03 January 2014

Books of the 12th century renaissance

With no word breaks, and abbreviations, reading was a special skill
(Inscription on Trajan's Column - much the same format in early manuscripts)
once upon a time all books were manuscripts and consisted of continuous text without punctuation and sometimes without the benefit of new paragraphs anyone reading would have to guess or know where and when a new sentence started and without commas if you were reading aloud as most reading was we are told there would be no signal for a chance to draw breath but they got round this by other people than the scribe in other words the readers putting in points as signals

Then along came the twelfth century renaissance and things got a lot better on the reading front:

" Almost a thousand years ago, in the age of renewal known as the “Twelfth-Century Renaissance,” when books were still written by hand, a new communications technology appeared: a new book format, custom-tailored for the age. 

"This new format included new types of script, new page layouts and new reading aids, most notably pagination, running titles, paragraphs, quotation marks, footnotes, cross references and diagrams. The technological innovations improved what is called “book fluency,” or the ability to read a text quickly and accurately. 

"While in the late eleventh century intellectual culture nearly completely lacked tools that could rise to these occasions, by the outset of the thirteenth century scholars had a rich palette of aids at their disposal that facilitated comprehension and speedy access. 

"The inventions dramatically changed the reading experience of medieval individuals. It helped to create a new international community of scholars, bound by a shared desire for knowledge. And it proved remarkably durable: it is essentially the book we are holding today."

Those words are from the VIDI project, which is concerned how technological innovations in the manuscript relate to cultural change. [I've broken up its text into paragraphs, because a necessity for easy reading on screen is to have short paragraphs, even just one sentence with white space top and bottom to help readers keep their place and absorb the information.]

I stumbled on the 12th century renaissance only yesterday and am finding out more via sites like this one -
which, as you can see from the screen shot, is laid out with lots of white space to help today's reader (though those long lines across the screen aren't too helpful ...) but that is 21st century technology; let's get back to the 12th century.

It was at this time that the first universities were founded (Bologna, Paris, Oxford, Modena) - based on people who got together to read books, outside cathedral or monastery schools, becoming an international community of scholars.  Courses were based around books, not subject or theme - eg Aristotle or a book of the Bible - and students would read it together. [Were they likely to have owned a copy (no!), or to write their own notes? Paper started to spread to Europe, replacing animal skins, around this time and was neither common or cheap, so could the students have afforded the writing materials? Nowadays we can't imagine studying or learning without having our own books on hand or plenty of paper to write with, or print out onto.] The universities taught the seven liberal arts and Aristotelian philosophy, and students could go on to further study in law, medicine, and theology (of which theology was the most prestigious).

Other developments in the twelfth century were in literature (the romance form; wandering scholars), philosophy (scholasticism), and architecture (gothic, with its pointed arch and flying buttresses) - as well as in government bureaucracy, and the recovery of the corpus of Roman law. This renaissance paved the way for the Italian Renaissance of the 15th century, during which time the book (the codex) underwent a major change, with the advent of printing - change not so much in its format, but in it availability.
written about 1145 (via)
"By the twelfth century, most medieval scribes relied heavily on the use of abbreviations to limit the amount of space each word needed to take up on the page. Parchment was expensive and the more words crammed onto a single folio could mean a great deal of savings in production costs. Most words, therefore, only consist of a few key letters and an abbreviation mark of some kind, perhaps a small hovering circle, or a swirl at the end of the word:

 “Et qd his mai est” (The full version: Et quod his maius est)." (via)

Eventually we get to late-medieval manuscripts that used the new reading aids mentioned above, not just in the text (especially punctuation, which was known until the 16th century as "pointing"), but especially the features that would help readers find their way around the volume - features that arguably became more important in the printed book.

No comments: