Bigger is usually better, at least when it comes to manuscript collections. But microcollections offer a unique advantage their bigger counterparts should envy: it is actually possible to produce a comprehensive catalogue of them. David Gura has done just that for the various collections of the University of Notre Dame and its small neighbor St. Mary's College: in total 288 objects, 69 complete manuscripts and 219 fragments, from the eleventh to the sixteenth century, catalogued in 716 pages. Simple calculation indicates the detail and attention paid to every single one of these books and fragments, a level only feasible due to the size of the collection.
Gura's catalogue opens with a survey of the collection, pointing out notable holdings in nine categories: books of hours, bibles and patristic authors, liturgical and musical manuscripts, philosophy and theology, sermons, historiography and epistolography, humanism, law, school texts, vernacular poetry and miniatures. Readers not familiar with the collection will find all the choicest bits highlighted here. And there are choice bits: a fifteenth-century Venetian verse commentary on Boethius' Consolatio in the authorial autograph (cod. Lat. d. 5); a copy of the Ad Octavianum Augustum de progenie sua of Messala Corvinus, a pseudonymus composition extant only in some 36 manuscripts (cod. Lat. b. 10; incidentally I might mention that it occurs also in a Pomponian context with the same companion of 'Sextus Rufus' in Vat. Lat. 4498); a 1299 glossed copy of Aquinas' De ente et essentia (St. Mary's MS 2); new quaestiones by Giles of Rome (Frag. I.31); a manual for the Milanese devotional society Compagnia Ambrosiana (cod. Lat. c. 10); and a florilegium of late medieval devotional verse (cod. Lat. b. 6).
There follow the catalogue entries. The level of detail is remarkable. A reader will find the expected information on date, provenance, script, dimensions, collation, binding and text, but each of these is handled with extraordinary sensitivity. Scripts are identified strictly according to the most up-to-date standards, notably Derolez's terminology for Gothic. Miscellaneous manuscripts have every bit of text identified, with an accompanying reference for bibliography and editions where available. Every unusual feature of collation and quiring is recorded, as well as the sequence of hair and flesh sides for parchment manuscripts. For paper manuscripts, a huge amount of effort is spent on watermarks, both in the catalogue entries and in the separate nineteen-page table of watermarks presented as Appendix 3.
But beyond these, Gura's descriptions also include less common features. First, every manuscript is given a black and white schematic indicating its mise-en-page, showing clearly its ruling and the comparative amounts of space for text, gloss, and decoration. Derolez noted some fifteen years ago that close attention to the layout of Gothic manuscripts was a desideratum; here we get an example of what paying such attention might yield. Second, for many smaller North American collections, a large proportion of medieval manuscript material consists of membra disiecta from deliberately mutilated manuscripts, most famously those broken and sold by Otto Ege (died 1951). Notre Dame's collection is no exception, and Gura does a tremendous job of identifying the parent manuscripts of the individual folia, its provenance before mutilation, the date at which the manuscript was broken, and the locations of all other known fragments from the same manuscripts. In many cases, these lists surpass anything else in print. Reading the descriptions of the fragments gives one a sense of the scope of manuscript breaking and its long history (including some manuscripts broken in the 1990s).
Errors and misprints are vanishingly rare (the one I noted was on. p. 324, ars. for art.). Connoisseurs of manuscript catalogues are familiar with the strange Latinity recorded for incipits and explicits; here instead will be found accurate transcriptions with only occasional nonsense signaled as such with sic. I can make one hesitant suggestion for text no. 6 in cod. Lat. b. 10, graphionis [?] deffinitiones. The opening definition, of definitio as it turns out, is related to Rhet. ad Herenn. 4.35 and Cicero, De oratore 1.189 (cf. also Mart. Cap. 4.349), and the concluding definition, of contentio, is also from the Rhet. ad Herenn. (3.23). Hence, could graphionis (or grapluonis) be a severe deformation of ciceronis? Various collections of Ciceronis definitiones circulated (one I know of is in Copenhagen, GKS 2015 4o, and another in Auxerre 91 and Paris lat. 8501a); this could well be another such collection.
Gura's new catalogue literally renders the Corbett's 1978 catalogue of Notre Dame manuscripts obsolete (albeit only for pre-1600 manuscripts), since it provides a new system of shelfmarks. Most will agree that assigning new shelfmarks is an evil thing to do to scholarship, but in this case, it seems, it was a necessary evil. Corbett's sequential system was not appropriate for the actual storage (which is what shelfmarks are for, after all), nor suitable for an expanding and multilingual collection. Gura does ease the pain entailed in new shelfmarks with a listing of previous shelfmarks in every entry and a convenient table in Appendix 1.
The result of this is that obtaining this new catalogue is essential for any institution that already possesses Corbett's catalogue, and indeed every library with a commitment to collecting manuscript catalogues ought to obtain this volume. Notre Dame's collections have not been very well known, despite its convenient location easily reachable from dozens of universities and colleges. Scholars at nearby universities may well want to use the occasion of this new catalogue to investigate the collection, and find new materials relevant to their scholarship. On a broader level, Gura's catalogue stands as a model for what a modern catalogue of a small collection can be. May many follow it!