First Seminar Blog Post

Hello everyone in Medieval Manuscripts,
This is the blog post for the seminar that I did a week ago regarding Book History. I proposed four different questions relating to the cataloguing of book history and the readings that we had on it. Three of which got answered. The first of my questions to be answered regarded why we were given the readings in the first place. The second question that was addressed dealt with the ideal copy of a manuscript. This question dominated most of the class discussion, as it branched into how an ideal copy could be interpreted and what we as scholars hoped to gain from it. The final question to be discussed surrounded the use of electronic media in this field of study, and the benefits and drawbacks that came from its use. This question seemed to be relatively easy to answer for the class, as the group appeared to reach a consensus. In this blog I will do my best to recap the discussion that happened in class, so I hope that it’ll be useful.
The best place to start the recap of the discussion is to begin with the beginning of the class. Professor Saurette described that there were several different intentions and minds that went behind writing a manuscript. For Medievalists, it is important to consider who could write during this time period, as their biases were going to be apart of the text. On top of this, many manuscripts are written in different languages that half to be translated for their words to be read most of the time. Changing the meaning of many of these manuscripts. Interestingly, the class came to the general opinion during this lecture that there was no real way to know the authors intentions, making most assumptions about them just educated guesses. This process of writing unintentionally answered one of my posed questions regarding why the readings were assigned in the first place. The idea seemed to be to show the complexity of Medieval writing, and how different values and intentions mixed into a single work. This idea of intentions behind writing and the problems of translation provided good background for the discussion regarding the ‘ideal copy’.
The second question discussed focused on what an ‘ideal copy’ would include, and would this ideal version just be in pristine condition, or would it have different content depending on who was imagining it? The class agreed that the content would be different depending on who was looking for it, suggesting that having an ideal copy was an impossibility. The class also noted that importantly, first copies and rough drafts are often not the best versions of text. Eventually leading to the question of why such a thing was so highly coveted to begin with. The class discussed the ideal version as being a sort of mythical piece of evidence. As finding one document that was irrefutable and in ideal condition was viewed as the pinnacle of scholarship. Drawing on what had been discussed earlier about the lack of clarity concerning an ideal copy, the class suggested that a better goal or pinnacle should be a critical edition. A document that guides a reader through a given text by making use of other sources. Thus, providing more information for a reader if they chose to learn more. The idea of a perfectly preserved manuscript and what could be gained from just being able to hold it related to another question that I posed last week.
The question was all about how important a physical copy is during the age of digital text and its availability. The class was unanimous on the stance that there is a lot of information to be gained from the physical copy of a manuscript. There is a certain uniqueness about a document that is still intact in its original form. So, to have the manuscript limited to a simple file prevents that sense of uniqueness from being experienced. The benefits of electronic media were also shared amongst the discussion group though. Including the ability of a text to not be exposed to harmful conditions, preventing any further degradation. It is also helpful to be able to zoom in on a given text, as well as invert it and change its properties in order to identify some features that would not normally be visible. The class thus concluded that there is a certain use for technology but that physical copies should not be disregarded.
Overall, the class discussion went very well. The class was engaged with the material, drawing on discussions that were had last week concerning personal bias whilst simultaneously understanding that when reading a manuscript, it isn’t just the individual authors voice coming through. This allowed the class to discuss the ideal copy and all the implications that came with it. Both in terms of content and its condition. Furthermore, suggesting that such a thing isn’t possible, but that there is a more instructive way to help readers through a text. The idea of an ideal pristine version of a text also allowed the class to answer the question of how useful physical copies still are in modern scholarship. With a decision being reached that they do still have a purpose, but that electronic media does have a place as well. In conclusion, I am really pleased that my questions were able to cultivate such a lively discussion, and I thank the whole class for their participation.