Event uncovers the secrets of the West Midlands’ most fascinating medieval manuscript

9 May 2012

The Vernon Manuscript is a unique lavishly decorated and illustrated book of religious poems and stories written in the dialect of the West Midlands. Produced around 1400AD, this treasure-hoard’ of English literature is an important piece of Midlands history. Now academics from the University of Birmingham are showing off a new digital version of the manuscript for the first time at a free event in Birmingham.

The event, at The Studio, Cannon Street, Birmingham, on 15 May 2012, 6 – 8 pm, will see researchers give people the first opportunity to observe how the volume would have been written and illustrated, and to hear readings from a text that first delighted Midlanders 600 years ago.

The Vernon Manuscript is currently being carefully conserved at the Bodleian Library in Oxford. The manuscript contains over 370 Middle English texts. It offers an incomparable resource for students of literature, art, culture, and language, yet has rarely been seen before by non-academics.

At the event, Patricia Lovett will demonstrate the secrets of illumination and scribal writing to show how the manuscript was created, TV historian Michael Wood will discuss the significance of the manuscript as a piece of Midlands heritage, and Black Country poet Brendan Hawthorne will read aloud from the text. Lead academic on the project Wendy Scase will describe the findings of her research on the manuscript volume and the epic challenge of digitising it.

Professor Wendy Scase explains: “The Vernon manuscript is a unique document and fascinating piece of local history. It is written in the West Midlands dialect, giving us a peek into the way our accents and dialects have developed. It is also an extraordinary book containing hundreds of handwritten poems and stories all lavishly decorated and embellished with gold.Today the Midlands dialect is rarely written in books but the people who commissioned the Vernon Manuscript spared no expense in having their favourite texts copied in the English of the region. This book forces us to re-think the story of English and of regional dialects.

It has been a fascinating and painstaking project to create a digital version of the manuscript and we are extremely excited that Midlanders will be able to access and enjoy this text for the first time in 600 years”

It is thanks to the work of University of Birmingham researchers and the Vernon Manuscript Project that the entire manuscript is now available digitally in an innovative and accessible format. The DVD-Rom contains a full facsimile with images of each page of the manuscript, visible at high magnification, and a complete ’live’ transcription of the text with hyperlinks allows for powerful global searches across the entire text.

Professor Scase adds: “We know the book is from the West Midlands because of the dialect used within it. Certain spellings in the book such as ‘mon’ for ‘man’ show how someone with a Black Country accent would still pronounce the word today.

Hearing readings from the book will help show how our language and pronunciation have evolved since medieval times. When the manuscript was compiled most people were illiterate so hearing the manuscript read aloud captures the way the stories would have been enjoyed in medieval times.

Although the digital manuscript is an important step in making this text available to researchers and the public, we hope it will pave the way for the manuscript itself to return to the region for exhibition in the future.”

To register for a free ticket for this unique event please visit www.birmingham.ac.uk/vernonmanuscript

 
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