By Andrea Lynn An Illinois professor could be considered the unofficial Duke of York. John Friedman, a UI English professor, has spent the last 10 years trying to put the medieval books of Yorkshire in northern England on the intellectual map. His diligence has led to the discovery of several hundred handmade books - many with painted illustrations - that were produced in the region. That discovery, in turn, has led to the publication of his own book, which sheds light on Yorkshire, giving it the respect it deserves. According to Friedman, most medieval manuscript specialists have concentrated on the stylish southern half of England, believing that the northern half was "too barbarous to have a thriving manuscript trade." His book, however, challenges this time-honored bias by exploring the vigorous northern trade, identifying the books and styles and many of the scribes that hailed from the region. In "Northern English Books, Owners, and Makers in the Late Middle Ages" (Syracuse University Press), Friedman lists some 250 manuscripts that derived from such cities as York and Durham - from "kalendars" and "almanachs," to prayer books, tracts, maps and histories. Among the gems are a portable parchment calendar "with feathered sprays and drawings of zodiac men" that Friedman found in Australia, and a 1390 parchment breviary with red and violet pen work that he found under his nose at the UI Library. Friedman's extensive survey of wills turned up some 3,300 books that had been passed down through the ages, including the "ABC of Divinity" and Thomas Becket's "Vita." The professor of medieval texts also applied computer technology to his scholarship: He digitized and archived thousands of images from the manuscripts to help him identify particular scribes by their scripts. By a phenomenal coincidence, he also was able to grow the Mediterranean dye plant whose berry produced the unusual purple pigment used in some of the northern manuscripts. Friedman had spent years hunting for the seed of Chrozophora tinctoria. At wit's end, he called the UI botany department to see if anyone there could give him any leads on the rare plant. "Those seeds were the stuff of life to me," he said. The botanists, alas, couldn't turn up anything. A few months later, Friedman got a call from UI biochemist Steve Sligar, who had been doing studies on natural anti-viral materials. Sligar explained that a Paris, Ill., physician had sent him a bag of Chrozophora tinctoria seeds that were sent to him by his brother in California, who had grown the plant, believing that it held a cure for cancer. The California brother mailed the pound or so of seeds to Illinois so that his sibling could have them analyzed. The Illinois brother, in turn, sent the seeds to the UI, which is where Sligar entered the picture. Remembering Friedman's unusual phone call, Sligar contacted Friedman and handed off the seeds. With some difficulty, Friedman later germinated the seeds - "I became a mad scientist in the basement," he said - then planted them in his garden. "I could have spent the rest of my life looking for this plant. It's magic that I found it."