CULTIVATE MSS - Cultural values and the International trade in Medieval European Manuscripts 1900-1945

Project Summary

This project is hosted by: Institute of English Studies

Research interests:
Literatures in a modern language, Medieval History, Modern History
Africa, Africa, Asia, Asia, England, England, Europe, Europe, Ireland, Ireland, Scotland, Scotland, United Kingdom, United Kingdom, Wales, Wales
Project period:
01-May-2019 - 30-Apr-2024
Project categories:
Research project
Project summary:

The trade in medieval manuscripts

Trade in medieval manuscripts boomed during the period 1900-1945. This era also saw states in Europe and north America formulate ideas about their origins and culture, rooted in concepts of the Middle Ages. Recent technological advances allow quantitative analyses of provenance data and detailed investigation into the movement of manuscripts. The EU-funded CULTIVATE MSS project is undertaking qualitative analysis of the values projected onto books to assess the impact of trade in manuscripts on the development of ideas about European culture. It uses a multidisciplinary method to examine the roles of collectors, scholars and dealers in the creation of collections and compare the impact of the trade on academic studies in the English-speaking world, France and Germany.


CULTIVATE MSS aims to assess the significance of the trade in medieval manuscripts for the development of ideas about the nature and value of European culture in the early 20th century, a crucial period for the development of modern European nation states. Although recent technological developments have facilitated quantitative analyses of provenance data, charting in increasing detail the early-20th-century movement of manuscripts, including an exodus of works to America, qualitative analyses have failed to keep pace, leaving questions of how and why particular books were valued underexplored. The PI’s role in the development of the Schoenberg Database of Manuscripts, which has begun to make available historic data about books, has revealed the need for a reassessment of the relationship between collecting and scholarship, and the potential for existing data about the manuscript trade to be used, with unpublished archival sources, to identify and compare the economic and philosophical values projected onto books. Thus the project uses the PI’s expertise to develop a multi-disciplinary approach to assess the roles of collectors, scholars and dealers in the formation of collections of medieval manuscripts, and the impact of this on scholarship, comparing the English-speaking world, France and Germany. It will analyse published and unpublished accounts of manuscripts, together with price data, to reconstruct values projected onto books. It will seek to contextualise these values within the history of the early 20th century, assessing the impact of two world wars and other political and economic shifts on the trade in books and attitudes to manuscripts as objects of national significance. The Middle Ages are often identified with the emergence of European cultural identities, thus a reappraisal of the historiography of the study of medieval manuscripts has the potential to impact research about attitudes to European culture and identity in a wide range of disciplines.

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Management Details

Lead researcher & project contact:

Name Position Institute Organisation Contact
Dr Laura Cleaver Senior Lecturer in Manuscript Studies Institute of English Studies School of Advanced Study, University of London



Funder Grant type Award
European Research Council Starting Grant £1,565,410.10


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