From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
A manuscript or handwrit is any document that is written by hand, as opposed to being printed or reproduced in some other way, like printing. Before the invention of moveable type in a printing press (in Europe), all written documents had to be both produced and reproduced by hand.
It is a recording of information that has been manually created by someone or some people, such as a hand-written letter, as opposed to being printed or reproduced some other way. The term may also be used for information that is hand-recorded in other ways than writing, for example inscriptions that are chiselled upon a hard material or scratched (the original meaning of graffiti) as with a knife point in plaster or with a stylus on a waxed tablet, (the way Romans made notes), or are in cuneiform writing, impressed with a pointed stylus in a flat tablet of unbaked clay. The word manuscript derives from the Medieval Latin manuscriptum, a word first recorded in 1594 as a latinisation of earlier Germanic words used in the Middle Ages: compare Middle High German hantschrift (c. 1450), Old Norse handrit (bef. 1300), Old English handgewrit (bef. 1150), all meaning "manuscript", literally, "written by hand".
In publishing and academic contexts, a "manuscript" is the text submitted to the publisher or printer in preparation for publication, usually as a typescript prepared on a typewriter, or today, a printout from a PC, prepared in manuscript format.
Manuscripts are not defined by their contents, which may combine writing with mathematical calculations, maps, explanatory figures or illustrations. Manuscripts may be in the form of scrolls or in book form, or codex format. Illuminated manuscripts are enriched with pictures, border decorations, elaborately engrossed initial letters or full-page illustrations.
The traditional abbreviations are MS for manuscript and MSS for manuscripts. The second s is not simply the plural; by an old convention, it doubles the last letter of the abbreviation to express the plural, just as pp. means "pages".
Before the invention of woodblock printing in China or by moveable type in a printing press in Europe, all written documents had to be both produced and reproduced by hand. Historically, manuscripts were produced in form of scrolls (volumen in Latin) or books (codex, plural codices). Manuscripts were produced on vellum and other parchments, on papyrus, and on paper. In Russia birch bark documents as old as from the 11th century have survived. In India the Palm leaf manuscript, with a distinctive long rectangular shape, was used from ancient times until the 19th century. Paper spread from China via the Islamic world to Europe by the 14th century, and by the late 15th century had largely replaced parchment for many purposes.
When Greek or Latin works were published, numerous professional copies were made simultaneously by scribes in a scriptorium, each making a single copy from an original that was declaimed aloud.
The oldest written manuscripts have been preserved by the perfect dryness of their Middle Eastern resting places, whether placed within sarcophagi in Egyptian tombs, or reused as mummy-wrappings, discarded in the middens of Oxyrhynchus or secreted for safe-keeping in jars and buried (Nag Hammadi library) or stored in dry caves (Dead Sea scrolls). Manuscripts in Tocharian languages, written on palm leaves, survived in desert burials in the Tarim Basin of Central Asia. Volcanic ash preserved some of the Greek library of the Villa of the Papyri in Herculaneum.
Ironically, the manuscripts that were being most carefully preserved in the libraries of Antiquity are virtually all lost. Papyrus has a life of at most a century or two in relatively moist Italian or Greek conditions; only those works copied onto parchment, usually after the general conversion to Christianity, have survived, and by no means all of those.
Originally, all books were in manuscript form. In China, and later other parts of East Asia, Woodblock printing was used for books from about the seventh century. The earliest dated example is the Diamond Sutra of 868. In the Islamic world and the West, all books were in manuscript until the introduction of movable type printing in about 1450. Manuscript copying of books continued for a least a century, as printing remained expensive. Private or government documents remained hand-written until the invention of the typewriter in the late nineteenth century. Because of the likelihood of errors being introduced each time a manuscript was copied, the filiation of different version of the same text is a fundamental part of the study and criticism of all texts that have been transmitted in manuscript.
In Southeast Asia, in the first millennium, documents of sufficiently great importance were inscribed on soft metallic sheets such as copperplate, softened by refiner's fire and inscribed with a metal stylus. In the Philippines, for example, as early as 900, specimen documents were not inscribed by stylus, but were punched much like the style of today's dot-matrix printers. This type of document was rare compared to the usual leaves and bamboo staves that were inscribed. However, neither the leaves nor paper were as durable as the metal document in the hot, humid climate. In Burma, the kammavaca, buddhist manuscripts, were inscribed on brass, copper or ivory sheets, and even on discarded monk robes folded and lacquered. In Italy some important Etruscan texts were similarly inscribed on thin gold plates: similar sheets have been discovered in Bulgaria. Technically, these are all inscriptions rather than manuscripts.
The study of the writing, or "hand" in surviving manuscripts is termed palaeography. In the Western world, from the classical period through the early centuries of the Christian era, manuscripts were written without spaces between the words (scriptio continua), which makes them especially hard for the untrained to read. Extant copies of these early manuscripts written in Greek or Latin and usually dating from the 4th century to the 8th century, are classified according to their use of either all upper case or all lower case letters. Hebrew manuscripts, such as the Dead Sea scrolls make no such differentiation. Manuscripts using all upper case letters are called majuscule, those using all lower case are called minuscule. Usually, the majuscule scripts such as uncial are written with much more care. The scribe lifted his pen between each stroke, producing an unmistakable effect of regularity and formality. On the other hand, while minuscule scripts can be written with pen-lift, they may also be cursive, that is, use little or no pen-lift.
- Ancient literature
- Medieval literature
- Manuscript culture
- Oldest surviving manuscript of Latin poetry
- Miniature (illuminated manuscript)
- Music manuscript
- Printing press
- Voynich manuscript
- Woodblock printing