The Exeter Fragments Project
Fellow: Dr. Francisco José Álvarez López, University of Exeter
Advisor: Peter Thomas, Cathedral Librarian, Exeter Cathedral
Financing: Fragmentarium and The Association for Manuscripts and Archives in Research Collections (AMARC).
Participating Institutions: Exeter Cathedral Library
The history of Exeter Cathedral Library (ECL) spans over a thousand years during which time innumerable books have passed through its shelves. Its holdings have generally been well studied, although arguably some collections have received more attention than others. One that has remained almost unexplored is the collection of medieval manuscript fragments. Apart from occasional entries in catalogues and a few scattered publications on individual items, the collection of fragments has very much remained untouched. What is more, only a limited number of attempts have been made to catalogue its fragmentary contents in full. The most useful of these were produced in the first half of the 20th century by the honorary librarian Marjorie Crighton and, occasionally, by one of her successors, Audrey Erskine. A few handwritten and typescript documents testify to their efforts in trying to take stock of the number and type of fragmentary items held in the library, as well as providing basic information about their different shapes and content. The Exeter Fragments Project aims at building on this early work by conducting a reassessment of the library’s fragmentary holdings. This collaboration with ECL will produce a much-needed list of manuscript fragments which updates their imperfect 20th-century records. Similarly, the project will bring this collection to a wide international audience of researchers, particularly in the increasingly popular field of Fragmentology, by showcasing it alongside similar items from some of the major libraries in the world. It will also enable access to members of the public with a more local interest in the history of the book, book collections and their bindings in the Exeter and Devon area. Finally, it will provide a local case study on the importance of fragmentary materials for the history of Exeter Cathedral Library and its early modern collections. A preliminary exploration of the fragments held in the library has revealed over eighty loose items (some of which were unassigned up to now) in different envelopes and portfolios as well as nearly a hundred still in-situ, that is to say, kept within the binding of their (early modern) host volumes. For practical reasons, the scope of this project will remain on the loose fragments, leaving the in-situ items for an eventual second phase. Amongst the expected results, the project will produce an updated inventory of the loose manuscript fragments held at ECL in addition to digital surrogates of each of them which will be accompanied by individual descriptions at Fragmentarium. At a later stage, it is envisaged that a printed catalogue will also be published.
Francisco Álvarez-López received his Ph.D. in Paleography from the University of Manchester, and is an Associate Lecturer in the Foreign Language Centre of the University of Exeter.