Practical Palaeography: Recreating the Exeter Book in a Modern Day ‘Scriptorium’

Practical Palaeography: Recreating the Exeter Book in a Modern Day ‘Scriptorium’

From the post:

Dr Johanna Green is a lecturer in Book History and Digital Humanities at the University of Glasgow. Her PhD (English Language, University of Glasgow 2012) focused on a palaeographical study of the textual division and subordination of the Exeter Book manuscript. Here, she tells us about the first of two sessions she led for the Society of Northumbrian Scribes, a group of calligraphers based in North East England, bringing palaeographic research and modern-day calligraphy together for the public.
(emphasis in original)

Not phrased in subject identity language, but concerns familiar to the topic map community are not far away:


My own research centres on the scribal hand of the manuscript, specifically the ways in which the poems are divided and subdivided from one another and the decorative designs used for these litterae notabiliores throughout. For much of my research, I have spent considerable time (perhaps more than I am willing to admit) wondering where one ought to draw the line with palaeography. When do the details become so tiny to no longer be of any significance? When are they just important enough to mean something significant for our understanding of how the manuscript was created and arranged? How far am I willing to argue that these tiny features have significant impact? Is, for example, this littera notabilior Đ on f. 115v (Judgement Day I, left) different enough in a significant way to this H on f.97v, (The Partridge, bottom right), and in turn are both of these litterae notabiliores performing a different function than the H on f.98r (Soul and Body II, far right)?[5]
(emphasis in original, footnote omitted)

When Dr. Green says:

…When do the details become so tiny to no longer be of any significance?…

I would say: When do the subjects (details) become so tiny we want to pass over them in silence? That is they could be but are not represented in a topic map.

Green ends her speculation, to a degree, by enlisting scribes to re-create the manuscript of interest under her observation.

I’ll leave her conclusions for her post but consider a secondary finding:


The experience also made me realise something else: I had learned much by watching them write and talking to them during the process, but I had also learned much by trying to produce the hand myself. Rather than return to Glasgow and teach my undergraduates the finer details of the script purely through verbal or written description, perhaps providing space for my students to engage in the materials of manuscript production, to try out copying a script/exemplar for themselves would help increase their understanding of the process of writing and, in turn, deepen their knowledge of the constituent parts of a letter and their significance in palaeographic endeavour. This last is something I plan to include in future palaeography teaching.

Dr. Green’s concern over palaeographic detail illustrates two important points about topic maps:

  1. Potential subjects for a topic map are always unbounded.
  2. Different people “see” different subjects.

Which also account for my yawn when Microsoft drops the Microsoft Concept Graph of more than 5.4 million concepts.

…[M]ore than 5.4 million concepts[?]

Hell, Copleston’s History of Western Philosophy easily has more concepts.

But the Microsoft Concept Graph is more useful than a topic map of Copleston in your daily, shallow, social sea.

What subjects do you see and how would capturing them and their identities make a difference in your life (professional or otherwise)?

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