Digital Flatness

This week Dawn and I examined the late 13th century manuscript of De Proprietatibus Rerum by Bartholomaeus Anglicus.  Our experience examining this text was rather unique because we were able to compare the physical object with a digitized version of the text.  While most of our colleagues were considering how their codices and scroll would transfer to digital, our approach was more retroactive as we considered what we thought was missing from the digitized manuscript which can be found here.

One of the first features we missed was the nineteenth-century binding.  The home page of the digital manuscript shows images of the text fanned out giving it the appearance that the manuscript does not have much white space and that is unbound (like the Fall of Princes Lydgate manuscript which is also online).

Here you can see the unique features of the binding including a blue ribbon.  In the thumbnail images of the manuscript pages an image of the covers is provided, but you cannot get a real sense feel of how thick the book is or how the pages line up.  The actual images of the pages are shown with two pages side by side remedying the initial misconception of loose leaves on the home page.  The digital flatness we perceived became more apparent after counting quires and examining the worm holes in the first few pages.  By flipping through the pages we noticed that when the manuscript was rebound the same worm holes did not line up.  The digital images do not capture this experience.  Dawn and I tried to replicate what we noticed, but as you can see it is difficult to show the depth of the holes and how they are misaligned.


Website Image                                   Our Photo (you can make out 2 holes side by side  here)

Turning the page shows the holes that are more aligned.


Again the website image is on the left and our photo on the right.  Arguably our photo is zoomed in further, but I had to zoom in beyond the largest image size provided to begin to see the holes that stand out so remarkably in person.

The manuscript is also unique in that it is heavily annotated by a proofreader’s marks.  These marks appear as check marks next to words and several lines.  Online they appear black which can lead to misinterpreting those marks as part of the original scribal hand.  They are quite obviously different in person and again Dawn and I tried to capture this discrepancy by comparing our photo with the web image.


Website image                                                  Our photo of the brown proofreader marks

These differences may be relatively minute, but they nonetheless provide a limited sensory experience compared to actually handling the book.  The virtual experience is flat and lacks the same sense of the manuscript’s depth and flaws which are not necessary in order to appreciate the content, but they are essential in order to understand the history of this particular book.

The website also does not openly let the viewer know that the manuscript is missing 13 pages–the first 9 and pages 15-18.  To find this information you have to hunt around the website for an article written by A. G. Edwards (which can be found by clicking on “Commentary,” then “history,” and finally a link to the article.  The thumbnails are also not numbered even though the manuscript is foliated (meaning it is only number on the right-hand page).

These missing features can certainly be amended by updating the digital edition from 2004, but in the meantime the manuscript itself remains the only source for a complete understanding of the history and materiality of the text.

Read on further to see the bibliographic data we recorded.

Title: [De Proprietatibus Rerum]

Author: Bartholomaeus Anglicus (Bartholomew de Glanville)

Collation: vi (paper), 11 (wants 9), 28 (wants 4), 3-612, 716, 83, iii (paper)

6 paper pages before the beginning of the manuscript and 3 paper pages at the end.  There are 2 blank pages and then the “title page” followed by the “Monitum.” Pages numbered to correspond with added index.  The manuscript is foliated meaning page numbers are only on the recto side of a leaf.

Binding: 19th century leather binding with Florentine marble fly leaf(?).


  • Worm holes of the first quire and the second quire do not line up because of the later binding.
  • Written in a scholarly gothic hand.  Perhaps late 13th century (1275?)
  • A second reader has gone through with a brownish ink and heavily marked up the lines and sometimes individual words.
  • A similar brown ink is used for the catch words on 22 verso and 70 verso.
  • The supplementary index is in a different hand which matches the foliation (page numbers).  The parchment used for the index is also thicker and better quality than the body of the text which indicates that it was probably added at a later date.
  • On the sixth front fly leaf page there are traces of an erasure.  Possibly the title and author were written down.

Provenance:  Ownership can be traced to Sir David Dundas who perhaps later bequeathed to Charles W.G. Howard upon his death in 1877.  The bookplate on the inside of the front cover includes a plate that states: Charles W. G. Howard [The Gift of The R[ight] Hon. Sir David Dundas K[night] of Ochtertyre MDCCCLXXVII]  Additional Red Moroccan Bookplate of F.B. Lorch above the other bookplate which indicates that perhaps Lorch was in possession of the manuscript before Dr. M.R. Andrew.    Andrew states in a letter that he bought the manuscript from Alan G. Thomas, c/o Westminster Bank, 300 King’s Rd., London S.W. 3.  Official Purchase Oder No. C. 60593 18. June 1974: purchased from Dr. Malcom R. Andrew, Lodge Cottage Haileybury, Hertford SG13 7NU, for the University of Victoria.

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