L. & A. Birkenmajer Institute for the History of Science, PASc

Institute of Art, PASc

Institute of Literary Research, PASc

Wrocław University Library


A guide to medieval manuscript books in Polish collections


Extant manuscripts

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Manuscripts lost

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Gathering Information on Lost and Missing Manuscripts

Studies of old books constitute an important part of research on the intellectual culture of former times. But, it is not only registering, describing, and investigating extant materials that matters; collecting information concerning destroyed and missing texts is also of utmost importance, sometimes more essential than working on existing sources. Putting together data on historical book collections allows for a renewed look at such processes as transmission of texts, their keeping and propagation, changes in functioning of individual manuscripts, not to mention that it may shed light on intellectual customs of book owners, or even on the cultural habits of whole social groups.

Assessing the scale of historical collections is difficult. Some scholars are convinced that the number of lost codices exceeds the number of extant ones even by many tens of times. However, it is impossible to check such assessments not only because the books themselves are no more – indirect sources, which would provide information on lost collections, are also lacking. Thus, in order to achieve results, it is crucial to come up with a possibly widest research questionnaire, a study that would encompass all available information on lost manuscript books.

Manuscript books did not function in a void. Texts came into being and were transmitted in specific milieus, were part of collections that belonged to private persons and institutions. Hence, the gathering of information concerning books in fact comes down to gathering information on book collections and their owners. When the codices themselves can no longer be reached, the retrogressive method should be applied, with the current state of preservation of books as point of departure. The results obtained must be confronted with data from earlier lists or catalogues, dating from times before the collection was destroyed or dispersed. Such procedure is possible only in cases when: (1.) an existing collection is analysed; (2.) an appropriately detailed description of the researched library is available, dating from days before part of the collection was destroyed. However, such instances are rare. In the majority of cases in Poland, we are dealing with collections that no longer exist. Moreover, the indirect sources – booklists and catalogues – were either destroyed or dispersed too.

Consequently, the goals of such registering of lost manuscripts within the current project can be defined as follows:

  1. Putting together a list of institutional and private Polish book collections (existing and historical), which encompassed medieval manuscripts;
  2. Compiling a census of lost manuscripts, and gathering all available data concerning their content.

With time, and in combination with the other branches of the Manuscripta.pl Project – the registering of manuscript books extant in Polish collections and in repositories outside the country, this should allow for coming up with an ideal catalogue of books functioning in medieval Poland.

The following research stages are foreseen within the Manuscripts Lost Project:

  1. Registration of book collections, which functioned on territories defined above since the Middle Ages (time of existence; state of research – book lists, inventories; characteristic features of books – provenance marks, bindings etc.);
  2. Analysis of book lists and inventories; isolation of medieval manuscripts
  3. Registration and describing of the selected manuscripts (identification of authors and texts, copyists, former owners).

Consequently, the materials are presented on the website – if dealing with institutional book collections – in accord with their geographical location, or by alphabetical order of the names of owners – in case of private collections. No longer existent book collections are marked by an asterisk. Within a single entry, the history of the book collection is summarized and inventories as well as individual manuscripts are listed. When the fate of the characterized manuscript is known, its description follows its last location. All available information on a given manuscript is registered, notwithstanding its private or institutional belonging. Hence, nearly all data come from indirect sources. If the sources themselves are quoted, italic type is used, while all interpretation is introduced in square brackets.

Jerzy Kaliszuk

Basic literature:

  • CHWALEWIK, Edward, Zbiory polskie. Archiwa, biblioteki, gabinety, galerie i muzea i inne zbiory pamiątek przeszłości w ojczyźnie i na obczyźnie w porządku alfabetycznym według miejscowości ułożone, Vol. 1-2, Warsaw, 1926-1927.
  • LELEWEL, Joachim, Bibljograficznych ksiąg dwoje…, Vol. 1-2, Vilnius, 1823-1826.
  • PASZKIEWICZ, Urszula, Cathalogus cathalogorum. Inwentarze i katalogi bibliotek z ziem wschodnich Rzeczypospolitej od XVI wieku do 1939 roku. Spis scalony, poprawiony i uzupełniony, Vol. 1-2, Warsaw, 2015.
  • RADZISZEWSKI, Franciszek, Wiadomość historyczno-statystyczna o znakomitszych bibliotekach i archiwach publicznych i prywatnych, tak niegdyś byłych jako i obecnie istniejących w krajach dawną Polskę składających, a mianowicie: w Królestwie Polskim, Galicyi, W. Ks. Poznańskiem i Zachodnich guberniach Państwa Rossyjskiego porządkiem abecadłowym miejsc ułożona, Cracow, 1875.
  • SIDOROWICZ-MULAK, Dorota; FRANCZYK-CEGŁA, Agnieszka (eds.), Książka dawna i jej właściciele, (Early Printed Books and Their Owners), Vol. 1-2, Wrocław, 2017.