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LIMA: Literary Manuscript Analysis

About LIMA

These pages are designed to provide an advanced introduction to the study of manuscripts; to consider what can be learned about a manuscript from its physical characteristics. Particular emphasis is placed on English literary manuscripts of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, as this is my area of specialism; hence the title, Literary Manuscript Analysis (LIMA). The site considers various physical features of a manuscript from which information can be gained, the methodologies typically used, and the evaluation of evidence. References are also given to many printed texts and on-line resources about manuscript studies.

Manuscripts have a reassuring physicality and there is a tendency to believe that the evidence derived from them has a similar solidity, but this is not always the case. For this reason, LIMA places a strong emphasis on the crucial but difficult step from observation to interpretation, and tries to establish where the limits lie of justifiable conclusions.


  • LIMA includes a detailed introduction. In these pages a sample manuscript is discussed in order to clarify the issues dealt with elsewhere in the site. There is also a brief discussion of early modern English manuscript studies, and a short biography of the author of the site.
  • The most obvious physical feature of a manuscript is handwriting. The pages on LIMA dealing with this subject include a list of terms that can be used to describe specific handwriting features, and a discussion of the comparison of handwriting samples. It is such comparison that makes it possible to establish the identity of the writer, but the process is not always as straightforward as it sounds. The issues involved in handwriting analysis, including the extent of its reliability, are explored with reference to its treatment in courts of law.
  • Pages are also dedicated to paper and watermarks. Characteristics inherent to hand-made paper, which includes all paper produced before the nineteenth century, mean that it is possible to identify paper quite precisely, usually by the watermark. As with handwriting, this is a process of comparing samples. LIMA's pages discuss the use of paper as evidence, and also consider how modern technologies are changing the nature of research on historical paper.
  • Future enlargement of LIMA will introduce material on provenance and the identification of authorship.