Working in the Margins 1

I love marginalia. I love the challenge of deciphering the notes left behind in manuscripts and books. I love the idea of connecting with an individual who learns as I do – by marking books.

C16th handwriting

I have always written in books. Nobody ever told me it was wrong to write in my own books. It was only inappropriate to do so in someone else’s books, and that of course made perfect sense. So I grew up writing in the meanings of words and commenting on what I had or had not understood. Of course I never wrote in library books or books I borrowed from friends.

For me reading and writing are linked and at this stage that is unlikely to ever change. Not even with the advent of digital markup. I think differently with a pen in my hand than when I markup a document on an iPad. The handwritten note stay with me longer and I am more confident in utilising the knowledge I have gained.

But It was only when I came to study marginalia as an academic subject that I learned differently. I learned that for some any marking of a book is horrifying disfigurement of a precious object. I’m just relieved that people wrote in the margins of medieval manuscripts as these marginalia allow us to explore how these documents were used and read.

At the moment I am working on a manuscript that has marginal notes on nearly every page. The majority of which can be assigned to two particular readers. I don’t know who they were but they do have distinct styles of writing and approaches to the text.

Once I have finished this chapter I will get back to you and share some of my findings or at least some of the problems that may arise in the course of working out just what these marginalia meaning within the context of the manuscript and medieval reading practise.