A website by the Arnamagnæan Collection

haandskrift.ku.dk / manuscript.ku.dk is an informative website about the history of the book in the medieval North. It offers an overview about key terminology, book production and types of manuscripts, and it makes a selection of manuscripts digitally accessible.

Behind the scenes

The website is an outreach activity of the Arnamagnæan Collection at the University of Copenhagen. It was financed by the Faculty of Humanities through a funding pot dedicated to research communication. Layout and style draw on the university’s corporate design. The manuscript photography was done by the Collection’s photographer, Suzanne Reitz.

Structure and content

Besides the homepage, which offers direct access to highlighted items, the website consists of seven content pages. The content pages in turn have a varying number of sub-pages, which the content page links to and which can be accessed via the left-hand navigation panel.
The page About manuscripts is meant as a general introduction. A timeline gives a selective overview of the history of the book by century keeping a special focus on the North. There is direct to the digitised manuscripts, and you can find the most important terminology in a glossary. The digitised manuscripts open in a new window when clicking on the image. The technology used is e-pages.dk, which allows you to save the manuscript as a pdf, print, display an overview of thumbnails and to zoom in using double clicking. The application runs smoothly, although pdf saving and thumbnail display can take some time with larger manuscripts. Note that the resolution of the images does not give a very nice zooming experience.
Making medieval manuscripts has three sub-pages: Materials, Writing, and Script. In the Danish version, there is a further page on Manuscript Bindings. All sub-pages explain concepts about the production of parchment manuscripts. The section on script offers examples and timeframes in which they were used in the North.
The page Types of manuscripts introduces a selection of book types that are typical of the Arnamagnæan collection. There are sub-pages on Law manuscripts, Miscellanies, Diplomas and Letters*, Palimpsests, Fragments, Historical Writing, Liturgical manuscripts*, Learned manuscripts*, and Literary manuscripts*. Note that the category “Liturgical manuscripts” does not actually contain liturgical manuscripts, but prayer books and legends. Sub-pages marked with an asterisk * have been split into two in the Danish version.
Illuminated manuscripts offers short descriptions of the production, miniatures, initials, borders and marginalia. There is also an informative box describing from which materials certain colours were made.
A sub-page on Conservation illustrates the work conducted on two examples with images of different steps. Moreover, there is also a section on the collectors that contributed to the Arnamagnæan collection: Árni Magnússon, Otto Thott, Rasmus Rask, and Konráð Gíslason.
Under Want to know more? you find links and a detailed bibliography plus a FAQ (only in the English version). Finally, there is the standard Contact page.

Design

The website adheres to the University of Copenhagen’s corporate design, which uses black, grey and blue on white background. The University is represented in the grey banners on top and bottom and a white navigation bar below the top banner, which takes you to the university’s welcome page. Navigation on haandskrift.ku.dk / manuscript.ku.dk itself is done via a traditional menu located on the left side. Apart from the center information block, there are also info boxes on the left side, which provide additional information such as images, terminology, links to other websites and so on.
The good thing about the design is that the layout is consistent throughout, and that you can easily see that the website belongs to the university. The design does not appeal to me personally. In many aspects, it seems less suited to the contents that the Arnamagnæan Collection wants to display. The text dominates in this traditional (outdated?) layout, while the size and placement of the images can sometimes look confusing. The photographs, especially of manuscript details, are therefore not able to unfold their beauty.

Commendation

The great thing about haandskrift.ku.dk / manuscript.ku.dk is the scope of information you can find there. It is a great connector to one of the most important collections of medieval manuscripts from Northern Europe and provides reliable information as well as digital access to digitisations that can be browsed conveniently. One would wish, however, that they found a digital solution that pays the beauty of the photographies justice and engages better with the visitors.

The website seems to address mostly people with little or limited previous experience with manuscripts. I can imagine it to be a good starting point for students with interest in Medieval Studies and is definitely a nice way to get in touch with the Arnamagnæan Collection’s Summer School. For the general public, it is certainly a nice way to find out more about the collection, and scholars might be particularly interested in some of the digitisations.