Studying Manuscripts: A Diagram

I’m writing up a few more extended thoughts on the joint Early Book Society / John Gower Society conference last week, but for the moment I thought I’d share this useful(?) diagram:

(For a full-size version click on the image!)

When I was an MSt student preparing to tackle my summative essay on the palaeography and codicology course, Dan Wakelin told the class that it would be best, as a rule of thumb, to study either a few features in many manuscripts, or many features in a few manuscripts. I passed this useful advice on when I taught part of the same MSt course this year. When I came to write my paper for EBS, I realised that this advice was relevant to some of the ways we think about manuscript studies in general, not just when we’re starting out, so I built this diagram. Continue reading

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Recent Engagements, Forthcoming Attractions

Earlier this term I gave a paper at Teaching the Codex 2, a colloquium at Merton College here in Oxford. This was the sequel to a similar meeting last year, about teaching of/with/and manuscripts. The first TTC gave us a overview of manuscript teaching and available resources. The second felt like a proper extension, ramifying into detailed discussions of manuscript pedagogy in different disciplines and contexts. Continue reading

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Guest Post: Being a Hired Researcher

I’ve written a quick guest post in a series on what it’s like to be a researcher on someone else’s project, a position which come with its own particular struggles and pleasures. You can find it on Pat Thomson’s blog here. I recommend reading the whole series: it includes a bunch of different but helpful perspectives.

I tried to pass on what I’ve learned in the past few months about tactics to make some of the struggles easier, but I also wanted to talk a little about some of the advantages of the kind of postdoctoral position I have—advantages which I think sometimes might not be fully appreciated by the kind of late- or post-PhD people who could be applying for these.

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This is how we Rolle

This week, at quite short notice, the excellent Michael Madrinkian and I found ourselves in a room recording readings of lyrics from Richard Rolle’s Ego dormio. This isn’t normal. Indeed, when I mentioned this to a friend and said that it’s unusual to be reading Rolle aloud, my friend said ‘It’s unusual to be reading Rolle full stop.’ So what happened? Continue reading

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What are we going to do about the ‘dull’ books?

I enjoyed speaking at the Digital Humanities at Oxford Summer School, and I hope the audience got something out of it! They were a kind, engaged set of listeners and they asked very useful questions. Those questions prompted this post.

In my session we looked at some objects from the Bodleian’s collections, handled ‘live’ in the lecture theatre by the brilliant Martin Kauffmann (Martin is the Bod’s Tolkien Curator of Medieval Manuscripts, and he’s both a formidably knowledgeable scholar in his own right and a great facilitator, the linchpin of much manuscript-based teaching). Among other things, we examined a couple of books of hours: one printed example, which both contains older woodblock prints and later manuscript material, and one in manuscript.

In one facet of my argument I emphasised how these books offer us much intimate and fascinating information despite being examples of one of the most ordinary and commonplace kinds of surviving book. In my conclusion I made a more general plea for attention to seemingly humdrum, ordinary objects in our research, whatever it is we’re researching. Continue reading

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Prompted by the work I’m doing on the Wycliffite Bible project, I’m going to throw some thoughts at the wall and see if any stick.

Transcription is a significant part of the project work at the moment: an early step in the process of editing. In fact it’s how my first day started after an initial meeting and learning how to make a cup of tea in the faculty kitchen. Transcription was also a significant feature of my work for my DPhil thesis—I was handling, and sometimes quoting from, a lot of unpublished, unphotographed material. (Because if you work on the most successful English poem before print the rise of digital facsimiles hasn’t done much for access—but this is a topic for another time.)

Transcription’s a skill. We’re taught it, or have to teach ourselves, or muddle our way to grasping it through some combination of the two. On the MSt course here the palaeography exam requires you to transcribe and (roughly) date manuscripts from images. My interview for my current job began with a timed transcription test: how much of these two pages from different manuscripts can you transcribe accurately in ten minutes each? More broadly, transcription’s an activity which underpins editing and calendaring, or in other words it’s necessary for the things which are necessary for pretty a lot of the other work carried out by medievalists. Continue reading

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A quick note: on Monday I’ll be speaking at this year’s Digital Humanities at Oxford Summer School. I’m not there as a digital humanities expert—I’m a long way from that—but I’m going to work through some ‘live’ manuscripts on the Weston lecture theatre’s visualiser. I’m planning to talk about the messiness of the relationship between material objects and digital representations, and the fuzzy line between digitised work and digital work, and perhaps the value of overlooked ordinariness. It should be fun, and I’m hoping I’ll be able to catch at least a few other bits of the day as well.

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In June I’ll be starting work as the Postdoctoral Research Assistant on the ‘Towards a New Edition of the Wycliffite Bible’ project, based in Oxford’s English Faculty. I’ll be the junior member of a team of three, working with Elizabeth Solopova (the PI) and Anne Hudson (the co-investigator). The Wycliffite Bible is a late-fourteenth-century translation of the Latin Vulgate into Middle English: the first English Bible. It’s a complex and important text, but research is hampered by the fact that there is only one full edition, which was published in 1850. This edition was good for its time but has now been rather overtaken by later scholarship. We will begin (begin) producing a new edition of the whole thing by establishing a framework for the task and editing four books. Continue reading

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Medieval Lists

A few weeks ago I attended a fascinating interdisciplinary workshop on the medieval list, and I wrote a blog post about it for the TORCH site. Drawing on the distinctions I made there, I wound up producing some some extra material related to my own work. So: a little B-side blog post!

Here’s just the start of a list within one fourteenth-century poem: Continue reading

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I recently published a note. The specific new discovery that it reports is not going to rejig the landscape of scholarship. By remarking on the previusly unrecorded appearance of a rhyming proverb in Bodleian Library MS Digby 99 the note alters our understanding of the textual and geographical affiliations of Balliol College, MS 354 (available online here), the so-called ‘commonplace book’ of Richard Hill.

But I make a broader point in my conclusion. In work on Middle English verse we rely on a set of indexes to keep track of what is what and where: Continue reading

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