This is a revised version of a document I presented at the conference “Manumanuscript as Medium,” funded by the Center for Middle ages Studies at Fordham University of March 5, 2016. I thank the conference organizers for accepting the paper, and the audience for the lively discussion that adhered to its distribution.

You are watching: If everyone is special no one is

I take my title from the

Pixar film “The Incredibles,” which was an extremely famous movie night selection in my residence as soon as my 2 youngsters were younger. As I’m sure any kind of of you via youngsters of a particular age are aware, the Incredibles are a family members of super-heroes that are required to go undercover and also live normal lives in the everyday suburban people. The superpower of the young child Dash is super rate, yet his mom tells him that he is not allowed to go out for sports for fear that he’ll beat everyone. “But our powers make us special!” Dash argues. “Everyone is one-of-a-kind, Dash,” counters his mother. Dash responds, “Which is another means of saying that no one is.”

So what does this need to perform via medieval manuscripts? In this blog short article I will muse about the way that brand-new technologies, consisting of the digitization of manuscripts, and new commitments to open accessibility among libraries and also museums, have influenced the examine of medieval manuscripts. Manumanuscript research studies has actually always been a rarified field, through material that is difficult to accessibility because it is frequently on a shelf or in a vault fairly than on watch, necessitating travel, scholastic credentials, and an excellent visual memory, the last particularly necessary considering that manuscripts were hardly ever photographed in their totality, and also absolutely not in complete color. Due to the fact that few people had a pathmeans right into this esoteric human being of humelted libraries, book cradles, and also pencils, the possibility constantly existed of brand-new discoveries, of points that had never before been noticed, relationships that had never been drawn, entire manuscripts that had never before been examined. With digitization, such experiences are apt to become even more and even more rare, as access to manuscripts becomes even more and also more democratic. Everyone is distinct — anyone with a computer and an Net connection currently has accessibility to thousands and thousands of manuscripts, searchable in a myriad of methods. But is it true that if everyone is distinct, then no one is? Is somepoint lost as soon as manumanuscript research studies becomes mainstream?

Tright here has truly been an explosion of technology in recent years, permitting for well-off and also productive ways of viewing and researching manuscripts. Libraries and museums are digitizing their manuscript collections in enhancing numbers (as simply one example, the British Library has actually digitized many type of of its manuscripts: These days, a lot of conferences include sessions on Digital Humanities, including presentations on the ever-enhancing variety of digital sources, and the ways that innovation can assist in manuscript research studies. For example, OPenn, the College of Pennsylvania’s open-access site, “includes complete sets of high-resolution archival images of social heritage material from the collections of its contributing establishments, in addition to machine-readable descriptive and also technological metadata” (, and also it will home Biblioteca Philadelphiensis, a job which at its completion will have digitized manuscripts in the whole better Philadelphia area. There are more and also more searchable resources favor the Schoenberg Database of Manuscripts (, or the Digitized Medieval Manumanuscript app (

While I have actually definitely utilized various databases, and benefited from the enhancing access to manuscripts that have been digitized and placed online, I really started to think about the problem of manuscripts study and technology when I was asked to create a book review for H-France Review of the I-book The Visions of Tondal from the Library of Margaret of York, by Thomas Kren and Roger Wieck ( It consists of the esstates that were part of the original 1990 print publication, and also it additionally consists of the finish manumanuscript, which permits the user to turn, practically at leastern, each folio, by swiping left and appropriate, communicating through the manumanuscript in means that had just been feasible when actually dealing with the book ( Presenting a manuscript in digitized form has many benefits; the cost of production is lessened for the publisher, and the purchase price is affordable for the customer, especially because high-quality facsimiles of illuminated manuscripts are stratospherically expensive. Digitizing manuscripts additionally suggests boosted access; the entire manuscript, rather than the select folios presented in a museum setting or in a much more typical publication, can be made available, and also to a wider audience.

As amazing as all these brand-new technological inventions may be, tright here are a couple of downsides. So at initially, let me wax nostalgic for the old means of examining manuscripts. Digitized manuscripts deserve to be viewed without the stress that physical taking care of places on the genuine point, and also so paradoxically, the broad accessibility to manuscripts afforded by online technology will certainly in turn many most likely restrict accessibility to actual physical objects, also to scholars. Is somepoint shed in the process? One might argue that a manumanuscript is more than simply images and words on a page; there are details and subtleties that are obvious just once they are viewed in person. While bindings can be described, the quality and also thickness of the parchment comprehensive, and lacunae, stubs, and also various other such features noted, the feeling of scholarly expedition, to say nopoint of personal revelation, could be jeopardized as soon as a manumanuscript is viewed just in digital develop. The researcher is reliant on the quality of the digital imeras, and the thoroughness of the entered information – but what if the researcher is in search of something that can’t be seen in the digital copy, and is not described? Early manumanuscript cataloguers regularly ignored indevelopment that was not deemed pertinent at the moment they were creating their descriptions, and therefore it was left to later on scholars to recoup and disclose marginal illumicountry, for example. The researcher may be studying the manumanuscript for points like signs of use, or delibeprice deencountering. They might be interested in pin pricks, or bits of thcheck out left from vanished picture covers, or erasures that deserve to just be checked out under ultraviolet light. Or things that they didn’t understand that they were looking for until they discovered them.

And what about the more personal experiences of manumanuscript study? For me, functioning through manuscripts evokes two points – take a trip and touch. Due to the fact that I live in the mid-Atlantic area, I do not need to take a trip far to see significant medieval manuscripts, and also I have absolutely checked out my fair share of manuscripts on display screen in museums and libraries, favor so many kind of butterflies pinned into place under glass. But what I really desire to execute is to have those manuscripts to myself, away from the public, to take my time and also embark upon my own individual voyage of exploration. Often such an intellectual trip starts through an actual one, a aircraft trip to a far-ameans place. For my dissertation research alone, I went to many museums and also libraries in a number of various nations. So the memories of functioning via manuscripts become linked with evocations of location. I remember the roasted tomatoes of the Scottish breakfasts I ate to fortify me before my long days of working in Special Collections at the College of Glasgow, and also the bars erupting after a World Cup soccer match. I remember my jogging path through the Tuileries, throughout the summer I spent working at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France. I remember the pastries in Vienna, and also the beer in Munich, and the pigeon that shat on me in Oxford. And the six weeks I spent in San Marino, California, functioning through the subject of my dissertation, the Huntington Library Legenda aurea (HM 3027) will forever evoke the memory that I was hugely pregnant at the time, and also someexactly how I had to number out just how to examine the manuscript without my expanding stomach acquiring in the means.

But the the majority of interesting component of all those trips is that I acquired to touch those manuscripts, to turn the folios and also feel the vellum. While the viewer of the digitized manumanuscript might have the ability to turn the folios basically, approximating a physical interactivity via the book and also its pages, it deserve to never be the very same as the intimate flesh-upon-flesh experience of fingers touching parchment. Angie Bennett Segler and Jennifer Borland also, among others, have actually defined the nearly erotic suffer of dealing with actual manuscripts.<1> Tright here is somepoint around the heft and feel, somepoint about the very materiality and tactility of the manuscript, which connects our endure to that of previous customers and viewers of the very same physical object. With the manuscript as our mutual car, we can make a visceral connection with the people from the past – the parchment-equipments, the scribes, the artists, the owners. My touch is however one in a chain of touches. It appears to me somejust how ironic, or perhaps it is entirely understandable, that in a methodological moment once we are privileging the object – through thing concept, via object-oriented ontology, through groups such as the Material Collective – at this incredibly exact same time innovation is relocating us farther amethod from the object. We attend to pixels rather parchment, skin upon display instead of skin upon skin. Swipe left, swipe best – Tinder for quick manumanuscript hook-ups, temporary love affairs that end as shortly as the Web link is broken or the computer is closed.

We are living in an progressively digital world – virtual truth, virtual relationships, virtual manuscripts. And as Kerr Houston suggested in a previous blog write-up for the Material Collective, our boosting engagement through digital innovation suggests that the sensory endure of interacting via digital tools offers its very own kind of visceral satisfactivity ( Yet in the end, as authentic-looking as these substitutes are, as easily accessible as it makes the experience, a manumanuscript that is presented in a facsimile, on an Ipad, or in a database deserve to never before really method the actual materiality of the original. In the finish, they are ephemeral copies. Due to the fact that of the problems via preserving digital sources, especially the need to continually move digital information from one platcreate to one more as technology changes or becomes obsolete, scholars working on digital projects need to accept that their projects will many likely not survive. Indeed manuscripts themselves are topic to movement; by the exceptionally nature of their portcapability, unmuch less they are still chained in a monastic library, manuscripts very often exist exterior their original conmessages.

The Carmelite Missal, British Library

They are also topic to the raveras of time, tragedies both organic and humale, from the shed library of Alexandria to the burning of books in Mosul by ISIS. They may be cut up by kids (as in the well known situation of the Carmelite Missal, now British Library Add. Ms. 28704-5, 44892), or by unscrupulous dealers who break manuscripts in order to market individual leaves. But barring calamity, their extremely physicality is not at danger, in the method that the evolution of innovation and the breakdown of data make digital jobs at risk to loss.

But probably all this hand-wringing over the death of typical manuscript research studies is somejust how overwrought. Perhaps by clinging to the manuscript-as-object we are privileging the authentic, the original, in all its Benjaminian aura. We are already acquainted through dealing with material that is one step removed from the original, via the manumanuscript facsimile. Michael Camille bemoaned the absence of academic access to the Très Riches Heures; its availability in facsimile form expected that the original came to be a “lost prototype.”<2> It is worth remembering, yet, that those of us that research medieval manuscripts attend to products from a time when the aura of the protokind regularly extended to its reproduction. Hence specific imperiods of the Virgin, understood as acquired from St. Luke’s portrait of the Virgin, have actually their own create of authenticity as imeras that redevelop, and are therefore imbued via, the essence of the holy. After all, manuscripts are themselves incredibly regularly copies, facsimiles, hearkening ago to a model, whether it be a monk-replicated work of theology, a Publication of Hours via codified iconography and standardized prayers, or Carolingian transcriptions of antique texts that, while duplicates, have actually appropriated a place of authority since the original texts no much longer endure.

While we might lose the capacity to take care of original manuscripts, innovation have the right to profoundly improve the means we understand also them.

Digitized manumanuscript collections, particularly those through open up accessibility policies, enable both scholars and also the basic public the possibility to search and check out manuscripts in a myriad of methods, and the significant data that have the right to be mined from such databases have the right to be revelatory, allowing researchers to search, organize, and also manipulate indevelopment via a convenience and also speed which is virtually unfathomable. Ipads loaded through digitized manuscripts intend that they can be perceived more comprehensively, past a solitary opening – and also that they can be appreciated by everyone, not simply those with academic credentials and a take a trip stipfinish. Virtual exhibitions, such as “Renaissance Splendors of the Northern Italian Courts” at the Getty, through gorgeous high-res imperiods, deserve to be viewed either in conjunction via on-website exhibitions, or completely on their very own ( Not just are such exhibitions easily accessible in a digital sense, they are additionally a godsfinish for someone choose my very own mom, who is disabled and also have the right to no longer quickly obtain to an actual physical museum.

Digital jobs seem to be specifically well-suited for, to even demand, participation. At times when interdisciplinarity deserve to sometimes seem to be no even more than a buzzword, such endeavors often truly are partnerships in between civilization with diverse ability sets. As just one example, the wonderful “Opening the Geese Book” task, spearheaded by Corine Schleif and Volker Schier, is a joint effort including art historians, musicians, musicologists, internet developers, computer programmers, actors, conservators, and also a host of various other professionals (

So while something is shed – the personal interactivity with the object, the potential for secret discovery – much even more has been acquired. The well-off human being of medieval manuscripts is opening to a more comprehensive audience, and also via that comes the possibility of a pooling of understanding, of collaboration, of shared purpose. In a political minute, both in medieval researches and also in the larger people, wbelow gatekeepers vie to restrict access to others, whether those borders are academic, geographical, or personal, we should constantly advocate for flexibility, for diversity, for ehigh quality, for ease of access, for inclusion. Due to the fact that in the end, everyone IS special.

<1> See Angie Bennett Segler, “Touched for the Very First Time: Losing my Manumanuscript Virginity,” in Transparent Things: A Cabinet, eds. Maggie M. Williams and Karen Eileen Overbey (Brooklyn, NY: punctum books, 2013); Jennifer Borland, “Unruly Reading: The Consuming Role of Touch in the Experience of a Middle ages Manuscript,” in Scraped, Stroked, and also Bound: Materially Engaged Readings of Middle ages Manuscripts, ed. Jonathan Wilcox (Turnhout: Brepols, 2013), 97-114.

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<2> Michael Camille, “The Très Riches Heures: An Illuminated Manumanuscript in an Age of Remanufacturing,” Critical Inquiry 17.1 (Fall 1990): 72-107.