It’s just about the end of the second year of my PhD and looking back over the past two years I feel that I have accomplished a tremendous amount of work, but at the same time not nearly enough. A common enough feeling amongst PhD students at this point in their research.
The transcription and translation of manuscripts, and the drawing out of themes is a lengthy and drawn out process. There are no shortcuts when working with unpublished manuscripts.
Transcriptions of the document are needed. In the first instance these are often made from microfilmed copies of the original. I have also worked with the original manuscript and the difference in readability is amazing. The original in this case is much clearer and when looking at how the manuscript was used being able to see the colours of the ink and the amount of pen pressure are essential.
Of course not all transcripts result in lovely published critical editions. Much of the manuscript that I have transcribed will be incorporated into the text of my thesis, but a large amount of the work will be relegated to an appendix.
So the third year begins in October and I will be spending the next year reading and writing like a demon and wondering where all the time has gone. But I’m still enjoying the research and seem to be on target.
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.
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.