manuscript, a handwritten work as distinguished from printing. The oldest manuscripts, those found in Egyptian tombs, were written on papyrus; the earliest dates from c.3500 B.C. parchment, which succeeded papyrus as a writing material, was much more durable; most extant ancient manuscripts are of parchment. Both sides were used and palimpsests, which were erased and reused pages, were common. The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in the mid-20th cent. added immeasurably to the world's treasury of ancient manuscripts. In the ancient world the making and distribution of extra copies of manuscripts was widely practiced. There is some evidence of such treatment of manuscripts in Athens in the 5th cent. B.C., and the great libraries of the Hellenistic world encouraged the making of manuscript copies. The manuscripts of the Middle Ages were often beautifully illustrated in colors (see illumination, in art) on vellum, a fine variety of parchment. Initial letters of first lines and titles were often highly decorated. Although paper was invented in China in the 2d cent. A.D., it was not known in Europe until the 11th cent. Paper bases included silk, cotton, and linen, all used before the advent of printing. Medieval pens were made of quills and ink, most commonly black, of various carbon-containing substances. The study of ancient and medieval manuscripts and handwriting is a highly developed and complex discipline (see paleography). After the European invention of printing in the 15th cent., hand-copied manuscripts soon came to be valued by collectors of fine books. Among the important manuscript collections in the United States are those in the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.; and in the New York Public Library and Morgan Library in New York City. There are numerous superb European collections, notably those at the Vatican in Rome, the British Museum in London, and the Chester Beatty Library in Dublin. Also known as manuscripts are modern authors' typescripts (or computer printouts) made for publishers and printers. The term includes as well the private and public papers, typed or handwritten, left by public figures for the use of historians and scholars. The Library of Congress holds a very large deposit of manuscripts of this type, including the papers of most U.S. Presidents. Other important collections of this sort are in the New York Public Library and the Massachusetts Historical Society. See book.

See L. Deuel, Testaments of Time (1965); G. S. Hunter, An Introduction to Archives and Manuscripts (1990).

A manuscript is any document that is written by hand, as opposed to being printed or reproduced in some other way. The term may also be used for information that is hand-recorded in other ways than writing, for example inscriptions that are chiselled upon a hard material or scratched (the original meaning of graffiti) as with a knife point in plaster or with a stylus on a waxed tablet, (the way Romans made notes), or are in cuneiform writing, impressed with a pointed stylus in a flat tablet of unbaked clay. The word manuscript is derived from the Latin manu scriptus, literally "written by hand."

In publishing and academic contexts, a "manuscript" is the text submitted to the publisher or printer in preparation for publication, usually as a typescript prepared on a typewriter, or today, a printout from a PC, prepared in manuscript format.

Originally, all books were in manuscript form. In China, and later other parts of East Asia, Woodblock printing was used for books from about the seventh century. The earliest dated example is the Diamond Sutra of 868. In the Islamic world and the West, all books were in manuscript until the introduction of movable type printing in about 1450. Manuscript copying of books continued for a least a century, as printing remained expensive. Private or government documents remained hand-written until the invention of the typewriter in the late nineteenth century. Because of the likelihood of errors being introduced each time a manuscript was copied, the filiation of different version of the same text is a fundamental part of the study and criticism of all texts that have been transmitted in manuscript.

In Southeast Asia, in the first millennium, documents of sufficiently great importance were inscribed on soft metallic sheets such as copperplate, softened by refiner's fire and inscribed with a metal stylus. In the Philippines, for example, as early as 900, specimen documents were not inscribed by stylus, but were punched much like the style of today's dot-matrix printers. This type of document was rare compared to the usual leaves and bamboo staves that were inscribed. However, neither the leaves nor paper were as durable as the metal document in the hot, humid climate. In Burma, the kammavaca, buddhist manuscripts, were inscribed on brass, copper or ivory sheets, and even on discarded monk robes folded and lacquered. In Italy some important Etruscan texts were similarly inscribed on thin gold plates: similar sheets have been discovered in Bulgaria. Technically, these are all inscriptions rather than manuscripts.

Manuscripts are not defined by their contents, which may combine writing with mathematical calculations, maps, explanatory figures or illustrations. Manuscripts may be in the form of scrolls or in book form, or codex format. Illuminated manuscripts are enriched with pictures, border decorations, elaborately engrossed initial letters or full-page illustrations.

Manuscripts in history

The traditional abbreviations are MS for manuscript and MSS for manuscripts. The second s is not simply the plural; by an old convention, it doubles the last letter of the abbreviation to express the plural, just as pp. means "pages".

Before the invention of woodblock printing in China or by moveable type in a printing press in Europe, all written documents had to be both produced and reproduced by hand. Historically, manuscripts were produced in form of scrolls (volumen in Latin) or books (codex, plural codices). Manuscripts were produced on vellum and other parchments, on papyrus, and on paper. In Russia birch bark documents as old as from the 11th century have survived. In India the Palm leaf manuscript, with a distinctive long rectangular shape, was used from ancient times until the 19th century. Paper spread from China via the Islamic world to Europe by the 14th century, and by the late 15th century had largely replaced parchment for many purposes.

When Greek or Latin works were published, numerous professional copies were made simultaneously by scribes in a scriptorium, each making a single copy from an original that was declaimed aloud.

The oldest written manuscripts have been preserved by the perfect dryness of their Middle Eastern resting places, whether placed within sarcophagi in Egyptian tombs, or reused as mummy-wrappings, discarded in the middens of Oxyrhynchus or secreted for safe-keeping in jars and buried (Nag Hammadi library) or stored in dry caves (Dead Sea scrolls). Manuscripts in Tocharian languages, written on palm leaves, survived in desert burials in the Tarim Basin of Central Asia. Volcanic ash preserved some of the Greek library of the Villa of the Papyri in Herculaneum.

Ironically, the manuscripts that were being most carefully preserved in the libraries of Antiquity are virtually all lost. Papyrus has a life of at most a century or two in relatively moist Italian or Greek conditions; only those works copied onto parchment, usually after the general conversion to Christianity, have survived, and by no means all of those.

The study of the writing, or "hand" in surviving manuscripts is termed palaeography. In the Western world, from the classical period through the early centuries of the Christian era, manuscripts were written without spaces between the words (scriptio continua), which makes them especially hard for the untrained to read. Extant copies of these early manuscripts written in Greek or Latin and usually dating from the 4th century to the 8th century, are classified according to their use of either all upper case or all lower case letters. Hebrew manuscripts, such as the Dead Sea scrolls make no such differentiation. Manuscripts using all upper case letters are called majuscule, those using all lower case are called minuscule. Usually, the majuscule scripts such as uncial are written with much more care. The scribe lifted his pen between each stroke, producing an unmistakable effect of regularity and formality. On the other hand, while minuscule scripts can be written with pen-lift, they may also be cursive, that is, use little pen-lift.

Manuscripts today

In the context of library science, a manuscript is defined as any hand-written item in the collections of a library or an archive; for example, a library's collection of the letters or a diary that some historical personage wrote.

In other contexts, however, the use of the term "manuscript" no longer necessarily means something that is hand-written. By analogy a "typescript" has been produced on a typewriter.

In book, magazine, and music publishing, a manuscript is an original copy of a work written by an author or composer, which generally follows standardized typographic and formatting rules. (The staff paper commonly used for handwritten music is, for this reason, often called "manuscript paper.") In film and theatre, a manuscript, or script for short, is an author's or dramatist's text, used by a theater company or film crew during the production of the work's performance or filming. More specifically, a motion picture manuscript is called a screenplay; a television manuscript, a teleplay; a manuscript for the theater, a stage play; and a manuscript for audio-only performance is often called a radio play, even when the recorded performance is disseminated via non-radio means.

In insurance, a manuscript policy is one that is negotiated between the insurer and the policyholder, as opposed to an off-the-shelf form supplied by the insurer.

Manuscripts by authors

An average manuscript page in 12 point Times Roman will contain about 23 lines of type per page and about 13 words per line, or 300 words per manuscript page. Thus if a contract between an author and publisher specifies the manuscript to be of, say, 500 pages, it generally means 150,000 words.


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