The First Encyclopedia By A Woman Is More Than 800 Years Old

The First Encyclopedia By A Woman Is More Than 800 Years Old

For centuries, scholarship was the purview of men. Women who got an education were rare, and certainly the exception to the rule. By this measure, it might be surprising that the first encyclopedia by a woman—which, incidentally, was created to educate other women—dates back to the middle ages, more than 800 years ago. The Hortus Deliciarum was created by Herrad of Landsberg, an Alsatian nun and the abbess of Hohenburg Abbey high in the Vosges mountains of France. An abbey was one of the few places where women and girls could receive an education, and Hohnenburg Abbey was well respected—and equally well funded—thanks to support from the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick Barbarossa. It's evident from the works Herrad left behind that her own education was expansive, covering theology, science, music, and other arts.

Herrad compiled the 300-page

Hortus Deliciarum

as an educational resource for the abbey nuns.

Starting around 1171

, she and several other copyists collected texts from classical and biblical sources covering topics ranging from theology to philosophy to cosmology to include in the work. But the encyclopedia's real claim to fame is in its art. In addition to 67 poems and what may be the first example of polyphony—that is, music that includes two or more notes sung simultaneously—from a convent, the tome contains 344 illustrations. Of them, 130 are full-color, full-page illuminations of the text. Unfortunately, the original Hortus Deliciarum burned during a siege in the Franco-Prussian war, so we're only left with recreations of Herrad's trailblazing volume. Learn more about education in the middle ages with the videos below.

The Medieval University

The middle ages were more enlightened than you might think.

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