A Project Update From Emily

The last couple of weeks in our class have caught me largely off-guard. I knew going into this class with little digital or medieval knowledge that aspects of it were going to prove to be difficult for me. However, I largely underestimated just how challenging it would turn out to be. I even had to postpone my trip to Montreal over reading week to focus on preparation for leading my seminar (despite being on campus for more than twelve hours everyday working on it leading up to the day I was supposed to leave). In this blog post, I will highlight some things I am struggling with in the course, as well as sharing some aspects that I am thoroughly enjoying. Hopefully I am not the only one sharing some of these struggles.

I will start off on a more positive note with something in our course that particularly sparked my interest. Those of you who were in my seminar will most likely be familiar with the fact that I was very interested in the medieval pecia system. This is a system in which universities rent out piece, or copies of textbooks, to allow students to write their own notes to study from. These notes are called pecia. Our text mentions these copies were later returned or the students incurred a fine. As many of you know, I work in the Carleton library and this system particularly sparked my interest due to the many similarities it shares with the reserve service we offer. Professors can request material to be put on reserves for students to rent for short periods of time to study and take notes from. If the material is not returned by the end of the time allotted, the student receives a fine on their account. Though hundreds of years later, the fact that we still have a similar system in place in our own library interests me very much. The pecia system is definitely something, when time allows me to, I would like to do some further research on.

Something that I have found particularly frustrating thus far is the digital tools we are downloading and working on each week. Our professor (thankfully) gives very straightforward step-by-step guides to navigating through these processes. One would think this would make the process simple, but I still somehow find a way to make mistakes. This can normally be fixed by watching many YouTube tutorials on how to use the programs and eventually figuring out how to do the simple task that was assigned originally. However, this normally takes me much longer than it should have taken.

I also struggled with transcribing the first couple of lines of my manuscript. Even though I was leading the seminar on paleography and had read about the different practices in medieval writing, I still could not decipher the letters in my manuscript. This was particularly frustrating to me due to the fact that my letters had initially appeared to be relatively clearly written. I had checked out a Latin-English dictionary in hopes of deciphering the first two letters and then looking to see if any words in that section were close to my manuscript. This proved to be a largely ineffective process that was very time consuming and I do not recommend it to any of you. In class when Marc mentioned that medieval Latin is a bit of a free-for-all when it comes to spelling, everything made a little more sense.

I can go on for much longer about how difficult I found it to prepare for my seminar and how time consuming it is, but I touched largely on that in my last blog post which details some struggles I encountered in my preparations. So, I will choose to end this project update here. However, if any of you have any questions about preparing to lead your seminar that I did not touch on, I am more than happy to talk with you (as are your other peers who have led seminars, I am sure).

See you all in class!

Getting Reading for Week 7: Abbreviations

*This week’s blog post is brought to you by Veronica and Lynsay*

This week we’re looking at abbreviations! Though many people today use abbreviations when sending messages over text, few might realize that shortening words isn’t actually a new practice. These readings will examine the use of abbreviations (and punctuation in the case of Intro to Manuscript Studies and Shady Characters) across various regions in Medieval Europe. The textbook introduced us to some new Latin words as well; distinctiones, positurae and a few other Latin phrases thrown around. Latin does not come naturally to me, so it tends to take longer for me to grasp the definition of certain Latin words. Here’s a quick reminder of those two words (because if I was reading this I would have had no clue what those were from the top of my head):

 Distinctiones: single points (punctus) that were placed at different heights to indicate different pauses while reading.

Positurae: a system that showed the reader how they should use their voice while reading (higher, lower, emphasis) using different punctus.

  • In what situations might abbreviations be preferable? What are the benefits and disadvantages for historians when looking at manuscripts that use abbreviations? What are the possible ways to overcome the challenge of understanding/transcribing abbreviations?
  • Much like the style of text abbreviations seems to vary across different regions. What might account for these differences? Why weren’t they just universal? Have you noticed during our time any differences in abbreviations across countries or regions?
  • Take a look at your own manuscript. Can you see any abbreviations or punctuation? Do they look like any of the examples provided in the textbook or are they their own alien punctuation?
  • Why do you think abbreviations were different depending on the region (Latin regions that is)? Why weren’t they just universal?
  • Not so much a question, but the third part of the Emoji article was published on October 14th, so I recommend taking a look: https://shadycharacters.co.uk/2018/10/emoji-part-3-go-west/


Expanding and comprehending abbreviations can be a frustrating process but it provides another piece of the puzzle when historians try to understand medieval manuscripts. The next step is trying to share what we know about abbreviations with the wider public in a way that does not come off as dry and boring. Also, we need to find a way to share what we know about abbreviations to help further academics with their transcriptions down the road. As you read think about ways we can share with others (both academics and the wider public) our understanding of medieval abbreviations.