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Medieval & Renaissance Manuscripts

Lombard Gradual. Northern Italy, mid-fifteenth century.

Medieval books were among the Cornell Library’s earliest acquisitions. The University’s first president, Andrew Dickson White, and his librarian, George Lincoln Burr, personally selected many of the manuscripts now at Cornell on frequent buying trips to Europe during the latter half of the 19th century.

White’s interest in Medieval and Renaissance manuscripts was shaped by his teaching experience, and a belief that instruction in history depended heavily on the use of original sources. He bought manuscripts for their instructional value, and his collection contains illustrative examples of most periods and styles. By 1900, White had amassed a collection of more than one hundred medieval manuscripts, many of them illuminated. Today, Cornell Library holds more than 150 Medieval and Renaissance manuscripts, ranging from a 9th century coptic fragment, to 16th and 17th century heraldic texts and royal charters. These manuscript books continue to provide students with a working laboratory of original sources, both at Cornell and beyond.

Cornell’s Medieval manuscripts are housed in the Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections and may be consulted in the Reading Room on the 2B Level of the Carl A. Kroch Library. The following sources provide information on Cornell’s Medieval and Renaissance manuscripts.

Related Online Resources

  • Cornell Library Catalog
    The Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections has added many records for its Medieval manuscripts to the online catalog. To find Cornell’s Medieval book records, search by author, title, or keyword, and set limits to the “bound manuscript” format.
  • A descriptive catalog compiled by Professor Robert G. Calkins (1972), revised (2003). (PDF – 4.3mb)
    Full descriptive information for 54 of Cornell’s illuminated manuscripts is available in the online version of Medieval and Renaissance Illuminated Manuscripts in the Cornell Library.
  • Although the Library has continued to add Medieval books to the collections since the publication of De Ricci’s census, the majority of Cornell’s manuscripts are represented here:
    • Ricci, Seymour de. Census of Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts in the United States and Canada. 3 vols. New York: H. W. Wilson, 1935-40.
    • ——. Supplement. Originiated by C.U. Faye, continued and edited by W.H. Bond, New York: Bibliographical Society of America, 1962.
  • Descriptions of many of Cornell’s Medieval books are included in the Web exhibition,¬†From Manuscript to Print: The Evolution of the Medieval Book.
  • The Reference Division of Cornell’s Olin Library has produced¬†Medieval Studies: A guide to library research at Cornell.
  • Petrach at 700, an exhibition of books and manuscripts from the collections of Cornell University Library and the University of Pennsylvania Library.