Dec 22, 2021

Merry Christmas 2021

 Yin Liu

London, British Library MS Harley 2332, fol. 20v.

It's time to restart what used to be an annual tradition on this blog: the Christmas post. This year, let's look at a page from an illustrated almanac. This was a small book -- I haven't included the ruler in the cropped image, but the book would easily fit in one hand -- that included a detailed calendar, showing feast days of the Church, the Zodiac months, etc. The purpose was timekeeping (computus) and prognostication: the calendar would help you not only to figure out what day it was, but also what agricultural activities you should be engaged in, and possibly when it would be best to undergo medical procedures like bleeding. 

Sep 17, 2021

Remote Reading

Yin Liu

A student examines the 15th-century Brendan Missal, University of Saskatchewan Special Collections, 2017.

The University of Saskatchewan dairy herd. Lots of cows, not much parchment. 
When COVID-19 restrictions made most of us in Canada stay at least 2 m away from each other, shut down international travel, and compelled many academics to work from domestic spaces frequently traversed by cats and children, manuscript scholars faced, in a heightened form, a paradox that we have been grappling with ever since digital technologies gave us access to manuscript images online. On the one hand, someone like me, who lives in the middle of Canada surrounded by a vast expanse of farmland and a vast absence of medieval manuscripts, has had my teaching and research practice revolutionised by the wonderful array of manuscript images freely available on the Web, thanks to the generosity of many holding institutions and their funding sources. On the other hand, any manuscript scholar knows that staring at an image on a screen is not the same as holding a manuscript in one’s hands. Digital technology opens up some ways of approaching medieval documents, at the cost of shutting down others.

Aug 15, 2020

Medieval Codes Update: reflections on the long view

 Yin Liu

I have not posted to this website in a very long time. My thanks to the student researchers who have held the fort while I was sidetracked by other things. But it is about time I popped back into this website to explain what is going on.

Perceval and recluse
Detail from BnF MS Fr. 343, fol. 21v: a knight visits a recluse.


The Medieval Codes project continues. For four years it was generously funded by an Insight Grant from SSHRC, which enabled me to support a productive and keen team of student researchers. Many of them are still connected to the project as volunteers, and I consult some of them from time to time, even if I no longer have funds to pay them. Not only have they contributed content to this website, they have, much more, added project assets that you can’t see, and amassed a large pile of material that will keep me occupied for years to come. Their interests have also led me to areas I would not have ventured into otherwise, sometimes areas I didn’t know existed. I am immensely grateful to them all.

After the SSHRC grant ended and I was no longer bogged down by grant administration, I continued to be bogged down by other forms of administration. So work on this project has proceeded very slowly. And then, in March 2020,  community transmission of COVID-19 was confirmed in Canada, where I live.

Jan 11, 2020

Oak Gall Ink Explained

Alex Margarit

In my study of the Ripley Scrolls and trying to understand how medieval documents were made,
I created a large batch of iron gall ink. Iron gall ink is made from the tannins found in oak galls and iron salts. The recipe for iron gall ink differs depending on who writes it, but the general idea remains that it is a simple ink made from a vegetable dye and a mordant. One thing I discovered about oak galls, aside from the way they grow on trees, is that they differ based on the region they come from. In the image below are Canadian oak galls (top) and Eurasian oak galls (below):

Fig. 1: Canadian oak galls (above) and Eurasian oak galls (below). All images (c) Alex Margarit.

Aug 3, 2018

Thomas Becket and Reading the Reception in the South English Legendary

Tristan B. Taylor

In my previous post I explored how linguistic glosses in manuscripts can reveal reception and use. Continuing with this theme, this post will examine how other extra-textual material on the leaves of manuscripts reveal audience and reception.

Fig. 1: A marked-up modern book. Image: Tristan B. Taylor.