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Manuscripts: Early Modern: Glossary of Terms: Hints & Tips

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Citing manuscripts

Bodleian shelfmarks should always be cited using the abbreviations, punctuation, and capitalisation as given in these web pages and in the Conspectus of shelf-marks in vol. I of the Summary Catalogue, and vol. I of its continuation (commonly known as 'The New Summary Catalogue').

For example,

MS. Abinger c. 55, fols. 3-5

MS. Lat. bib. f. 1, fols. 27-9

MS. Top. Oxon. a. 3 (R)

Mary Clapinson and T. D. Rogers, Summary catalogue of post-medieval western manuscripts in the Bodleian Library, Oxford : acquisitions 1916-1975 (SC 37300-55936) (3 vols., Oxford, 1991).

Signs & symbols

Readers using manuscript collections in the Bodleian may come across the following notations:

Square brackets around dates

The archivist may date an otherwise undated item based upon contextual information. The date will be written on the item in pencil (usually in the top right-hand corner) within square brackets, thus [14 May 1989]. More conjectural dates will have circa or a question mark added.

Circled foliation

Foliation is the sequential numbering of the leaves in a box, in pencil, on or near the top right-hand corner of the recto (front) of the leaf. The folio number identifies the particular leaf for the purposes of citation. For various reasons, however, the foliation may need to change (if the collection is re-catalogued, for example). Rather than erasing the original foliation sequence, the practice is to circle the old folio number in pencil. The new folio number will be written near to it in the top right-hand corner. A circled folio number is therefore defunct and should not be used when citing the manuscript, unless it is necessary to cross-reference from an older citation.

Bodleian shelfmarks

Historically, large or otherwise important collections of manuscripts acquired by the Library have retained the name of their donor or collector (e.g. Ashmole, Barlow, Canonici, etc.), while smaller purchases and donations have generally been accessioned under shelfmarks created for miscellaneous accessions (e.g. Additional (Add.), Bodley (Bodl.), Donation (Don.), etc.).

In 1887 a new system was introduced which is still in use to this day with modifications, for the majority of miscellaneous accessions. This system is based on the primary language of the manuscript (the major languages being sub-divided by type of content), further sub-divided by a letter-code from 'a' to 'g', according to size. Papyri (and other items mounted between sheets of glass) have '(P)' at the end of the shelfmark, while an '(R)' indicates that the item is a roll.

An historical introduction and conspectus of the shelfmarks in use by 1915 is printed in vol. I of the Summary Catalogue, but a number of new shelfmarks have been created since then; these are listed on the relevant web pages.

Language-based shelfmarks

In July 1887 E. W. B. Nicholson, Bodley's Librarian, introduced a new classification for miscellaneous accessions of manuscripts, which is based primarily on language. The classification, with a few subsequent modifications, is as listed below.

The largest language-groups, those of English, Latin, and Greek, were divided by subject-matter: bib(les), lett(ers), etc. In each language and subdivision there were size divisions from a-g (a=over 20" tall; b=15"-20"; c=12"-15"; d=9"-12"; e=7"-9"; f=5"-7"; g=5" or less).

The complete shelfmark consists of the classification followed by the size letter and running number, e.g. 'MS. Lat. bib. f. 1'. For rolls, '(R)' is added at the end, and for papyri, or other manuscripts framed between sheets of glass, '(P)' is added, e.g. 'MS. Lat. misc. a. 1 (R)', 'MS. Lat. class. c. 3 (P)'.

  • Basque
  • Corn. (Cornish)
  • Dutch
  • Fr. (French)
  • Eng. (English
    • bib. (bibles)
    • hist. (history)
    • lett. (letters)
    • liturg. (liturgies)
    • misc. (miscellaneous)
    • poet. (poetry)
    • th. (theology)
  • Germ. (German)
  • Gr. (Greek
    • bib. (bibles)
    • class. (classics)
    • liturg. (liturgies)
    • misc. (miscellaneous)
    • th. (theology)
  • Icel. (Icelandic)
  • Ir. (Irish)
  • Ital. (Italian
  • Lat. (Latin
    • bib. (bibles
    • class. (classics
    • hist. (history
    • liturg. (liturgies
    • misc. (miscellaneous) 
    • th. (theology
  • Mex. (Mexican)
  • Manx
  • Port. (Portuguese)
  • Russ. (Russian)
  • Span. (Spanish
  • Welsh


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