Jun 30, 2014

Users and readers

Johannes Sambucus, Emblemata (1564), p. 62. Image: Glasgow University Library.
The language we use to describe how we interact with various forms of information technology betrays the distinctions we make between these forms. To a print publisher, I am a reader; to a software company, I am a user. That is, we read books, but we use digital devices. This distinction, however, depends both on a very narrow sense of read and a somewhat artificial distinction between reading and use, and should be challenged.

Jun 21, 2014

Why the Digital needs the Humanities

University of Saskatchewan MS Ege 15 (verso): the Beauvais Missal
To my knowledge, I have made people cry only twice by talking about medieval studies. (I am not counting students upset about their grades, which is a different story, or colleagues losing their minds with boredom at the back of the room during conferences.) Both times, I was speaking about the University of Saskatchewan’s box of medieval manuscript leaves from the Ege collection, and trying to explain why we should still be interested in pages ripped out of books made hundreds of years ago, even if most people can no longer read them and they are no longer used for the purposes for which they were intended. The first talk was to a mixed group of academics, students, and members of the general public, at the University of Saskatchewan in 2005; the second was to an audience of art librarians and archivists at a conference in Banff, Alberta, in 2006. Both times, people came up to me afterwards and confessed that they had been moved to tears – not by my eloquence, alas, but rather by the very idea that human skill and dedication could produce objects (that is, medieval liturgical and biblical manuscripts) of such beauty and meaning, even when most modern readers could not really comprehend the full scope of their meaning.

Jun 6, 2014

The Winchester Malory

British Library MS Additional 59678, fol. 35r (detail)

The story of King Arthur and his noble knights is one of the most beloved medieval legends. Arthurian tales abound, but one of the most familiar English versions is Le Morte Darthur, written by an imprisoned English knight, Sir Thomas Malory, in the second half of the 15th century. Malory’s Le Morte Darthur is taken from a variety of sources in French and English, and is known to scholars today via two sources: a text printed by William Caxton in 1485, and British Library Additional MS 59678 (known more commonly as the Winchester Manuscript or the Winchester Malory), which was wholly unknown until a series of fortunate events brought it sharply into scholarly focus in 1934.