Preliminary work completed prior to 2000, when the Project was first conceived, demonstrated that there was an urgent need for a coordinated and sustained project to identify not only all the manuscripts compiled between 1060 and 1220, but also their place of origin, their contents, and the potential agenda behind their compilation. The English material that survives had been studied piecemeal, as a postscript to Old English or as a precursor to Middle English textual and linguistic culture, or for its idiosyncratic dialectal evidence.
In disciplinary terms, there was relatively abundant work on social history; work on ecclesiastical history had tended to focus on Latin materials principally, and some Anglo-Norman material. Cultural, linguistic, and literary history all merited much more detailed examination. The traditional boundaries of periodisation and disciplinarity had limited (and still does limit) scholarship in this important field. Interdisciplinary research into English manuscript production from 1060 to 1220 seemed to us then, and seems to us now, exceptionally timely.
The project aimed to examine cultural continuities and transformations; evaluate what is known and what is not known; and expand our understanding of the material. This is vital for the ongoing work of medievalists in general, and for literary and manuscript historians in particular.