Transcription Team’s Manuscript Reflections


The class project to create a book representative of both medieval manuscripts and modern literature required a combination of innovative design, content, transcription and fabrication. The project as a whole was designed with the intention of illustrating the art, detail and feel of medieval literature as well as modern and future ideas for written language.

In order to create a melding of a medieval manuscript and a modern or futuristic book, we decided as a class to create a final product that emphasized the differences and benefits to each style. In this pursuit, the final book will include had made paper on which is written a number of Geoffrey Chaucer’s shorter poems in stylized script, and which is illuminated by hand as it would have been done in Chaucer’s time. In compliment and contrast to the handwritten poems, modern analyses of the transcribed works will be typed, printed and bound alongside the written poems. Beyond the modern ideas of typed literature, we will also be including QR codes as a link to online resources in relation to the analyses or poems.

As the transcription team, our work was heavily influenced by the decisions of each of the other groups. The Design group provided the basic layout of the book, and how the different poems would be included and differentiated from the written essays. The Editorial team gave us which essays and poems would be in the book, and consequently which poems would need to be transcribed and what QR codes would need to be created. Finally the Fabrication team provided the handmade paper for the transcription of the poems as well as the requirements of how much of the paper was useable.

Through working on the project, we found as a team that our knowledge of the medieval and modern bookmaking process was minimal, and that our work would help us to understand the effort and care invested in the creation of any written publication.


Traditional Illumination

Page illumination is frequently seen in medieval manuscripts in the form of ornate capitals to begin each passage or marginalia and small illustrations in the borders. In our manuscript project, we decided to incorporate a modern twist and had QR codes act as our decorated capital letters for the essays. In our handwritten, calligraphic writings of the poems, illuminations were added which were influenced by medieval styles of marginalia. Medieval marginalia is often highly detailed, colorful, and utilizes a repeating pattern of some sort.

The style of border marginalia used was created to suit both traditional and modern illumination of manuscripts is as similar to medieval marginalia as possible but with a cleaner and more minimal look, favoring patterned simplicity rather than extreme detail and clutter. The purpose of this was to not allow the marginalia to stand out too much and detract from the actual content of the poems. Instead, just enough decoration was added to embellish the pages in a visually pleasing and not overpowering way. Less ink was used in comparison to traditional illumination, and in some cases colored pencils were substituted for ink to avoid bleed through on the pages. Bleed through was larger issue in this case than expected because of how porous the handmade paper is, as opposed to the vellum or parchment used in medieval manuscripts.

Our Illuminations

The illumination was also influenced by the content of the poems being illuminated. For example, in Chaucer’s “The Complaint to Mars,” the red, pointed pattern was used to reflect the hard, masculine personality commonly associated with Mars. In Chaucer’s “The Complaint to Venus,” a more placid blue color was used with a whimsical and pleasant pattern to reflect the soft, feminine personality commonly associated with Venus. Traditional illumination also often used gold or silver to decorate its manuscripts. In lieu of using actual gold and silver due to limited resources, I used the color yellow often as decoration, as stars or sparkles or baubles in the margins. Also in an effort to keep style with medieval poetry and manuscripts, all illuminations were done by hand as opposed to using modern computer programs to more closely recreate illuminations.


A script style used in the transcription of the poems

After learning that the design team wanted an authentic feel for the manuscript, it was suggested that traditional calligraphy should be used. We acquired a few calligraphy brush pens from the local art supply store (Sam Flax). Mykhail had previous experience with doing calligraphy from another class, and was able to give his input and suggestions throughout the process. We were able to study the techniques used in the “Roman” and “Italic” styles of calligraphy and brush strokes. By combining the strokes from these styles along with our own natural style of writing, we were successfully able to showcase two distinctly individual calligraphy styles in the poems in the manuscript. the final piece came out to look very authentic and pleasing.

Along with the original feel of the standard calligraphic style used, we also wanted to combine the use of technology to effectively make this a Modern Manuscript, as outlined in the project guidelines and by the wishes of the design team. For the two longest poems – Former Age and A Complaint to His Lady- we decided to digitize one of our personal styles. we selected one of the individual scribe styles that we created in the other poems and uploaded each letter into the computer. From there, we were able to save it as its own font style into Microsoft Word, and replicate it in the digital format. This turned out to be a great success and it looks as though it was still written by hand, which was the effect that we were going for. This combination of old writing and new technology is what encompassed the

project as a whole and it really shines with the work that we as a transcription team were able to produce.

We didn’t really run into any problems. The paper was very thick, but lent itself well to the calligraphy pens. There were no problems with bleeding or smudging at all, the only real issue came from printing on it, which as easily solved by simply resizing the pages.

Modern Influences

Example QR code, links to eChaucer

In addition to the medieval nature of the project, the use of modern technology, and in specific the use of the internet, was something the class wanted to explore as we created the book. When given the task of preparing the manuscript pages for the fabrication team, we wanted a way to make the essays as uniquely modern as the hand written poems were antique. Based on suggestion from the design team, we decided the best way to incorporate modern technology into the book beyond the use of printed letters was to include QR codes.

The QR codes provided the means to make the project more than just a book; they gave us the ability to include the vast resources of the internet into the project. The use of QR codes is a uniquely modern idea and possibility, not only is a modern smart phone required to read the embedded code, the look of the printed codes conveys a futuristic appearance. This futuristic feel was integral to the contrast between Chaucer’s hand written poems and the analysis essays written by the class members.

Conclusion and What We Learned

At the onset of the project, we did not expect to make many decisions concerning the book. Through our work on the manuscript however we found that at almost every turn there was a decision to be made, and in the end it increased our knowledge and respect of the work that goes into the creation of a document such as this.

The diversity of skills in our group was a great help in accomplishing our tasks for the project. Lily’s abilities as an artist and her work with the illuminations gave a modern take on the traditional illuminations seen in Chaucer’s work. Mikhail’s experience with calligraphy was a great help to the team when deciding the styles to be used for the writing and the materials we needed for the transcription of the various poems.

Our team as a whole greatly benefited from this project in the area of understanding the time and effort invested in book, be they hand made in medieval style or modern printed works. Working on and investing time into the two very different types of book making also gave insight into how the process has evolved over time. We found as a group that while there are major advantages to modern printing and typing, some of the feel and meaning is lost when compared to a medieval manuscript. Our goal as a transcription team was to show the differences and similarities within the same book and even from page to page. I think we accomplished this and hopefully our project will help show the evolution of written works from beginning of the English language until now.

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  1. [...] QR codes are now embedded in Medieval manuscripts that reveal how Old English in Chaucer should sound.  Hyperlinks allow multiple editions of a text to be read simultaneously and compared.  Computer algorithms allow for the analysis of an author’s use of language to determine who wrote an anonymous work of fiction.  Data mining techniques help scholars to create word clouds and thought maps to dramatically visualize the zeitgeist of an era or show the evolution of language in graphic terms. [...]