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News Release — January 26, 2000

The Ransom Center Presents "Opened Books: Finding Medieval Readers in their Manuscripts"

Beginning February 15, 2000, the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center presents Opened Books: Finding Medieval Readers in their Manuscripts, an exhibition featuring 11th through 16th century manuscripts and early printed books from the Ransom Center's collections. The exhibition unveils the colorful strata of medieval book culture and reveals the intimate world that existed between a book and its reader. It is a rare opportunity to see first-hand some the Center's oldest and most beautiful handwritten books.

Featured are strikingly illustrated Books of Hours; monastical and liturgical manuscripts; a 13th century copy of Ovid's Metamorphoses; humanist manuscripts, such as Cicero's De orator and Petrarch's Sonnetti, both dating to the 15th century; and vernacular literature including Chaucer's Canterbury Tales (c. 1460) and Dante's Divine Comedy (1363).

The history of the medieval book began nearly two thousand years ago when the codex, or what we know today as the book, replaced the scroll as the preferred format. It ended following the invention of the printing press around the middle of the fifteenth century. In this span of time, the medieval book transmitted, assimilated and developed the traditions of the Classical past and the then Christian present, weaving a rich tapestry of medieval intellectual culture whose influence is felt even to this day. Contrary to the opinion that the medieval period was the "Dark Age" of European history, the countless manuscripts that have survived illuminate a scholarly, literary and artistic vitality that more accurately characterizes this time.

Books held a special value for the medieval reader. Not only expensive and difficult to produce--each one had to be copied by hand--they were the means by which the divine was revealed and the mysteries of the world made known. Each manuscript book from this period was specially commissioned for an individual or specific group. This led to a profound intimacy between the books and their owners. In Opened Books viewers will find worn pages and marginal notations which reveal traces of intellectual engagement, personal devotion, and even light-hearted amusement left behind by medieval readers.

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