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From Parchment to Cyberspace

Medieval Literature in the Digital Age


Stephen G. Nichols

From Parchment to Cyberspace argues the case for studying high-resolution digital images of original manuscripts to analyze medieval literature. By presenting a rigorous philosophical argument for the authenticity of such images (a point disputed by digital skeptics) the book illustrates how digitization offers scholars innovative methods for comparing manuscripts of vernacular literature – such as The Romance of the Rose or texts by Christine de Pizan – that reveal aspects of medieval culture crucial to understanding the period.

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2. Materiality and Mimesis: Anatomy of an Illusion


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Some years ago, I was invited to address a seminar at the Heinrich-Heine-Universität in Düsseldorf. The students were studying the materiality and modes of production of medieval manuscripts. My assignment was to discuss the rationale for digitizing codices taking as an example the collaboration between the Sheridan Libraries at Johns Hopkins University and the Bibliothèque nationale in Paris. Jointly we had digitized and put on line some 150 codices of the Romance of the Rose produced between the end of the thirteenth and the first quarter of the sixteenth centuries (, formerly

Besides explaining the advantages for study and research of digitizing such artifacts, I also wanted to demonstrate new research techniques for medieval studies that digital resources made possible. It never crossed my mind that graduate students wouldn’t be excited to discover that artifacts largely inaccessible to them (and frequently to senior scholars as well) were now freely available to anyone with a computer and Internet access. It seemed to me that we had at last managed to reconcile two principles of libraries that had long seemed irreconcilable when it came to medieval manuscripts: access and preservation. Finally, readers would be able to study manuscripts intensively without fear of damaging them.

Students, I reasoned, would want to avail themselves of these new scholarly resources immediately. After all, digital resources open new horizons for studying authentic medieval artifacts and their historical context. At the very least, wouldn’t ← 43 | 44...

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