Thousands upon thousands of manuscripts written in Latin and other languages remain from the 12th century, when Western Europe saw an unprecedented increase in manuscript production. Of these manuscripts from the middle ages, only a small percentage have been identified, much less edited and published. To explore these fascinating texts, you need to learn the art and science of reading medieval handwriting.

This seventh module of The Book: Histories Across Space and Time introduces students to medieval paleography, the science of reading old handwriting, with a focus on the era of the 12th century. By studying a representative hand in depth, you will learn to read 12th century Transitional Gothic script and decipher the abbreviations that set the pattern of writing for the following centuries before print. We will work with selected manuscripts from Harvard’s Houghton library and enter into the cultural world of the 12th century monasteries and schools. Assessments and quizzes will allow you to track your progress as you move through letter forms and abbreviations to read whole blocks of text.

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Some knowledge of Latin is helpful for understanding the texts you will read, but students without the necessary language skills will still enjoy this chance to explore 12th century hands.

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Meet The Faculty

Beverly Mayne Kienzle

Beverly Mayne Kienzle

John H. Morison Professor of the Practice in Latin and Romance Languages Harvard University

Beverly Mayne Kienzle is the  John H. Morison Professor of the Practice in Latin and Romance Languages and Lecturer on Medieval Christianity (retired) at Harvard Divinity School.
Her courses on Christian Latin, Latin paleography,  and medieval Christianity emphasize the careful examination of primary sources and the role of texts in medieval culture. Professor Kienzle’s research covers the fields of sermon studies, heresy, and hagiography with attention to the place of preaching in the history of medieval religion, to evidence for women's preaching in monastic, lay, and dissident communities, and to violence against women in hagiographical and historical narratives. Her recent publications have focused on Hildegard of Bingen and other holy women.

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