From Manuscript to Print: the Evolution of the Medieval Book


Subject Indexing
horizontal rule
The printed book encouraged indexing because the contents of each copy of a given edition were largely fixed. In contrast, every manuscript of a given work was unique: the pages of one manuscript did not correspond precisely to those of another because they lacked the standardization that mechanical reproduction imposed. Scribes generally did not even number their pages. Consequently, finding information on a given subject required skimming the entire manuscript. Frustration with this procedure is reflected in this index to a collection of sermons, which presents subject headings arranged in alphabetical order. The Roman numerals that follow refer to the numbers of the sermons. The utility of such an index is obvious; it enabled a preacher to locate treatments of his subject matter quickly. Since only texts with stable numerical elements could be indexed, it was not until page numbering became standard practice that indexes could become a regular feature of books.

Obtained in 1897 for A. D. White.

horizontal rule
Sermons with Index. Italy, late fourteenth or early fifteenth century.
horizontal rule

view image

continue tour

the Sacred Word
Private Prayer
Leather and Chains
Medieval Music
How the Classics Survived
Manuscripts in the Age of Print
Evolution of the Book
Appetite for Destruction
Manuscript Facsimiles
Cornell's Medieval Books
Cornell University Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections Cornell University Library

Copyright 2002 Division of Rare & Manuscript Collections
2B Carl A. Kroch Library, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, 14853
Phone Number: (607) 255-3530. Fax Number: (607) 255-9524

For reference questions, send mail to:
If you have questions or comments about the site, send mail to: webmaster.