Medieval Manuscript Production in the Latin West

Explorations with a Global Database


This study presents detailed information on the book production per century and on the uses of medieval manuscripts in eleven areas of the Latin West. Based on a sample from an extensive library and on additional information the numbers of manuscripts surviving from the period 500 – 1500 have been assessed statistically. Other data have been used to quantify the loss rates of such books in the Latin West. Combining both sets of data allowed the estimation of the medieval production rates of manuscripts. Book production during the Middle Ages can be seen as a century-average indicator of local economic output. With a number of explanatory variables (monasteries, universities) the medieval book production in the Latin West can be adequately explained.
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Biographical Note

Eltjo Buringh, Ph.D (1980, Wageningen University and 2009, Utrecht University) has worked in academia, industry and for the Dutch government, and now is a post-doc at the Research Group Economic History, Utrecht University. He published ten books in various fields.

Review Quote

Astonishing results...[Buringh's] excellent glossary and use of verbal and pictorial illustrations instead of formulae are a model of clarity and transparency for the humanists whose jargon and theory may be impenetrable to counters and comparers like Buringh...This book deserves a wide audience. Steven Epstein, Speculum, vol. 87, no. 1, (2012), pp. 188-190. ...ungeahnten werden Entwicklungslinien sichtbar, die zwar notwendigerweise mit grobem Strich gezeichnet sind, aber dennoch Erkenntnisse zur Produktion mittelaltlicher Bücher vermitteln, die auf einem soliden statistischen Fundament zu ruhen scheinen. Jurgen Geiss, IFB A monumental achievement...the creation and manipulation of the manuscript database allows Buringh to illustrate and explain a long-term change in one of the factors of the medieval economy that can be measured with some degree of certainty.The inventive and methodologically sound use of sampling and statistical analysis allows for clear patterns of change and development to emerge. It is to be hoped that this database will be built upon and that an expansion and refinement of the information it can produce will provide historians with further insights into this important reflector of cultural and economic development. Steven Biddlecombe, Economic History Review, vol. 65, no. 1, (2012), pp. 377-378.

Table of contents

Acknowledgements List of Figures and Tables List of Symbols, Acronyms and Abbreviations 1. Introduction 2. Methodological Approach 2.1. Manuscripts 2.2. Database 2.3. Validations of the Database 2.4. Shelf Marks 2.5. Categories of Uses 2.6. Loss Rates 2.7. Extrapolations and Calibrations 2.8. Similarity Quantification 2.9. Inferences 2.10. Historical Data in the Latin West 2.11. Discussion and Conclusions 3. Global Distributions of Manuscripts 3.1. Total Manuscript Numbers 3.2. Distributions of Manuscripts in the Database 3.3. Global Uses 3.4. Shifts in Regional Uses of Manuscripts 3.5. Discussion and Conclusions 4. Losses of Medieval Manuscripts 4.1. Loss Rates 4.2. Loss Rates in England 4.3. Loss Rates in the Rest of the World 4.4. Survival of Manuscripts in the Latin West 4.5. Discussion and Conclusions on Losses of Manuscript 5. Production of Medieval Manuscripts in the Latin West 5.1. Calculation of Production Rates 5.2. Comparison of Estimates 5.3. On Uncertainties in the Production Estimates 5.4. Further Discussions and Conclusions 6. Historical Support for the Production Estimates in the Latin West 6.1. ‘Early-Christian equilibrium’ (Sixth to Seventh Century) 6.2. ‘Early-Medieval Stability’ (Ninth to Tenth Century) 6.3. ‘From Uniformity to Differentiation’ (Twelfth to Thirteenth Century) 6.4. ‘Fragmentation of Uses’ (Fourteenth to Fifteenth Century) 6.5. Further Discussions and Conclusions 7. Medieval Manuscripts as a Yardstick 7.1. Other Medieval Output Indicators 7.2. Variables related to Manuscript Production 7.3. Monastic Output of Manuscripts 7.4. Lay Output of Manuscripts 7.5. Overall Discussion and Conclusions Annexes Glossary Bibliography Index


All those interested in economical history and the history of the book.