Handwritten Books

We have a small number of handwritten books and manuscripts in our collection at Trinity. But what is a manuscript? The word “manuscript” is Latin in origin, composed of the words “manus,” meaning “hand,” and “scriptum,” meaning “having been written.” So, in its broadest sense, a manuscript is anything that has been written by hand rather than typed and printed. There is no set genre, language, format, or use. If handwritten, anything from law codes, to religious documents, diaries, and many other texts qualify as handwritten.

The medieval European style of manuscript, which appears in this collection, is often the most recognizable and the most frequently collected by United States institutions. However, manuscripts can and do come from a wide breadth of global populations, which is not reflected in the Trinity University Coates Library Collection. To showcase a piece of the manuscript's global spread, these are a few examples not found in this collection.


The Book of Kells is an ornate 9th century book containing the Christian New Testament gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke as well as part of the gospel of John. Written in Latin with ink on calfskin, it is known for its vibrant illustrations. It is housed in the Library of Trinity College Dublin.


The Tira de la Peregrinación de los Mexica (Tale of the Mexica Migration) is a 16th century Aztec codex, written in Nahuatl on fig bark. It illustrates the migration of the Azteca, sometimes called Mexica, from Aztlán, their ancestral homeland. It is housed in the Museo Nacional de Antropología.


The Dunhuang Star Chart is an 8th century Tang Chinese astrological paper scroll and one of the oldest extant astrological charts, which contains labeled illustrations of 1345 stars in 257 constellations as well as the 28 lunar stations found in the Chinese constellation system. It is housed in The British Library.

In Medieval Europe, the word “manuscript” most often referred to handwritten books. Common texts included excerpts from the Christian Bible, copies of Roman texts in their original Latin, and translations of Latin as well as Greek and Arabic texts into Western European common languages. Some were colorfully illustrated as illuminated manuscripts, often created for wealthy clients, while others were plain and often covered more practical texts such as law codes, land deeds, or accounting ledgers.