Lighting the Spark: The Medieval Itty-Bitty Book Light

Metropolitan Museum of Art Hans Memling Annunciation detail
At the request of Janice Safran and Heather Blatt I’m posting this small detail from the Annunciation of 1465-75 produced by the workshop of Rogier van der Weyden in Brussels, Belgium — possibly by Hans Memling— and in the collections of the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art. Sifran and Blatt are interested in hearing from anyone who’s seen a similar object in other images or heard one described in writing. They are presenting a paper on “Lighting the Spark: The Medieval Itty-Bitty Book Light” and are in hopes of locating similar images. They have already explored The Annunciation from the left wing of the Dijon Altarpiece (1393-99) by Melchior Broederlam in the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Dijon, France; the Annunciation of 1482 by Hans Memling in Brugge, Belgium, also in the collections of the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Why Medievalists are Digital?

Sasha Volokh, in response to an interesting post by Garrett on the preponderance of blogging lawyers, writes:

Similarly, when I was first on the Internet about eight years ago and participating in or lurking on various medieval literature listservs, someone posted a theory on why medievalists were more wired than their counterparts who studied Shakespeare, the Romantics, and so on. The theory had to do with how e-mail and posting on listservs — anonymous forwards and the like — was similar to the way writing was treated in the Middle Ages and different from the more modern ideas of the fixed text and the authoritative author. All very interesting, but it was also argued (convincingly, to me) that medievalists are more wired because English departments have fewer medievalists than Shakespeareans (some small schools may have only one), so medievalists are more isolated unless they talk with their own kind on the Internet.

I think that there may be something to the rarity of medievalists as a species inclining us to form online communities, but I also think that the raw materials of our trade—manuscripts, glosses, concordances— may tend to make the web and hypertexts more familiar to us as extensions of our scholarly lives. Much like Garrett’s suggestion that lawyers take to linking because of the emphasis on citations in legal writing, medievalists early on took to hypertexts because glossed manuscripts are hypertextual by nature, as are canon tables. Moreover we took to the digital realm early because digitizng manuscripts allows us to see and to access things we couldn’t before. This is certainly true of my experience as a digital medievalist.

I can also point to other medievalists with a similar affinity for things digital. Read, for instance, this essay by medievalist James I. McNelis, III, on his affinity for the Palm Pilot, in which he equates it to the wax tablets used by earlier scribes.

Sent from MetaFilter?

If you’re coming from MetaFilter, or more specifically, MetaTalk, my main site, Celtic Studies Resources, emphasizes Celtic medieval studies. But there are a number of more general links on things medieval there, in the Resources section. There are also some good meta sites on things medieval. Labryinth is one. Orb is another. I’m rather fond of Websites Medievalists Should Know. There are a few others listed in my bio.

Birth of a Blog

This is by way of an experiment for me; I’m new to blogging. Nicholas Urfé’s inexplicably fancy trash and my friend Paul’s iPaulo got me thinking about blogs as ways of creating communities, and that led me to think about blogs in instructional technology, serious and otherwise.

I’ve had my digitalmedievalist site for years, but I find I’m not keeping it updated the way I’d like. So I thought I’d try blogging as a quick way to do small updates. For instance, I’d like to point out that the Dublin Institute, famous for physics and Irish scholarship, has put high quality scanned images of Lebor na hUidre/The Book of the Dun Cow on line. This is really cool, and it joins the “other” major Irish manuscript, Lebar Na Núachongbála/The Book of Leinster, both digitized as part of the ISOS or Irish Script On Screen project.

Happy Cotton Library Day

Professor Scott Nokes, over at Unlocked Wordhoard, has announced Happy Cotton Library Day, in celebration of those manuscripts that didn’t burn in the fire of 1731, and solicited our responses regarding our favorite Cotton MS.

It’s a hard question, actually. There are a lot of really important, and really famous ms. in the British Library’s Cotton collection. You can see a complete list here, and a list of the “stars” here, a list which includes the unique-but-burned-in-the-fire ms. of Vitellius A.xv Nowell Codex, containing Beowulf and Judith, or the mss. of the major Aelfrich texts, and the only copy of the Gawain Poet’s works.

I’d have to say I can’t really decide between Nero A.x, which contains Pearl, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, as well as the less well known works of the same poet, Patience, and Purity/Cleanness, and Nero D.iv Lindisfarne Gospels.