Take Note

An exploration of note-taking in Harvard University Collections

commentary

Writers Reading, Readers Writing

How does reading gets turned into writing, itself designed (at least in theory) to be read later on? Different media imply different future uses: binding makes lab notebooks tamper-proof, while index cards allow and even invite reshuffling. Time horizons vary: student notes are often designed to be discarded after the exam (the same three-month cycle on which their printed textbooks are resold), while scholars have a lifetime to recoup their investments. According to Herbert Maxwell in 1893, "Unless the recollection of what is read is ensured by notes, reading ….

One piece at a time

St. Bonaventure

Paris, France, 1300 (ca.)

This manuscript contains St Bonaventure's commentary on the second book of the Sentences of Peter Lombard, which served as the principal textbook of theology in medieval universities after the 13th century. It is a manuscript produced for use rather than show, on parchment of average rather than high quality and in a script that shows signs of haste, including many abbreviations and minimal ornamentation. Throughout the margins are various annotations by users: e.g. adding omitted words, making corrections and expanding abbreviations.

One series of annotations (circled in red on the images) also signal how the manuscript was made: by copying it from an exemplar rented out in installments of a few pages called pecia (or pieces). On f. 10v in the middle of the outer margin the scribe has written "ii pe." and on f. 14r "iii p." indicating the start (or end?) points of the second and third instalments. On f. 214v (2 pages before the end of the text) the last such note indicates the end of the 57 piece ("lvii pe."). Copying in pieces enabled many students to copy the text simultaneously and from the same officially vetted exemplar (thus limiting the dissemination of errors that would occur from copying a copy).

Estimates made from other cases suggest that copying a manuscript of this kind proceeded at the rate of about one (two-sided) folio per day; pecia rentals typically lasted one week and involved about four folios. This manuscript is unusual in featuring different hands for some of the different sections. Pecia copying is especially well documented at the University of Paris where this manuscript was produced.

See Laura Light, "St Bonaventure, Commentary on the Second Book of Peter Lombard's Sentences (Ms Lat 265)," in Marks in the Fields. Essays on the Uses of Manuscripts, ed. Rodney Dennis with Elizabeth Falsey (Cambridge Mass: the Houghton Library, 1992), pp .151-54.

. MS Lat 265.
HOLLIS Catalog: 009405612

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