Full Narrative




Charlemagne and the Rise and Fall of the Carolingian Empire (768-914): The Carolingian Empire under Charlemagne brought much of Western Europe together moving into the 9th century. In exacting his control over the vast expanse of territory that came to encompass the Carolingian empire, Charlemagne relied heavily on the work of loyal nobility placed throughout the empire and the power of the church (Moreland 325). With the nobility and church working to integrate and convert the peoples of the empire, the court under Charlemagne led a kind of revival of Roman thought and art that is known in modern times as the Carolingian Renaissance. Latin was the widely used language of the nobility in Charlemagne’s empire, as Charlemagne was crowned the Holy Roman Emperor in 800 which provided additional legitimacy to his rule over peoples like the Saxons and tied in Latin to the empire since it was the language of the church (Mayr-Harting 1118). In terms of the literature of the empire, the learned classes, who wrote and transcribed the works produced in the middle ages, were those who spoke Latin. Thus, much of the literature and poetry that came out of the Carolingian Empire is in Latin. Still “concerning vernacular literature, one can justifiably assert that the Carolingian Empire was seminal…In fact there seems to be enough evidence suggesting that European vernacular literature drew its first great inspiration from Carolingian literature” (Trompf 17).

Though the Carolingian empire under Charlemagne was relatively strong in terms of the unification of territory, after Charlemagne’s death in 814, his son Louis the Pious took the throne and fissures in the makeup of the Carolingian empire grew. However, it was due to the issues of his succession and his children’s inheritance that the empire underwent its great decline and divide. Louis the Pious had three sons in conflict: Charles the Bald, Lothair I, and Louis of Germany who engaged in a decades long civil war for the right to rule over certain territories within the empire. Threats of invasion coming from both directions with the Danes and the Magyars had resulted in the division of territory into the more easily defensible duchies of Franconia, Saxony, Bavaria, and Swabia (Salmon 4). Louis the German, as indicated by his moniker became king of the territory known as East Francia, which included much of the population which spoke German dialects. The continuous reconfiguration of boundaries under Louis the Pious’ rule made for a confusion of territories and identity, but still Latin unified the nobility though the Carolingian would soon end (Salmon 4).


Otto I and the Kingdom of Germany (936-1024): Though what became known as the Ottonian dynasty began with Henry I, it was his son Otto I who was also the first German king to be given additionally the title of Holy Roman Emperor. In the wake of the end of the German Carolingian line, the peoples of the territory known as East Francia, under the Carolingian empire, elected a Saxon, Henry I, who sought to bring together the Germanic tribes to create a unified Germany (Salmon 4). When Otto assumed the throne after his father’s death, he too pursued and for the most part succeeded in achieving his father’s goal to create a strong and central German kingdom. Through Otto’s leadership and his crowing as Holy Roman Emperor in 962 the church continued to have strong influence in Germany. This influence did not necessarily have a detrimental effect towards the production of vernacular literature as one might assume since the church actually took part in preserving German literature, even transcribing it in some cases, but often the preservation of these German stories took place in translations to Latin (Salmon 5). The church under the Ottonian dynasty was actually known to be comprised of accomplished poets and scholars making the literature coming out of Germany at that time from the church all the more significant (Leyser 727).


Hohenstaufen Era (1138-1254): The Hohenstaufen Era, which lasted in Germany from 1138-1254, was a time of great political instability with regards to the issue of succession and the divides between the German duchies in law and dialect. After the relatively weak leadership of the Salian dynasty in the 11th century, the Hohenstaufen line was able to earn election in 1138 with Konrad II (Salmon 40). Though Konrad’s successor Friedrich I, or Barbarossa, was relatively successful at maintaining control over the duchies, the deaths of he and his heir left a void in leadership since the heir apparent was only three years old (Salmon 41). The resulting chaos created a political climate in which warring duchies and factions struggled for power alongside the Hohenstaufen rulers. Despite the instability in leadership, the period saw an emergence in secular literature as the German courts became exposed to the tales of courtly love coming out of France and England (Salmon 42). The warring between the duchies and the tales of the Crusades also lent themselves to increased interest in the stories of knighthood and chivalry, thus the era saw an increase in the number of manuscripts produced.


The Great Famine (1315-1317): By the early 14th century the economy of Medieval Europe could have been considered somewhat stable, but with a few exceptions. According to Kershaw, the prices of livestock, dairy produce, and most other foodstuffs rose considerably from about 1305, due mostly because of the currency depreciation and the large influx of foreign silver coined into sterling (Kershaw 6). Overall, the prices for goods rose to about 25 percent higher than prior years, but by 1315 the agricultural sector of the economy hit its all time low (Kershaw 6). The harvest of spring 1315 was considered to be the most disastrous Europe had ever witnessed. Due to torrential rain throughout the summer months of 1315, there was widespread flooding, which in turn ruined many crops, hay and corn included (Kershaw 7). Also, climatic changes resulted in a long-term trend towards cooler and wetter weather as well as unpredictable and extreme weather conditions during the decade following 1315 (Kershaw 7). The instability of the economy created major problems for the people of Europe.

By the spring of 1317, it was evident that there was a suffering in all classes of society, but the lower classes were hit the hardest. There was a common scene in Europe at this time, which included animals getting slaughtered, seed grain being eaten, and infants and the younger children being abandoned (Kershaw 14). On the other side of extremities, many times the elderly voluntarily starved themselves to death so that the younger members of the family could survive. At the same time, there was also a presence of cannibalism (Kershaw, 14).

By 1325 there was a slight sense of stability once again as the food supply production returned to normalcy. The population began to rise once again and for a second there was a feeling of stability among the people. Clearly, the Great Famine not only created an unstable economy, hunger, and widespread suffering for the people; however, the Great Famine also made it clear that an even greater storm was soon to come.


The Black Death (1346-1353): The Black Death was a disastrous event in European history that affected the state of the economy, daily life, and the culture of the continent. After the Great Famine, Europe began to get back on its feet through flourishing production in agriculture and manufacturing (Benedictow 55). However, by 1347, the Black Death was described to be more fatal than the Great Famine, wreaking havoc on the population (Benedictow, 55).

Much earlier in European history, from 540-565, there was an attempt by Byzantine ruler Justinian to re-conquer the lands of the Western Empire. However, this resulted in increased isolation, with people scattered throughout large portions of land, and essentially a lack of intercommunication among villages and communities throughout Medieval Europe (Benedictow 57). By the 14th century, there was a revival in commerce and trade with merchants and buyers traveling long distances different places and regions. The need to travel from place to place allowed there to be an exchange of goods, but with that also came the exchange of culture and more importantly diseases. The people of Western Europe were more susceptible to disease since the diet, housing, and clothing of the average men and women were relatively poor, and a shortage of wood for fuel had made hot water a luxury and thus personal hygiene was not easily maintained or a priority (Benedictow 60). It was believed that the Black Death rose from somewhere in Asia since it was thought that a Mongol commander loaded a few of the plague victims onto his catapults and hurled them into the town. Some of the merchants left Kaffa for Constantinople as soon as the Mongols had departed, and they carried the plague with them. It spread from Constantinople along the trade routes, causing tremendous mortality along the way. The Black Death first penetrated into Germany in south-western Bavaria from the Austrian province of the Tyril as early as the late autumn of 1348 (Cohn 186). The way of transmission was mainly through fleas and rats. The stomachs of the fleas were infected with bacteria known as Y. Pestis. The disease appeared in three forms: “bubonic [infection of the lymph system -- 60% fatal], pneumonic [respiratory infection -- about 100% fatal], and septicaemic [infection of the blood and probably 100% fatal]” (Benedictow 257).

The plague lasted in each area only about a year, but a third of a district's population would die during that period. People tried to protect themselves by carrying little bags filled with crushed herbs and flowers over their noses, but to little effect. Those individuals infected with bubonic would experience great swellings ("bubos" in the Latin of the times) of their lymph glands and take to their beds. Those with septicaemic would die quickly, before any obvious symptoms had appeared. People with respiratory also died quickly, but not before developing evident symptoms: a sudden fever that turned the face a dark rose color, a sudden attack of sneezing, followed by coughing, coughing up blood, and death (Cohn 200).

The effects of both the Great Famine and the Black Death resulted in economic instability, a multitude of deaths, and a disturbed social structure. However, there was more to this, which in turn affected the development of a new vernacular language. The effects of the famine and the plague resulted in new attitudes toward death, the value of life, and of one's self. There was also a growth of class conflict, a loss of respect for the Church, and the emergence of a new pietism, which involved the idea of personal spirituality. The idea of personal spirituality greatly altered European attitudes toward religion (Kershaw 24). This new attitude toward the church targeted the change in language as they began to stray away from Latin instead adopting vernacular language to express their hardships. Giovanni Boccaccio's, The Decameron, from 1350, is a collection of tales describing the hardships through Black Death as told by the people themselves was a collection from the people to the people and it was written in vernacular Florentine language (Kershaw, 24).


Gutenberg Printing Press (1440 onwards):

As Europe entered the secular age, the monastery scriptoria lost their centuries long monopoly on manuscript production. The establishment of universities allowed literature and language to be more accessible and therefore increased the demand for books by the populous. However, most books were still in the form of illuminated manuscripts on parchment or vellum. The preparation process for the parchment or vellum as well as the scribing and illuminating system of creating each manuscript were time-consuming, costly and limited in numbers, making manuscripts only affordable to wealthy people (Hargrave 222, 224).

Around 1440, Johann Gutenberg and Johann Fust, two goldsmiths worked together and invented the Gutenberg Printing Press (Gray). Gutenberg’s press is a mechanical movable type letterpress that allows the printer to set metal types once and print unlimited copies of a text (Hargrave 226). Although, printing with movable type was invented centuries ago in China, this system of printing proved much more efficient used for languages with a limited alphabet (Hargrave 225). This invention revolutionized book production because books no longer need to be handwritten and proofread one at a time. In conjunction with the introduction of papermaking into Europe, which reduces the materials cost, the Gutenberg press significantly decreased book production cost and increased production volume, making books widely available and affordable to the general public. The access to books gave rise to a larger literate community throughout Europe and the more educated people there are, the more texts they demand market (Hargrave 226). This cycle caused a large increase in vernacular texts and works in languages other than Latin (Howard 413).


Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation (1517 onwards):

After printing became more readily available in the early 1500s, the Catholic Church was able to produce and “sell” more Indulgences, or pardons, to people, who commonly believed that these pieces of paper would wash them free of their sins (Tingle 182).

Martin Luther, who grew up a devoted monk in a monastery in Erfurt in Saxony of the Augustinian Eremites, was ordained priest in 1507 (Mullett 46). He became increasingly concerned about the fact that sinners were not actively doing good deeds to wash away their sins but passively believing that God would forgive them if they simply bought pardons (Mullet 47). This prompted him to write the “Ninety-five Theses” in 1517 to criticize the long tradition of Indulgences in the Catholic Church. This publication later became the beginning of the Protestant Reformation (Tingle 181).

The Protestant Reformation divided the population into those who wished to read and interpret God’s teachings and those who were afraid to read themselves. The increasing number of enthusiasts who were unafraid encouraged the creation of new vernacular texts (Newman 95). In 1522, Luther published the vernacular New Testament in Wittenberg. This lead to a significant increase in the number of German texts compared to Latin texts due to the increasing number of Protestant people (Newman 96). In general, the number of manuscripts were decreasing due the increasing popularity of printing.The spike in manuscripts in 1550 is similar to the spike in 1450; it is likely because undated manuscripts from around that time period are all assumed to be from 1550.


Annotated Bibliography



Buettner, Brigitte. “Profane Illuminations, Secular Illusions: Manuscripts in Late Medieval Courtly Society”. Art Bulletin 74. (1992): 75-90. Web. 6 Nov. 2015.
In this article, Brigitte Buettner writes about the importance of miniatures in relation to the text in medieval manuscripts among the upper-class French society and also about the shift from religious to secular illuminations. She argues that the illuminations made manuscripts valuable and ownership of illuminated manuscripts reflected social status. Those in power had the influence to choose the context of miniatures, and thus miniatures became an economic, mnemonic, aesthetic, and taxonomic function. Although our research does not explicitly involve miniatures, this article can help illuminate trends in manuscripts regarding language and genre and how historical events influenced the content of the manuscripts. For example, it would be interesting to see if there were any significant changes in the number of miniatures found in the manuscripts before and after the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation or the Protestant Reformation.

Biemans, Jos. "Some Thoughts on the Cataloguing of Medieval Manuscripts." Quaerendo (2003): 12-29. Web. 6 Nov. 2015.
This article by Biemans discusses the differences between online and offline manuscript databases, arguing that online databases are "object oriented," and focus on information about the manuscript, while offline databases are "manuscript oriented," meaning they emphasize the actual book, rather than its informational value. While contextual, the paper illuminates the importance of the medium of the Schoenberg Database. Biemans highlights why digital humanities is digital–without its focus on details and metadata, theses like ours, and the trends we're looking for, would be very difficult to reconcile.

Cohn, Samuel K Jr. “The Black Death: End of a Paradigm.” The American Historical Review, Oxford University Press (2002): 703-738. Web. 6 Nov. 2015.
This resource is an academic article that brings two arguments revolving the Black Death plague, one being that the Black Death was a unique plague, unlike that of other plagues such as the rat-based bubonic plague, and secondly, that its results varied from the different countries it hit in the form of different diseases.This is an important resource because it explains an important event in late Medieval history, but in a way that it fights for its validity in facts, while also explaining its impact across Germany, and other important surrounding countries. Specifically to our research project, this article is important because we know that the Black Death plague hit Germany around 1348 which can allow us to identify the effects it had in its society and culture and therefore, what happened to the existence and creations of the manuscripts around this time. For example, we see that there was a clash between the doctors and the philosophers at this time because the doctors decided to rely on current practice, rather than old philosopher wisdom. This is an important feature to our research because it reflects the people’s beliefs in regards to what they thought was more logical to face the problems in their current lives with, and essentially, their uninterest of following an invisible belief.

De Hamel, Christopher et al. The Medieval Book: Glosses from Friends & Colleagues of Christopher De Hamel. ’t Goy-Houten: Hes & De Graaf, 2010. Print.
The Medieval Book is a collection of essays published in honor of Christopher de Hamel who was a renowned librarian at Corpus Cristi College in Cambridge. Christopher de Hamel had a commanding knowledge of medieval manuscripts and was said to have described more of them than any other living person. The book is broken up into three sections: Books, The Book Trade, and Collectors & Collecting. This is a fitting book to our project research because it provides particular examples of manuscripts and how scholars make use of them to analyze and illuminate ideologies within English culture at the time. It also provides historical information about actions and manuscript trade including the collectors and their practice. All this information is relevant to our project because it helps us understand the world of manuscript by knowing about their value, trade mechanics, and collection methods. It provides context and meaning explaining why Lawrence Schoenberg would choose to document them and provide them to scholars around the world.

Haraszti, Zoltan. “Medieval Manuscripts”. The Catholic Historical Review 14.2 (1928): 237-247. Web. 6 Nov. 2015.
In this article, Zoltan Haraszti introduces the study of medieval manuscripts, such as its history, the physical attributes of the manuscripts, and the contents and style of the writings. Haraszti illuminates the significance and fascinations of medieval manuscripts, while differentiating between the types of material and ink used for creation. He argues that public libraries should be supplied with some of the manuscripts for they can be of great educational value to the public. This article can be supplemented to our dataset for it can help clarify and explain the ontology of our dataset. It can also guide us in discovering trends seen in our manuscripts and understand its significance within historical context.

Hargrave, Jocelyn. "Disruptive Technological History: Papermaking to Digital Printing." Journal of Scholarly Publishing 44.3 (2013): 221-36. Web. 6 Nov. 2015.
Hargrave’s article is a discussion about how disruptive technologies like papermaking and printing presses built upon or replaced its predecessors, while analyzing the political and social motivations and catalysts to such innovations. The article provides key context to understanding the changes brought about by paper and printing. It contributes to our research question by elucidating important trends and date ranges that may have contributed to the fluctuation in the number of produced manuscripts and books.

"Illumination, In Art." Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6Th Edition (2015): 1-2. Academic Search Complete. Web. 6 Nov. 2015.
This Encyclopedia article introduces the history of illuminations in manuscripts, including historiated and decorated initials, from the earliest illuminations on Egyptian rolls to the 16th century. This is important because it describes the key characteristics of illuminations in different time periods due to political and religious influences. This adds to our research because it shows the connection of the style of illuminations, which is represented in our database as historiated initials and decorated initials, and the period of time it belongs to. It is interesting to see that large religious books, such as the bible, only had decorated initials in the 12th century, but smaller books in the 14th century have much more elaborate initials.

Jones, William Jervis. "Regional Variation In Fifteenth-Century German Lexis: Some New Perspectives." Modern Language Review 86.1 (1991): 89-108. Academic Search Complete. Web. 6 Nov. 2015.
This resource is a chapter in the Modern Language Review that talks about the standardization of the German lexis in the 15th century, which is influenced by various vernacular traditions, and the development of the German language. Jones went into great detail how they observed the process of unifying the language by examining texts, such as early Bible translations, from different regions in multiple ways. This applies to our research because changes in the German language are reflected in manuscript traditions. It might be interesting for us to observe the relationship between the unification of the German language in the 15th century with the number of manuscripts that is in German or Latin.

"Manuscript." Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6Th Edition (2015): 1. Academic Search Complete. Web. 6 Nov. 2015.
This Encyclopedia article describes what a manuscript is and covers a brief history of manuscripts. It defines the manuscript to be a “handwritten work”. It also gives an overview of the presence of manuscripts from the Hellenistic world until the Renaissance. This is important because our research is focused on various aspects of manuscripts so we need to first have some basic understanding of the subject.

McKendrick, Scot. "Illuminating The Renaissance." History Today 53.12 (2003): 2-3. Academic Search Complete. Web. 6 Nov. 2015.
This academic article talks about the final yet grand flourishing of illuminations in manuscripts before the introduction of printing. McKendrick’s article is important because he zooms in on the Renaissance when illuminations are highly complex yet entirely secular. This is interesting to our research because, although we are not studying illuminations directly, this reflects the impact religion and society have on the content of manuscripts, which is suggested by the sellers in our dataset, and the detail of illuminations, which is reflected by the decorated and historiated initial in our dataset.

Newman, Jane O. "The Word Made Print: Luther's 1522 New Testament in an Age of Mechanical Reproduction." Representations (1985): 95-133. Web. 6 Nov. 2015.
Newman's essay examines the initial skepticism of Europe towards printed religious texts, because they were made outside of church walls, and were translated into vernacular languages. This resource provides further religious and political context surrounding the dilution and spread of power and literacy within Christian communities. Newman explains the same events and trends that our data will analyze, while providing intriguing cultural tidbits to strengthen our understanding of the corresponding backlash.

Salmon, Paul. Literature in Medieval Germany. New York: Barnes and Noble Inc., 1967. Print.
Paul Salmon's Literature in Medieval Germany does just as the title suggests and offers a look into the literature of medieval Germany, focusing on the significant texts that came out of that time period. Though Salmon tends to focus more on the early medieval period, the book covers the period spanning from 800-1500 which includes Old High German, Middle High German Minnesang, Epics and Romances, and the Mystics. Salmon’s text is important since it offers an in depth look at a carefully selected survey of the significant German or even Latin works of literature that came out of Germany during the medieval period. For the purposes of our project the text works well because it was written as a guide for students rather than scholars which makes it more accessible to students like us who know very little about the given subject matter. The text also takes a look at language and the significance of translations, providing insight into the history of the German language which can help to offer context in our analysis of the use of German versus Latin in manuscripts coming out of Germany. The source also offers the history of non-secular literature in Germany and the historical significance of that rise.

Sullivan, Richard E. “The Carolingian Age: Reflections on Its Place in the History of the Middle Ages.” Medieval Academy of America (1989): 267-306. Web. 6 Nov. 2015.
This resource is an academic article whose purpose is to show different point of views on the assumptions that the Carolingian age had on the early Middle Ages, which included Germany. This resource is important because it pushes this event from a level of understanding its happenings, to a level of greater importance on a larger historical context. This academic article is essential to our research because it gives us a vision of the important roles within the church that allowed for the preservation of their history. For example, Sullivan brings up the point that Carolingian religious historians were able to identify, through their own research, that that there was a high interest in the developments affecting the Christian societies as a common way and also, and interest toward the unification of such extensive community. Such information is important to use for our study of German manuscripts because it gives us clues to the formation and importance of some of the Book of Hours in our dataset.

Volckart, Oliver. “The Economics of Feuding in Late Medieval Germany.” Department of Economic History, London School of Economics and Political Science (2004): 282–299. Web. 6 Nov. 2015.
This resource is an academic article that aims to show the customs and economics of resolving social problems within different populations during Medieval Germany. This is an important article because it illuminates a part of sociocultural life within smaller towns that perhaps are isolated by bigger historical studies. This article is particularly important to our research study because it allows us to understand a part of the culture and customs during Medieval Germany. Specifically, through this article, we come to learn of the importance of utilizing the practice of exchanges and tradings to resolve issues. This allows us to visualize trading and exchanging as one of the main sources of acquiring objects that resembled a part of German history, one of which can be the manuscripts we are studying. This understanding will be useful when we begin mapping and including a historical background to the occurrences that we visualize on the maps we create.

Zeydel, Edwin H. “The Medieval Latin Literature of Germany as German Literature”. PMLA 80.1 (1965): 24-30. Web. 6 Nov. 2015.
This article by Edwin H. Zeydel discusses the authors and their works in medieval literature that were written in Medieval Latin found in what used to be Germany before current political boundaries were established. Zeydel argues that the medieval Latin literature of Germany should be included in the general study of German literature because of its prevalence during the Middle Ages and its reflection of the German cultural sphere. They were not only written within the boundaries of Germany, but they also reflect the growing progress in German literature and the intellectual atmosphere between the tenth and thirteenth centuries. In relation to our research question, this article can give us background information regarding the languages used in some of the German literature and other works, which can aid in the understanding of German manuscript culture during the Middle Ages. It can also illuminate the shift from medieval Latin to vernacular in the manuscripts originating from Germany.

Additional Sources



Benedictow, Ole J. The Black Death: The Greatest Catastrophe Ever. History Today: V. 55 I 3, 2005. Web

Gray, Paul. "Johann Gutenberg." Time 154.27 (1999): 158. Academic Search Complete. Web.

Howard, Nicole. "Gutenberg And The Impact Of Printing." Technology & Culture 47.2 (2006): 412-414. Academic Search Complete. Web.

Kershaw, Ian. The Great Famine and AgrarianCrisis in England 1315-1322. Past and Present Journal, 1973. Web.

Leyser, Karl. “Ottonian Government”. The English Historical Review 96.381 (1981): 721–753. Web.

Mayr-Harting, Henry. “Charlemagne, the Saxons, and the Imperial Coronation of 800”. The English Historical Review111.444 (1996): 1113–1133. Web.

Moreland, John, and Robert Van de Noort. “Integration and Social Reproduction in the Carolingian Empire”. World Archaeology 23.3 (1992): 320–334.

Mullett, Michael. "Martin Luther's Ninety-Five Theses." History Review 46 (2003): 46-51. Academic Search Complete. Web. Trompf, G. W. “The Concept of the Carolingian Renaissance”. Journal of the History of Ideas 34.1 (1973): 3–26. Web.

Tingle, Elizabeth. "Indulgences In The Catholic Reformation." Reformation & Renaissance Review: Journal Of The Society For Reformation Studies 16.2 (2014): 181-204. Academic Search Complete. Web.