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Online double Masterclass ‘From Creation to Destruction: Shedding Light on the Lives of Medieval Manuscripts (c.1300 – 1550)’


“Six hundred years ago, Christians went to church, and they learned to destroy manuscripts,” opens prof. Kathryn Rudy her famous Ted Talk. Manuscripts are not merely carriers of text, but can reveal how people through history read and adapted their books to their personal needs and cultural expectations. Most students will be familiar with margin annotations left by historical readers, but Rudy takes trace-examination a step further: what can dirty fingerprints, smears of paint and crinkled pages tell us about past beliefs and interests? How can these traces be studied best? Is it possible, or even desirable to design quantitative methods of examination in manuscript studies?

In the process of reading, a lot of non-textual traces were left in books, but not only then. During the fabrication of manuscripts, artists often changed their ideas and compositions. Or due to cultural turmoil, images were adapted at a later point in time. Can we, literally, shed light on those changes? The research of prof.  Lieve Watteeuw shows that what is visible with the naked eye can be significantly extended, when manuscripts are examined with infra-red, ultra-violet, and raking light. Could this kind of information be valuable for your own research too? And can this kind of information reveal something about the cultures those manuscripts were created in?

This double online masterclass will take place on two afternoons.

On the first afternoon (18 November 2022), prof. Lieve Watteeuw (KU Leuven) will shed light on her research with the White light and Multispectral Microdome – which can illuminate manuscripts with infra-red, ultra-violet, and raking red, blue and green light – to study the hand of artists in incredible detail within manuscripts and drawings. The art technical research will be placed in context of the history of the creation and use (the material pedigree) of the medieval manuscripts.

On the second afternoon (21 November 2022), in her talk entitled “dirty digital manuscripts,” prof. Kathryn Rudy (University of St. Andrews) will reveal what the wear and tear of manuscripts can tell us about Medieval reading practices, and how these traces can be quantitatively measured with a special apparatus called the Densitometer.

On both days the online masterclasses will be followed by a Q&A session with the guest speaker. Thereafter, a group-discussion will be held about some preparatory readings, which will help students shaping their own vision on the limits and merits of using these technical approaches for their own research, which will be examined by means of a final argumentative essay (800 words).

This masterclass is organised by Tanne Bloks BA (UU).

Preparatory assignment:

Write a short (200-400 words) narrative about the most interesting/intriguing discovery you did when studying/visual interaction you had with a manuscript. Specify as accurately as possible what is known about the region of its provenance, and about its author. Also give the correct source reference. Submit the essay no later than November 7, 2022 to

In case you are interested in the masterclass, but have no experience with studying manuscripts yourself, please contact the course coordinator for an alternative preparatory assignment (via

Image: Exhibition ‘Magische miniaturen’, page with King David, collection Museum Catharijneconvent, photo Marco Sweering


Register (1/20 spaces left)

Bookings are closed for this course.