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Manuscript means literally something written by hand. Since the invention of the typewriter, it has also come to mean a document produced by typing (or word-processing). Except as part of the name of a document, it does not properly mean anything reproduced by printing or any form of facsimile reproduction. A manuscript is therefore either an original document or else a copy (or a copy of a copy, etc) made by one or more individuals looking at a document and attempting to reproduce it in writing.

Before the invention of printing, manuscript transmission was the only method of multiplying or preserving texts. The materials used for producing manuscripts were, and for the most part still are, liable to deterioration, unless preserved in ideal conditions. Consequently there has usually been a repeated need to reproduce those whose perpetuation has been thought desirable. The correction of errors in such copying is the subject of the discipline of textual criticism.

In Western Europe the Carolingian kings Pepin and particularly Charlemagne instigated the copying of many texts written on papyrus, and without this activity much classical literature would be lost to us.[1] A similar effort had been organized in the dying days of the Roman Empire by the nobleman Magnus Aurelius Cassiodorius and his friend St Benedict of Nursia, founder of a major monastic order.

  1. Fried, J. The Middle Ages translated P. Lewis. Harvard University Press. 2015. pp 52—3