Scraps of Thought: Margin Notes in Old Romanian Books

by Mariana Borcoman (Author)
©2015 Monographs 119 Pages


Scraps of thought analyses notes in medieval books from the archive of the First Romanian School from Şcheii Brașovului, the Romanian settlement outside Brașov city walls. Merchants, craftsmen and wealthy people financially supported St. Nicholas Church and the school on its premises. Families of scholars, formed in the school of Şcheii, preserved the light of books and Romanian Orthodoxism in the region. The notes in the books reveal an educated society, passing on fragments of their way of thinking. We learn about unusual weather conditions, covenants for preserving the moral norms, information regarding the meeting of the priests in the area and especially the curses that were meant to protect the books. The study shows the medieval book as a written medium which included glimpses of life, fragments of human emotions and events.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Preface
  • Chapter I. Introduction
  • 1.1 Argumentative stance. An overview of research on old Romanian books
  • 1.2 An outline of sources
  • Chapter II. Şchei, Brașov – A Cultural center of Romanians
  • 2.1 The Church of Saint Nicholas and the School in Şchei
  • 2.2 Priests and school teachers
  • Chapter III. Margin notes in Old books – A Historical source
  • 3.1 Features of Old Romanian books: The Manuscript and the Printed Book
  • 3.2 Margin notes in 17th century old Romanian books in Şchei, Brașov
  • 3.3 Information on book distribution. Book binding
  • 3.4 Margin notes on the school of copyists in Şchei
  • 3.5 Reproductions of older margin notes supporting dating
  • 3.6 Political events as presented by margin notes
  • 3.7 Local events as reflected by annotations
  • 3.8 Meteorological phenomena as illustrated by margin notes
  • Chapter IV. Şchei, Brașov –At the Crossroads of Romanian aspirations
  • 4.1 The history of the 17th century and the Şchei neighborhood of Brașov
  • 4.2 Donations for the church and school in Şchei
  • Conclusions
  • Bibliography
  • Appendices
  • A. Catalogue of 17th Century Old Books from Şchei, Brașov
  • B. Names of People Recorded in the Margin notes
  • C. Alphabetical Index of Places Mentioned in Book Annotations


Authors who wish to render events of the past using historical writings must have patience and the willingness to be objective. These two qualities along with my passion to search for testimonies of the past in the time-yellowed documents of the ages have guided the endeavor of this book. Old books and archive documents have marked my academic path for several decades. What I found in them sometimes surpassed my expectations. The years spent in the Faculty of History, University of Bucharest prepared me for this line of investigation.

This book was gleaned from the inventory of old books in the archive of the First Romanian School in Romanian Language established in Romania, in Șchei, a neighborhood of Brașov. That archive has 10,000 old books and documents. However, I focused on those belonging to the 17th century and thus the research narrowed down to only 42 books, 29 of which included margin notes, while the rest had no annotations whatsoever. These notes on old books, whether in manuscript or in printed form, are nothing but a few lines handwritten by those who ordered the book, received it or just held it in their hands for a while. They provide information such as book price (which equaled the price of several plots of land), measures to guard against theft (curses supposed to act as restraints on book thieves), its utility (for church service or for learning writing or reading in the school in Șchei) or its transfer from one person to another for reading purposes. All of the above are nothing but margin notes that in the 19th century are replaced by those made in diaries. Since the latter are private, they are part of a family’s heritage and, regrettably, cannot be cited. Fortunately, the documents of the 18th century are available to researchers and bear notes that pertain to important political events (concerning Transylvania or the state powers around the province), issues related to the local community and its politics, regional Brașov weather incidents, vows to uphold moral behavior within the community or notes on the meetings of the priests from the Archbishopric of the Church of Saint Nicholas or from the churches nearby. Aside from testifying to events people considered important in their lives, margin notes can also be copies of older notes, which shows their role as a means of information transfer and ← 7 | 8 → dissemination. In this respect, what was considered of utmost relevance was recorded via these annotations!

The margin notes are also a testimony of a world that 400 years ago cherished handwritten or printed books and that was fully aware of their value and destiny to pass them on. Those who made notes were priests, cantors, copyists, deacons, squires, rulers or simple people who had had access to the books. The handwriting on book margins or next to the book spine impresses with its position, wording, sentence length (short or long) and the care taken not to interfere with the text itself.

As a result of my research I have unveiled a world inhabited by both officials of the Church or of the administration and by simple unknown people. Consequently, this book is also a chapter in the local history of Șchei, Brașov and in the history of mentalities.

The book is structured in four chapters:

CHAPTER 1: Introduction;

CHAPTER 2: Șchei, Brașov – a cultural center of Romanians;

CHAPTER 3: Margin notes in old Romanian books – a historical source;

CHAPTER 4: Șchei, Brașov – at the crossroads of Romanian aspirations.

In addition, it includes a chapter dedicated to conclusions, a bibliography and three appendices:

A. Catalogue of the 17th century books from the Șchei archive;

B. Names of the people recorded in the margin notes;

C. Alphabetical index of places mentioned in the annotations.

Last but not least, I would like to thank Dr. Vasile OLTEAN, the professor and priest who looks after the archive of the First School in Romanian Language in Șchei, Brașov, for his unreserved professional support.

Chapter I. Introduction

1.1 Argumentative stance. An overview of research on old Romanian books

Old Romanian books are highly treasured artifacts that mirror Romanian spirituality and hence any research endeavor focusing on them needs to be understood within that framework.


ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2015 (March)
Medieval books Medieval society Romanian Orthodoxism
Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2015. 119 pp.

Biographical notes

Mariana Borcoman (Author)

Mariana Borcoman is a lecturer at the Social Sciences and Communication Department at Transylvania University in Brașov (Romania). She also conducts historical research at the University of Heidelberg and the University of Tübingen (both Germany) as well as the University of Vienna and the European Institute of Budapest.


Title: Scraps of Thought: Margin Notes in Old Romanian Books
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122 pages