Exploring the Strange and Grotesque Doodles in Medieval Books

Drawings in margins can add another, fascinating dimension to the story.

May 12, 2017 5:00 am

It turns out that U.S. presidents weren’t the only people doodling in the margins of official-looking documents. Back in medieval times, there was quite a bit of scribbling going on—and one professor at the University of Glasgow has been both researching and “collecting” it.

Dr. Johanna Green—who is a codicologist, paleographer, and digital medievalist at the university, per her Instagram page—researches what is known as “marginalia,” or “random doodles, the drawings and other marks made along the edges of pages in medieval manuscripts,” notes Atlas Obscura. Marginalia could be drawings that the text’s author drew in the margin to go along with the text itself; or be added later on. Some of it can be rather prurient or scatological.

One such example of a document covered in marginalia is John of Arderne’s Mirror of Phlebotomy & Practice of Surgery, a medical guidebook that is now housed at the university’s library.

Take a look at some of its marginalia from Dr. Green’s Instagram collection below.

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