesn’t work in the classroom. Contact matthew.holford@bodleian.ox.ac.uk or andrew.dunning@bodleian.ox.ac.uk to register.
  • Call for Social Media Contributions: Are you passionate about medieval studies and public engagement? Would you like to share your research with a wider audience? Oxford Medieval Studies is looking for volunteers at any and all career stages to share fun medieval facts and stories or the most interesting parts of their research in one-minute video clips that will be posted across all our social media channels. Get in touch with ashley.castelino@lincoln.ox.ac.uk for more details.

It is always such a joy to welcome everyone back to Oxford, but also see new faces. Whether you have been here many years or just a few days, here is some wisdom from the Epistolae project as we start the term (and year):

quamdiu vigilatis, aut lectione aut […] aliqua utili cogitatione sive intentione sit occupatum
[as long as you are awake, keep your heart busy always and everywhere with reading or […] some useful reflection or intention]
A letter (1094) from Anselm, archbishop of Canterbury to Matilda of Wilton

I wish you all a productive and reflective term, and look forward to appearing in your inboxes every week with the latest Medievalist happenings. May you have a week filled with reading and / or useful reflection, and may your heart be ‘busy always’ during this academic year!

[A busy Medievalist always keeps their copy of the Medieval Booklet close to hand]
St John’s College MS. 61, f. 40 r. 
By permission of the President and Fellows of St John’s College, Oxford
Viewable in full at Digital Bodleian