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.

Medieval Storytelling

Last year I participated in an AHRC workshop on medieval storytelling. The workshop was not what I expected, but It was an interesting experience. Although not all of the stated aims were met, but again from my experience that is not unusual.

The focus of the workshop was on storytelling for children in general rather than on the retelling of medieval stories for a modern audience at keystage 2. There was some discussion of adaptation in terms of what needed to be removed from the ‘original’ medieval tale, but not much about what needed to be retained in order to keep a sense of the medieval world.

For me the modern adaptation of stories created and told within the medieval period depends a great deal on the reason why these stories are being adapted for a modern audience. If the purpose is to give keystage 2 children a sense of life in the medieval world then much of the ‘original’ story would have to be kept.

Adaptations of these stories should be recast in language accessible to children and yes they would on occasion have to be rendered less sexually explicit, but on the other hand removing all religious references and recasting gender roles would mean that the modern retelling no longer reflects the medieval culture within which these stories were told. Such heavy recasting is of course perfectly acceptable if you are simply telling a story without placing any educational constraints on it.

Adaptation, retelling, recasting – however you want to think about it has a long and well accepted tradition. What matters is why you are telling the story in the first place.

What do you think?

Medieval Storytelling: Engaging the Next Generation

I have just returned home to Aberystwyth University from a very enjoyable and informative workshop organised by Oxford University.

The workshop was entitled ‘Medieval Storytelling: Engaging the Next Generation’ and is the first step in what will hopefully develop into a long-running programme of events both for myself and for Oxford and its future collaborators.

It was an AHRC-funded skills development programme aiming to train research postgraduates in the art of storytelling. We were divided into two groups. One group was led by professional storyteller Daniel Morden while the second group was led by Jenny Moon, a storyteller and proponent of the effectiveness of storytelling in Higher Education.

Packed into two days were workshops on performance and adaptation skills with a view to performing medieval stories to schoolchildren as a way of enhancing and supporting the teaching and learning processes within schools and to foster an interest in medieval narratives from an early age.

These two days of workshops are not the end of the project and now each participant must to go back to their home universities and  make contact with primary schools and/or more publicly accessible venues within their locality in order to perform the stories that they will adapt using the skills learnt at Oxford.

The organising of our own events for schools or the wider public will raise their own difficulties and in overcoming these I hope that by the end of the project I will have developed my general communication and organisational skills to a high level so that I can share my their research wider a wider audience outside of the academic community.

So while the workshops at Oxford were both informative and entertaining it is now that the hard work begins and I should announce that I am now available as a storyteller for schools and events.