2 min read


Pointing fingers at strange medieval things. The horror! (A red-inked manicule in 1471 copy of Speculum Vitae Humanae, by Rodrigo Sánchez de Arévalo. POP/ CC BY 2.0)

Something to watch: The History of Marginalia: medieval manuscripts

In the first episode of our three-part series on the art of marginalia, Des Cowley (Principal Librarian of History of the Book and Arts) and Anna Welch (Senior Librarian of History of the Book and Arts) introduce us to the historic practice and explore a medieval example found in the Library’s collection.

Something to read: Was medieval manuscript marginalia pure distraction?

WARNING: medieval margin art was often bawdy and included drawings of "body" parts. Often to poke fun at serious subjects. Review before sharing with your children.

Introduction: It is almost impossible to determine when it became common to use the margins of books to write comments or to make drawings or pictures, but it started without doubt long before the birth of Christ. It is easy to associate marginalia with the modern book format, the Codex, but examples of papyri with marginalia have been found, for example in the Oxyrhynchus collection.

Something to discuss: Marginalia - Poem by Billy Collins

Sometimes the notes are ferocious,
skirmishes against the author
raging along the borders of every page
in tiny black script.

Something to play: Marginalia (video game $)

Marginalia is a first-person horror game that transports you to Kestlebrook, a secluded valley where history becomes enmeshed with a strange present. Weeks ago Eric left. Days ago you got a letter telling you to come to him. Now you're here, but precisely where is here? And better yet, when? (also available on Steam)

Something for middles and teens: How I annotate Books and eBooks, School, & keeping a Literature Journal

I've officially gone over to the dark side. I've been converted. To what, you ask? I now annotate - that's write, I MARK UP - books. With pen. Yeah, you heard me right. *gasps and faints in the crowd* (Stacey's note: Khan Academy has a chapter on this topic in their medieval history course "Getting personal in the margins")

Something for littles: How to Doodle with The Doodle Boy

This is Joe a.k.a The Doodle Boy - he loves to doodle on EVERYTHING! (including the margins of books).

Something to geek out on: For Centuries, Readers Annotated Books With Tiny Drawings of Hands

In the list of rarely-used punctuation marks—amid the interrobang (‽), hedera (❧), lozenge (◊), and asterism (⁂)—the manicule is a pointedly unique symbol. Quite literally: it takes the form of a hand with an outstretched index figure, gesturing towards a particularly pertinent piece of text.

‘I am real!’ said Alice and began to cry.
‘You won’t make yourself a bit realler by crying,’ Tweedledee remarked: ‘there’s nothing to cry about.’
‘If I wasn’t real,’ Alice said—half-laughing through her tears, it all seemed so ridiculous—‘I shouldn’t be able to cry.’
illustration by John Tenniel