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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 3. Teaching with Digital Annotation Tools


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Over the past few years, I have taught a course entitled Guillaume de Machaut: Exploring Medieval Authorship in the Digital Age. Machaut sits at a critical juncture in late-medieval literary and musical culture. Drawing on the works and familiar tropes of the past, he also innovated with that material and influenced later generations, too, including Christine de Pizan, Eustache Deschamps, Geoffrey Chaucer, and the Humanist movement.1 As such, my students were not merely studying the works of Machaut in isolation but also gaining an appreciation of his network of authority and—to some extent—the ramifications of historical and political events upon his work. Of course, contextualizing an author’s output should always be an important part of teaching literature; however, Machaut offers a particularly interesting case of how an author shapes his own identity on the cusp of modernity. His authorial identity has been explored in great depth, in particular by Kevin Brownlee, Deborah McGrady, and R. Barton Palmer.2 Over the latter half of the twentieth century, interest in medieval literature has been reinvigorated and in general opinion has shifted away from the kinds of attitudes we saw in Huizinga’s The Autumn of the Middle Ages, whereby the cultural output of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries was seen as stale, unimaginative, and repetitive. At one point, Huizinga notes, “[i]t is very difficult to pierce the clouds of poetry and to penetrate to the ← 55 | 56...

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