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Nota Bene

Making Digital Marks on Medieval Manuscripts


Edited By Tamsyn Mahoney-Steel

We stand at the cusp of an exciting moment in digital medieval studies. The advent of ubiquitously available digitized manuscripts alongside platforms that host encoded medieval texts has democratized access to the cultural heritage of the Middle Ages, and gives us the potential for greater understanding of that era. Seen through the lens of late medieval French literature, in particular the Roman de la Rose and the works of Guillaume de Machaut, this book exhorts us to be optimistic about what we can achieve. Challenging the pessimism inherent in views that see our historical situatedness as a barrier to truly understanding the medieval era, Tamsyn Mahoney-Steel argues that digital networks of manuscript images, texts, and annotations, can not only aid us in comprehending medieval literary culture, but are, in fact, complementary to medieval modes of thought and manner in which manuscripts transmitted ideas. Using her teaching of Guillaume de Machaut and her work with the Roman de la Rose Digital Library, Mahoney-Steel envisages a future in which the digital humanities can enable us to build transhistorical relationships with our medieval objects of study.
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Chapter 1. Interpreting the Medieval Text


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Back when I was an undergraduate student at the University of Warwick, I remember an exhibition that was held in the Warwick Arts Centre. The installation consisted of a set of boxes raised on legs, each of which had a hole in the bottom. The idea was that the viewer stepped underneath the box and put their head into the hole. Inside each box was a world of the artist’s choosing. It could be a magnified beehive that made the viewer feel small and vulnerable, it could be a world in miniature that made the viewer feel god-like in size. I don’t remember the particulars of the views, but I remember the shift. By shift I mean the shock of the unsettling, at times sublime, feeling of having one’s view on the world so radically altered. When I think about my attempts to understand the medieval era, I think about putting my head into those boxes, leaving behind the assumptions of my world and being shifted and shocked into an alternate perspective.

The manuscript matrix for us is a place to experience the shock of shift. We can pick up a manuscript and hold it in our hands, turn the pages right to left or left to right depending on language, we can examine bindings—all of which might seem familiar practices to us. We can read words and look at pictures. We could even...

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