[Sca-cooks] FW: Dirty books reveal secret lives of people living in mediaeval times

Sandra J. Kisner sjk3 at cornell.edu
Wed Apr 25 06:22:38 PDT 2012

For those wanting to read more about this, here's a link to the original article.


Here is a link to Kathryn Rudy's original article in the Journal of Historians of Netherlandish Art : "Dirty Books: Quantifying Patterns of Use in Medieval Manuscripts Using a Densitometer".

Part of her conclusion:
The preliminary results achieved with the densitometer presented above can already help us to tell more specific narratives about books and their users. The densitometry analysis has revealed patterns of wear that are valid with respect to the individual specimens. Much more data will have to be collected before one can begin to make valid claims across groups of manuscripts, although it seems, already in this limited study, that one of the surprises is the degree to which votaries read the Seven Penitential Psalms, certain indulgenced prayers, and prayers that they added to their books themselves. I suspect, but do not yet have the evidence to show, that the degree to which late medieval votaries desired indulgences put market pressure on manuscript makers, who responded to their demands by creating manuscripts with more indulgences and fewer of the kinds of prayers that votaries would ignore. Similarly, there may have been market pressure to shorten the Vigil for the Dead, one of the longest sections in a book of hours. More analysis might demonstrate that toward the end of the fifteenth century votaries were willing to buy manuscripts with the shortened version of this text, which contains only three readings rather than the traditional nine. Conversely, votaries demanded the nine-, ten-, or even eleven-verse versions of the Adoro te, rather than the old-fashioned five-verse version that promised a smaller indulgence.

There's also a plea against restricting access to original manuscripts:
I make a similar plea that, as libraries continue to digitize medieval illuminations, they continue to grant access to the physical objects, which always hold more evidence than we first perceive... The convenience of digital facsimiles might be heralding the end of codicological approaches to manuscript studies. This is lamentable, as there is much subtle information stored in the physical object.

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