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Centre for Visual Arts and Culture

Louise Garner


PhD Research

PhD Working title: Shining light on the past: using spectroscopy to unveil the pigments in Medieval manuscripts

Supervised by:

Professor Andrew Beeby (Chemistry)

Professor Richard Gameson (History)

Professor Elizabeth Archibald (English Studies)

Louise's research is rooted in both Chemistry and History and uses Raman spectroscopy alongside other spectroscopies and non-invasive techniques to examine the pigments and inks used in medieval manuscripts.

Recent developments in the field of Raman spectroscopy have enabled scientists and historians to use this non-destructive technique to identify the nature and use of pigments in historical manuscripts. In particular, the development of high performance mobile instrumentation has enabled detailed, in situ, studies of valuable illuminated medieval manuscripts produced in scriptoria, which were previously inaccessible for such forensic scrutiny due to their fragile and priceless nature.

These advancements have recently allowed a team at Durham University to undertake much exciting work on many notable manuscripts, such as the Lindisfarne Gospels. The information gleaned from the Raman Spectrometer has allowed an increasingly accurate picture of which pigments and inks were used by scribes at different times and places in history, and the context and circumstances in which they were used. This has furthered knowledge of the transmission of pigments used in the British Isles over time, and the work of individual scribes and practices at different scriptoria.

Louise is studying with "Team Pigment" who are Professor Richard Gameson from the History Department and Professor Andrew Beeby from the Chemistry Department of Durham University, in collaboration with Dr Catherine Nicholson of Northumbria University. Currently this team is working on developing and utilising the techniques described above and is involved in many projects, with an overarching target to create a map of the inks and pigments used in manuscripts created across the British Isles in time and place.


Having gained a BSc (Hons) Natural Sciences from the Open University Louise trained as a teacher and taught in schools in the U.K. before moving abroad for several years and teaching in British Schools in The Falkland Islands, Malaysia and Nepal. Returning to the U.K. Louise studied for an MA in Medieval and Early Modern Studies at Durham University before embarking on her doctorate.


Durham Leverhulme Doctoral Scholarship in Visual Culture, 2016. University of Durham and the Centre for Visual Arts and Culture (CVAC).

Selected Presentations

  • Durham MEMSA - “Bringing Downe the floweres”: Recipes for conception, miscarriage and abortion in seventeenth century England. (January 2017)
  • GM Trevelyan Research Prize finalist (May 2017) - Shining Light On The Past: Analysing pigments in Medieval Manuscripts
  • Durham MEMSA - Shining Light On The Past: Analysing pigments in Medieval Manuscripts (November 2017)
  • Clayport Library Poster Competition finalist (May 2017)

Selected Publications

February 2017 ‘Closer to the Apothecary than to God: Abortion in 17th Century England’ Renaissance Hub (