Books in medieval Europe

Before the invention of print, books were written by hand and made at the request of a reader. Because each book was unique, they can tell us about how people consumed knowledge and interacted with it.

The production of a manuscript was a long, complex and expensive process. It involved making parchment from animal skin, pricking and ruling hundreds of pages, and writing down long texts by hand, one letter at the time. When the binding was finally added, an object was born that weighed several kilos and could cost as much as a car today.

This tutorial discusses how books were used in medieval times. After a manuscript was produced it came into circulation in a monastery, became part of a private library, or ended up in the hands of a student. Readers’ interactions with books left physical traces, such as wear-and-tear, bookmarks, corrections and marginal notes. They reflect how the book was handled, what was deemed important information, and how that information was used.