Week 5 discussion- Writing Supports

Hi everyone, I am so sorry that this is so late…. Full disclosure, I completely forgot that we are supposed to make blog posts after we lead seminar discussions (I actually forgot we had this blog in the first place because we have approximately 6000 different websites associated with this class and I am truly ScatterBrained. I only remembered when I saw Lynsay’s post, thanks girl) Sorry everyone!!

Leading seminar last week was a little fun, and very scary. For those who missed class, Marc invited two impressive strangers to listen in, which was so intimidating and super awful for me. Professor Nelles also came in to talk about grad school, and you can find that info on slack/culearn/email/one of the other thousand interfaces we have. We discussed writing supports, also known as the things used to write stuff on. Our discussion was predominantly driven by the chapter reading and Saenger’s article about silent reading in the Middle Ages.  We distinguished two “types” of writing supports during discussion- the Ps (papyrus, parchment, and paper) and the others mentioned in chapter 1 (metal, wax, wood, etc).

The Ps are the most recognizable/ “normal” writing supports to our modern brains, since paper has survived as the most popular form (until now, as we are experiencing a shift towards digital writing supports). The two categories are mostly discrete since parchment and paper was used for different things than wax and metal. In general, parchment and paper were  liked for its longevity and association with important information, whereas the others were used for more temporary or portable work. Wax was notable for its erasability. We considered why parchment became the most widely used writing support in the MA. Parchment offered a permanence that other writing supports couldn’t, and most notably it could be made into a codex, which became the ultimate vessel for writing and recording information in the Middle Ages. Parchment also provided the right colour and texture for writing and drawing.

Saenger’s article was not directly about writing supports, but rather the culture around writing and reading in the Middle Ages. The article covered a huge amount of time and space, from the Roman Empire up until the Early Modern period, which was in an effort to demonstrate how there was a distinct change from reading aloud to reading silently. Writing in the dominantly oral reading culture of Rome was practiced as per cola et commata, which means that the scribe would write in a way that was designed to be read aloud in (syllabic phrases rather than words). The rise of vernacular language in the Middle Ages meant that people no longer spoke Latin, and therefore could not read by phrases in the Roman tradition. The incorporation of spaces between words made reading silently possible.

Finally, I wanted us to consider how digitizing medieval writing supports can be challenging, since the information we gather from them is often hard to impart through the interwebs. For example, it is distinctly difficult to describe with words the sound that a particularly thick sheet of parchment makes when you wiggle it. Digitizing these sources usually means pictures, which adds a level of removal from the source.  However, there are also upsides, like new and exciting access to sources that may have been inaccessible before digitization.