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Unpublished descriptions of western medieval manuscripts at Cambridge University Library

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Between 1903 and 1970, a succession of Library staff and scholars undertook the task of describing many of the western medieval manuscripts in the collection at Cambridge University Library. Initially, the intention was to supplement the information that had been made available through the publication between 1856 and 1867 of the five-volume Catalogue of manuscripts preserved in the Library of the University of Cambridge, by providing descriptions of manuscripts among the Additionals classmark sequence that had been acquired since that time. However, in 1911, Cambridge University Library’s Annual Report noted of the nineteenth-century catalogue that "although it contained much excellent work, it needs revision and correction to bring it up to the standard now expected of such catalogues". This set in motion the first of several attempts to produce fresh descriptions of the western medieval manuscripts among the Two-Letter (Dd-Oo) classmark sequence as well, and (without success) to produce a new catalogue of the whole of the Library’s collection. Only with a further four decades’ work after this was the Library’s original objective realised, with the publication in 2009 of a summary catalogue by Jayne Ringrose.

This article describes the attempts that were made successively by Charles Sayle, Montague Rhodes James, Basil Atkinson, Arthur Owen and Harold Pink - specifically the timing, methodology and extent of their work - and gives consideration to the value of these unpublished descriptions both as guides to the manuscripts as well as a broader witness to the development of the discipline of medieval manuscript cataloguing during the 20th century.



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Transactions of the Cambridge Bibliographical Society

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Cambridge University Library

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