My Manuscript Writing Process: The Challenges I’ve Encountered

Hello once again to everyone in Medieval Manuscripts,
I have chosen to write this blog post surrounding the manuscript writing process and the problems that I have encountered whilst I have been reconstructing the manuscript that I chose. There are two major ones that I want to talk about, the first being the way in which constructing the physical version of the manuscript was done. Second, I want to talk about reproducing the text of my manuscript and the ink that I will be using to do it. I also want to talk about how much more difficult these challenges would have been to overcome in a medieval setting.
The physical piece of paper that is meant to imitate the manuscript I chose was not easy to construct. I spent the first class that we got with the manuscripts like the rest of my peers. Taking measurements of everything that I could think off. Only to find that I was missing a couple of key details or rather that I had made some incorrect measurements. The measurement that forced me to stop was the spacing in between the text and realizing that I had measured it incorrectly. This made it necessary for me to go and look at my manuscript again. Thankfully this was relatively easy to do, but if I had been a medieval scholar assigned with doing this same task. It may take months for me to have the opportunity to look at the manuscript again. It may have also been the case that I am copying something that I have seen a lot, so it may have been easier back then to simply copy it onto another piece of paper while I was present, instead of taking measurements for copying later. Nevertheless, I am glad that I had this opportunity, as I was also able to discover that my page was not straight and that the problems that I was having with the text spacing was due to the page being curved. Something that I had not previously noticed. This was not the only problem that I had whilst in the process of copying my manuscript though, as the ink required to get the writing on the page also presented its own unique problems.
I realized during the process of understanding how I would copy my manuscript that I did not have a fountain pen tip that was small enough to write the text within my manuscript. So, I went and bought one, only to discover a day or so later that the ink cartridge was leaking and needed to be replaced. What ensued was around half and hour of anger and frustration as I attempted to get the cartridge back into place, all the while staining my hands black from repeatedly touching the ink. This situation was eventually resolved by disposing of the ink cartridge and getting a new one, but the whole situation made me think about what I would do if I were a medieval scribe in this situation. First, I need the right size quill tip or pen tip to make a manuscript work. This may not have been a big problem if I did not have any requirements in this area. But if I did then I would either half to have a quill that was that size already made and ready, or I would half to make a new one. Which would have been a way bigger hassle then simply going to Michaels and buying a steel pen that was already made. This little detail is accentuated by the fact that the pen came with more then one tip, allowing for creative freedom as it applies to the size of my writing. As a scribe you’re stuck with what you’ve got. I think that phrasing also works well to describe the ink problem that I encountered. Imagine for a moment how much more devastating the problem of spilled ink would have been for someone in the Middle Ages. Getting ink on your hands isn’t a big issue for me because I have soap and olive oil to make the substance not stain things. But in the Medieval Period how would you even combat this? There would be no real way to have running water, and if they were getting paid by commission to do this work then spilling ink on resources that were in short supply would have been devastating. I was also afforded the luxury of being able to put the pen away and leave the copying of my manuscript to another time. But if there was someone paying for a commission to have this piece of work done then this wouldn’t be possible.
This also makes me think about how fortunate I am to have the fountain pen I bought come with different colours of ink. Not only because one can be replaced when it runs out, but because of all the possibilities it offers. My manuscript doesn’t have any colourful text like some others, but if it did, I could use the same pen to make all those colours come to life. If I was in the Middle Ages, I wouldn’t have this luxury. I would be limited completely by the equipment that was around me. For example, if I wanted to make some text green but there was no green ink then too bad, I would half to use something else. I believe my description highlights how much easier writing a manuscript is today, at least from a resource standpoint. So, when I get frustrated with deciphering a letter or a word with my manuscript it is helpful to remember how lucky I am to have easy access to these tools.
Hope that this was an interesting read and that you can take something from it. I also want to wish everyone the best of luck with their manuscripts.

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.

A new year

It is now the end of November and it feels like the term is quickly coming to an end. I am looking forward to reading all the work that my new students will be producing in the coming weeks talking about their experience working with medieval fragments and working in Carleton’s Book Arts lab!