Friday, May 9, 2008

National Libraries

Countries often see manuscripts as cultural icons and as national treasures. Books were once incredibly valuable objects, made by hand and with very expensive materials: aside from their monetary value, they carried with them a national identity. To simply possess a shelf full of books was an amazing thing. National libraries still value their medieval manuscripts, but are now trying to save them from deterioration over time and trying to make them available to the public (something very rare, and certainly impossible for their original viewers).

The National Library of Scotland
In addition to more modern manuscripts, this library contains the Murthly Hours (a devotional book of hours) and the Auchinleck Manuscript (lyrics, stories, poetry and prose) reproduced in full, with accompanying commentary, transcription.

The British Library
This library has a conservation and publication program that has made very important manuscripts available to the general public in a display setting that appeals to many. Their “Turning the Pages” program simulates actually turning the pages of a manuscript, and transcriptions, translations, and commentary are available at the click of a button. The images of these manuscripts are high-res and detailed, professional photographs.

Llyfrgell Genedlaethol Cymru (The National Library of Wales)
This library has made available numerous selections and some whole manuscripts in a number of languages, including books of Taliesin, of the Mabinogi, an edition of Chaucer, a miscellany in Middle English, and several historical chronicles. These manuscripts have their own descriptive pages that put them in a historical context.

Bibliothéque Nationale de France
France’s national library contains selections from many medieval manuscripts, including that of Jean of Berry’s book of hours and Gaston Phoebus’ Book of the Hunt, as well as Froissart’s 15th century historical chronicles, an earlier atlas, a scientific work, and a breviary.

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