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Learner Reviews & Feedback for Deciphering Secrets: The Illuminated Manuscripts of Medieval Europe by University of Colorado System

113 ratings
51 reviews

About the Course

Perhaps no other relic of the European Middle Ages captures our imagination more than illuminated medieval manuscripts, or those documents decorated with images and colored pigments. Serving as windows unto a lost world of kings, ladies, faith, war, and culture, they communicate complex visual and textual narratives of Europe’s collective cultural heritage and patrimony. In this fashion, illuminated manuscripts are dynamic messages from our communal past that are still relevant today in fields like graphic design and typography. In this seven-week course, students will explore the material creation, content, and historical context of illuminated medieval European manuscripts. Students will acquire an introductory knowledge of their distinguishing characteristics, their cataloguing and periodization (when they were created), the methods utilized to produce them, and their historical context and value. Student achievement will be assessed using not only traditional multiple-choice quizzes, but more importantly will be evaluated based on individual student projects. In their final projects students will either (1) produce a board of commented images about medieval manuscripts or (2) prepare a physical manuscript using medieval methods. The best of these peer-evaluated projects will be posted on the Deciphering Secrets website, which is our collective citizen scholarship web presence that encourages and supports our global citizen scholars appreciation and contributions to transcription of medieval manuscripts. Finally, we wish to highlight that this course is an exciting international collaboration between the University of Colorado (USA) and Universidad Complutense Madrid (Spain)....

Top reviews

Jan 26, 2018

An excellent overview of a complex subject , with the rare option to explore the practical skills involved in making manuscripts , and with a forward view of new research evolving IT makes possible.

May 4, 2017

fascinating subject. Excellent course whether you want to just learn about the history of the manuscripts or try creating some yourself. The Spanish professor is a real expert in the subject.

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1 - 25 of 51 Reviews for Deciphering Secrets: The Illuminated Manuscripts of Medieval Europe

By Avery B

Jun 16, 2020

The historical context portions were probably all right, but I found the codicology sections troubling. I trained as a bookbinder and am now a book conservator. Most of these examples are from the final week because it is freshest in my mind, but they hold true for the rest as well.

The videos and quiz questions are full of errors, both spelling and factual, and the video transcripts were clearly not proofread.

Some of this can be attributed to translation problems, for example the two broad categories of paper, laid and wove, were called "watermarked and non-watermarked". There were many instances of incorrect or misused terminology, such as "gauffering" for "tooling" (tooling is the general term, gauffering generally refers to edge decoration) and the confusing insistence on "quaternio" when "octavo" is far more common in my experience. Again, this could be chalked up to translation issues.

Others were simply careless, for example one of the questions asked you to select "concave spine" as an innovation of Gothic bindings, when a concave spine was actually a problem resolved by Gothic bindings by rounding the spine into a convex shape.

There were some not just careless but actively counterproductive errors. One of the questions claimed that the use of sewing supports made the board attachment weaker, when the opposite is true. Boards sewn on with the thin sewing thread are much more likely to detach than a thick thong of alum-tawed leather laced into the boards.

In the quiz, a model with a stereotypically Carolingian headband was misidentified, on the grounds that "the headband doesn't look very Carolingian". (I later checked the link, which led to a completely different model of a Romanesque binding, which might put this in the "careless error" category, except that the note on the quiz mentioned a feature which is not present on the Romanesque model.)

In a previous week, the video and a quiz question on iron gall ink claimed that the reason iron gall ink causes deterioration was because it was acidic, when the acidity has very little effect compared to the excess of unbound iron ions, which cause oxidation reactions in the substrate. I wrote my thesis on this subject, and I grant that it might be easier to say "it acts like it is acidic" rather than explain the chemistry, but the correct explanation is given in one of the links for further reading, on a website for high school level science.

I would not recommend this course, although the links for further reading could be useful. The Les Eluminures documents seem very well produced. The instructor for the history component was also very good, and I appreciated the recognition that history is complex and interconnected, and the links to projects on less-studied topics like Cahokia and pre-Colombian contact with the Americas.

By Dora V

Sep 5, 2020

Dora Villar

Dora Villar · hace 8 minutos

Dear teachers, I am very grateful for this Mocc. I have learned a lot. The presentation of the historical framework is interesting, the focus on the study of medieval times. The enormous amount of information they offer for further investigation is also very appreciable. It is the first time that I have found such a willingness to give all possible information to the students and through different channels as does the teacher Ana Beatriz Sanchez Prieto. Thank you very much! Also the history teacher Roger Martinez Dávila has taught us medieval history in a very didactic way. I have learned with him points of view unknown to me.

I have really enjoyed this course.

As everything is perfectible, I would advise that in the presentation of the practicals to be corrected by the pairs, it should be compulsory for the students to put their first and last names in the practical to avoid plagiarism in the practicals.

Only at the end of the course I discovered a link on Coursera to report that problem that I had to experience, when when correcting works I found that I had to correct mine, which someone else had usurped and put in their name. I reported it in the forum but no one answered me.

By Kathryn G

Jul 11, 2019

I enjoyed this course immensely. It was challenging and illuminating (pun intended). It was particularly interesting to come away with an appreciation about the ways in which the methods of ancient and medieval writing and book making influence the ways we read, write, and preserve information today. As a copyright attorney, I was intrigued by the notion of copying as preserving civilization and the idea that without copying, large parts of our heritage can, have been, and will be lost. The materials, videos, and readings are done well, especially the second part of each week's lesson on the manuscripts themselves. The only criticism I have is that the transcripts of the videos have quite a few errors in them, but that did not prevent me from learning a great deal. I recommend this course and am looking forward to my next visit to a museum with a medieval manuscript collection as I am now armed with a greater understanding of what I will see.

By David B

Dec 30, 2017

This class was even better than I expected, and I expected a really good course. The professors are passionate about the subject, and they have very good teaching methods. I should probably say subjectS, because there were so many interesting things involved in this course. We learned about writing materials, the chemistry of ink and paint, textual analysis, analysis of the structure of the book and of the page layout, some psychology, lots of history, and - something very useful - advanced internet search methods for original sources. I would recommend this course to anyone; in fact, I've already done so several times. I look forward to doing more courses with Professors MARTINEZ-DÁVILA and Professor SÁNCHEZ-PRIETO in the future. Nice work!

By stephen r

Jul 8, 2017

I'm still going through the course but it's excellent course if you enjoy studying history, art, warfare, chemistry and of course illuminated Manuscripts this is a course you will devour. They have created a very professional course, there is a lot of new information I have never read or came across before and i'm not even half way through the course, I look forward to the rest of the course. I would HIGHLY advise you to take this course if you love art and history from ancient to around the 16th century.

By Birgitte B

Aug 24, 2017

Even though I already had some knowledge on Medieval manuscripts via Philology and Paleography courses I took as part of my BA English Language & Culture, this course gave me additional and broader knowledge on the subject, particularly on codicology. I found the hands-on project exercises both fun and instructional. I really learnt a lot in this course.

This is a very well-structured and informative course, suitable for students with no prior knowledge as well as students who have already some prior knowledge.

By Nathan B

Oct 29, 2017

An excellent course covering all aspects of Medieval Manuscripts, from parchment and pigments to illumination and binding. The only drawback is the Peer Review process, the vast majority did not leave comments so it was not that helpful, and those who were not thorough in their review of your work can provide an incorrect review lowering your overall score. The instructors are great and their passion for the topic shows! Expect a lot of work, but there is a lot to learn. I had a grand time!

By Rowena A

Dec 9, 2017

This course has been easy to follow and enjoyable, while still offering a high level of rigor and challenge. I especially appreciate the differentiation in projects available, so as to allow learners to choose their degree of engagement. The instructors are clearly knowledgeable, and responsive to learner communication. Highly recommended even (or maybe especially) for novice MOOC learners!

By Angelina W

Jul 3, 2020

This is an excellent survey of ancient manuscripts. I really enjoyed the option of doing a hands-on project to create our own manuscripts and the opportunity to practice digital research. The lectures are also good for those who simply want to obtain knowledge, but you must do one of the projects to obtain a passing grade.

By Eleni P

Dec 10, 2017

Very interesting MOOC. Don't miss out on the opportunity to make your own "medieval codex" from scratch! Choose the hands-on project and put everything you learn through the videos to the test. You don't have to be an artist, don't worry; there are a lot of shortcuts available for us (the non-artists). I enjoyed it a lot!

By Sandra B

Apr 9, 2019

I completed the course in April 2017. I found it challenging (which I like) and thoroughly instructional. I loved it. It is well presented, with a lovely combination of theory and practical work. The visuals are stunning. It has fostered a desire in me to keep on exploring these resources.

By Kate S

Nov 5, 2017

Lots of information here! I enjoyed the content and lay out of the course as well as the presentation of the material. I have a new-found appreciation for the production of manuscripts and an interest in learning more about their illustration. Thank you for offering this course!

By Gwyneth T

Apr 29, 2018

This was an extremely interesting course. I learnt a lot about medieval Europe and its history alongside knowledge of medieval manuscripts and bookbinding. I am tempted to do it again using the practical projects but I am not sure I have enough time to actually complete them.

By Eugenia R

Oct 10, 2020

Great way of learning not only about history but also about the valuable objects that are the manuscripts!

The best part of the course is learning through the hands-on projects! Great addition for the online classes!

Thanks for this amazing opportunity!

By Emily d B

Aug 12, 2017

I loved it! Although one can only touch the surface of this field in such a short time frame, I learned a lot. I liked the combination of medieval history and manuscript making. It helps putting it all in perspective.

By Angelina B

Jun 5, 2019

So, far I am not too far into the class however, it is extremely satisfying the level of information that one person can choose to attain via coursera. The time frames are tight, but flexible thankfully.

By Kenneth K

Jan 27, 2018

An excellent overview of a complex subject , with the rare option to explore the practical skills involved in making manuscripts , and with a forward view of new research evolving IT makes possible.

By Joy S

May 5, 2017

fascinating subject. Excellent course whether you want to just learn about the history of the manuscripts or try creating some yourself. The Spanish professor is a real expert in the subject.

By Ivan S

Jan 21, 2018

It was amazing course full of new information and things to know, full of activities and works for creation own medieval manuscript. A lot of thanks for all people who done it!

By Jax L

Sep 19, 2017

This is definitely a must for anyone with an interest in history. The combination of the historic backdrop and the practical nature of manuscript studies makes it even more

By Марина П

May 12, 2018

Excellent! Just one problem. There probably not too many students so it takes more time to grade your peer reviewed assignement and you have to wait.

By Theodora P

Mar 3, 2019

Exceptional! I am a Historian and a Historian of Art, from Athens Greece. I am really impressed by this course and its scientific aspect.

By Suzanne H

Feb 16, 2021

Wonderful experience to work on my own Illuminated Manuscript.

Always a pleasure to follow a course that has depth and richness.

By Darryl L L

Sep 27, 2020

I enjoyed this course immensely. Be aware that the hands-on assignments are liable to take more than five hours each.