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5ABA0004 The Medieval Book

Credit value: 15 credits
Module convenor: Professor Julia Crick
Assessment: 1 x 4000 word essay (100%); coursework reassessment in exam period 3
Teaching pattern: One 2-hour seminar weekly
Pre-requisites: None

Module description 

The manuscript is a hand-made object. It offers numerous possibilities for the presentation of texts, including choices of size, format, colour, script, textual associations, accompanying commentary and decoration, even language. The final product was limited by the skill and circumstances of the maker: his or her access to texts and materials, the nature and level of training and inherent skills, the demands and resources of the patron or commissioning institution. This course examines the ways in which texts were made and read in the Middle Ages. Most examples will be taken from medieval Britain, 1050-1300, in an era of conquest, expansion, urbanization and cultural encounter. The course explores literacy and education, the nature of textual communities and the circulation of texts; it considers readers and reception, including the female patron. We will pay attention to modes of presenting information in the Middle Ages, and how they fared in the culture of print. All the texts discussed in class will be accessed in modern English translation. The module will draw on material evidence from the great libraries of the world in the form of digitized manuscripts and will involve a visit to a local manuscript library which will give students the unique opportunity to examine medieval manuscripts as books.

  • Manuscripts and meaning
  • Pagan knowledge
  • Conquest and language
  • Mapping the world
  • Margins and frames
  • History and genealogy
  • Reading and space
  • The politics of print
  • Code and codex
  • Library visit

Educational aims and objectives

The digital era has brought into question categories of authorship, authority and knowledge made familiar in the age of print. The Medieval Book aims to introduce students to the possibilities and limitations of written communication in the era before print. How was knowledge validated and passed on? What did authorship and readership mean? What purpose did books serve in an era of mass illiteracy? Diverse, idiosyncratic, and unique, manuscript books were produced in a great variety of circumstances for different readers and users. This module considers how, in the era before print, texts were produced, published, anthologized, circulated, and read. By returning to the manuscript book we can recover levels of meaning and complexity which get lost in print. The process is designed to encourage reflection on accepted categories of cultural production: on authorship, knowledge, the presentation and consumption of texts. The module aims to explore elements of medieval culture lost in transmission in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, for instance bi- and tri-lingualism, visual homage to the past, the framing of the text, cultural exchanges across time, space, culture, and religion.

Learning outcomes

  • Acts with limited supervision and direction within defined guidelines, accepting responsibility for achieving personal and/or group outcomes and/or outputs.
  • Undertakes research to provide new information and/or explores new or existing data to identify patterns and relationships
  • Demonstrates an awareness of different ideas, contexts and frameworks and recognises those areas where the knowledge base is most/least secure.
  • Interacts effectively within a team, giving and receiving information and ideas and modifying responses where appropriate.

Operates in situations of varying complexity and predictability requiring the application of a wide range of techniques and information sources

Core Reading

  • Daniel Wakelin, Designing English: Early Literature on the Page (Oxford, 2018)
  • Raymond Clemens and Timothy Graham, ed., Introduction to Manuscript Studies (2007)
  • M. T. Clanchy, From Memory to Written Record (3rd edn, 2013)

Additional Course Costs

Travel to a library in central London

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