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.

PhD update

The PhD is progressing quite quickly now and the work to date has covered:

  • transcribing one Middle English Manuscript
  • translating one Anglo-Norman poem for three separate audiences
  • transcribing the annotations of two C16th century readers
  • transcribing the annotations of several readers of C17-19th (these are much smaller in number)
  • completing a comparison of Brie’s collated copy with my manuscript
  • completing a draft chapter on translation
  • identifying the themes for each chapter

So all in all a substantial amount of work and I am now ready to move on and write-up the medieval section of my thesis.

This is a sample of the handwriting I have been working with.

C16th handwriting
C16th handwriting

The handwriting is generally quite good to read, but the sample here is one of the more difficult sections to transcribe. I’m just waiting for my supervisor to check that I have this bit right.

Context does help with the interpretation, and compared to deciphering my own handwriting this manuscript is a joy to work with.

I’m intending to post regularly on my progress now that I have the transcriptions completed and the analysis begins in earnest. If you are interesting in hearing more do let me know.