This is a revised version of a file I presented at the conference “Manuscript together Medium,” funded by the center for middle ages Studies at Fordham university of in march 5, 2016. I say thanks to the conference organizers because that accepting the paper, and the audience for the lively conversation that complied with its delivery.

You are watching: If everyone is special no one is

I take it my location from the

Pixar film “The Incredibles,” which was a really popular movie night selection in my residence when my two children were younger. Together I’m sure any kind of of you with youngsters of a details age space aware, the Incredibles are a household of super-heroes that are forced to go undercover and also live normal stays in the daily suburban world. The supermacht of the young son Dash is super speed, but his mother tells him the he is not allowed to go out for sports for fear that he’ll beat everyone. “But our strength make united state special!” Dash argues. “Everyone is special, Dash,” counters his mother. Dash responds, “Which is another method of saying that no one is.”

So what go this need to do with middle ages manuscripts? In this blog short article I will certainly muse about the means that brand-new technologies, consisting of the digitization that manuscripts, and brand-new commitments come open accessibility among libraries and also museums, have impacted the examine of medieval manuscripts. Manuscript research studies has constantly been a rarified field, with material that is challenging to access since the is typically on a shelf or in a vault quite than on view, necessitating travel, academic credentials, and also a good visual memory, the latter specifically important due to the fact that manuscripts were hardly ever photographed in your entirety, and also certainly no in full color. Since couple of people had a pathway into this esoteric civilization of hushed libraries, book cradles, and also pencils, the possibility constantly existed of new discoveries, of things that had actually never to be noticed, connections that had actually never to be drawn, whole manuscripts that had actually never to be examined. With digitization, together experiences room apt to become an ext and an ext rare, as access to manuscripts becomes more and more democratic. Everyone is special — anyone through a computer and an Internet link now has access to thousands and also thousands the manuscripts, search in a myriad of ways. But is that true the if everyone is special, then no one is? Is something shed when manuscript researches becomes mainstream?

There has actually truly been an explode of modern technology in current years, permitting for rich and productive methods of viewing and also studying manuscripts. Libraries and also museums room digitizing their manuscript collection in boosting numbers (as just one example, the british Library has actually digitized countless of that is manuscripts: These days, many conferences include sessions on Digital Humanities, including presentations ~ above the ever-increasing number of digital resources, and the methods that technology can aid in manuscript studies. For example, OPenn, the college of Pennsylvania’s open-access site, “contains complete sets that high-resolution archival pictures of cultural heritage material from the collections of its contributing institutions, along with machine-readable descriptive and also technical metadata” (, and also it will residence Biblioteca Philadelphiensis, a job which in ~ its perfect will have actually digitized manuscripts in the entire greater Philadelphia area. Over there are an ext and an ext searchable resources favor the Schoenberg Database the Manuscripts (, or the Digitized medieval Manuscript application (

While i have certainly utilized assorted databases, and also benefited from the increasing access to manuscripts that have actually been digitized and also placed online, i really started to think about the concern of manuscripts examine and modern technology when ns was asked to create a book review for H-France evaluation of the I-book The Visions the Tondal indigenous the Library the Margaret the York, by thomas Kren and Roger Wieck ( It consists of the essays that were component of the initial 1990 publish publication, and it additionally includes the complete manuscript, which allows the user to turn, practically at least, each folio, by swiping left and also right, communicating with the manuscript in methods that had actually only been feasible when actually handling the publication ( Presenting a manuscript in digitized form has many benefits; the price of production is reduced for the publisher, and also the acquisition price is affordable for the consumer, particularly since high-quality facsimiles the illuminated manuscripts space stratospherically expensive. Digitizing manuscripts also means increased access; the whole manuscript, fairly than the choose folios presented in a museum setup or in a much more typical publication, deserve to be make available, and also to a wider audience.

As impressive as all these new technological advancements may be, there space a couple of downsides. So at first, permit me wax nostalgic for the old means of researching manuscripts. Digitized manuscripts have the right to be viewed without the stress and anxiety that physical dealing with places ~ above the genuine thing, and also so paradoxically, the broad access come manuscripts afforded by virtual an innovation will in turn most most likely restrict access to actual physics objects, even to scholars. Is something shed in the process? One could argue the a manuscript is more than just images and words top top a page; there space details and subtleties that are noticeable only as soon as they space seen in person. If bindings deserve to be described, the quality and also thickness the the parchment detailed, and lacunae, stubs, and other such features noted, the sense of academic exploration, to say nothing of personal revelation, could be compromised when a manuscript is viewed only in digital form. The researcher is reliant ~ above the quality of the digital images, and also the thoroughness of the gotten in data – however what if the researcher is looking for something the can’t be seen in the virtual copy, and also is no described? early on manuscript cataloguers frequently ignored info that was no deemed appropriate at the moment they were writing their descriptions, and thus it to be left to later scholars to recover and reveal marginal illumination, for example. The researcher may be evaluating the manuscript for things like signs of use, or intended defacing. They might be interested in pen pricks, or bits of object left from vanished photo covers, or erasures that deserve to only be watched under ultraviolet light. Or things that lock didn’t understand that lock were trying to find until they uncovered them.

And what around the more personal experience of manuscript study? because that me, working v manuscripts evokes two things – travel and also touch. Since I live in the mid-Atlantic region, I do not should travel far to see incredible middle ages manuscripts, and also I have definitely seen my same share the manuscripts on screen in museums and also libraries, like so numerous butterflies pinned right into position under glass. Yet what i really desire to perform is to have actually those manuscripts come myself, far from the public, to take it my time and embark upon my own personal voyage of discovery. Often such an intellectual voyage starts with an yes, really one, a aircraft trip come a far-away location. For my dissertation study alone, i visited countless museums and libraries in several various countries. For this reason the memory of working v manuscripts come to be intertwined through evocations the place. Ns remember the roasted tomatoes of the Scottish breakfasts i ate to fortify me prior to my long days of working in one-of-a-kind Collections in ~ the college of Glasgow, and also the bars erupting ~ a world Cup football match. I remember mine jogging route through the Tuileries, during the summer I spent working in ~ the Bibliothèque Nationale de France. I remember the pastries in Vienna, and also the beer in Munich, and also the pigeon that shat ~ above me in Oxford. And also the 6 weeks I invested in san Marino, California, working with the topic of my dissertation, the Huntington Library Legenda aurea (HM 3027) will certainly forever evoke the storage that ns was hugely pregnant at the time, and also somehow I had to figure out exactly how to examine the manuscript there is no my expanding stomach getting in the way.

But the most exciting part of every those trips is that I gained to touch those manuscripts, to revolve the folios and also feel the vellum. When the viewer of the digitized manuscript might have the ability to turn the folios virtually, approximating a physical communication with the book and its pages, it can never it is in the exact same as the intimate flesh-upon-flesh endure of fingers touching parchment. Angie Bennett Segler and also Jennifer Borland, amongst others, have explained the virtually erotic endure of taking care of actual manuscripts.<1> over there is something around the heft and feel, something about the an extremely materiality and tactility of the manuscript, i m sorry connects our endure to that of ahead users and viewers that the very same physical object. V the manuscript together our common vehicle, we have the right to make a visceral connection with the people from the past – the parchment-makers, the scribes, the artists, the owners. My touch is but one in a chain of touches. It appears to me in which method ironic, or probably it is fully understandable, that in a methodological minute when we room privileging the thing – through point theory, with object-oriented ontology, through groups such together the Material collective – at this an extremely same time an innovation is relocating us farther away from the object. We address pixels rather parchment, skin upon display instead the skin top top skin. Swipe left, swipe best – Tinder for quick manuscript hook-ups, short-lived love to work that end as quickly as the Internet link is damaged or the computer system is closed.

We room living in an increasingly virtual civilization – digital reality, virtual relationships, virtual manuscripts. And as Kerr Houston suggested in a vault blog post for the material Collective, our increasing engagement v digital technology means that the sensory suffer of connecting with digital gadgets provides its own sort the visceral satisfaction ( Yet in the end, together authentic-looking as these substitutes are, as accessible as it provides the experience, a manuscript that is presented in a facsimile, on an Ipad, or in a database can never really technique the actual materiality the the original. In the end, they space ephemeral copies. Due to the fact that of the problems with preserving digital resources, particularly the must continually carry digital details from one communication to another as modern technology changes or becomes obsolete, scholars functioning on digital projects must accept that their tasks will most likely not survive. Definitely manuscripts themselves are subject to movement; by the really nature of their portability, uneven they are still chained in a monastic library, manuscripts an extremely often exist exterior their original contexts.

The Carmelite Missal, british Library

They are likewise subject come the ravages that time, disasters both natural and human, native the shed library of Alexandria come the burning of publications in Mosul by ISIS. They might be reduced up by children (as in the famous situation of the Carmelite Missal, now British Library Add. Ms. 28704-5, 44892), or through unscrupulous dealers who break manuscripts in order to market individual leaves. However barring calamity, their really physicality is not at risk, in the method that the development of an innovation and the break down of data do digital projects susceptible to disappearance.

But probably all this hand-wringing end the death of classic manuscript researches is somehow overwrought. Possibly by clinging to the manuscript-as-object we space privileging the authentic, the original, in all its Benjaminian aura. Us are already familiar with taking care of material the is one step removed from the original, with the manuscript facsimile. Michael Camille bemoaned the lack of scholarly accessibility to the Très riches Heures; its access in facsimile kind meant that the original came to be a “lost prototype.”<2> that is worth remembering, however, the those of us who study medieval manuscripts resolve materials native a time when the aura of the prototype often extended to that is reproduction. Thus specific images of the Virgin, taken as obtained from St. Luke’s portrait of the Virgin, have actually their own type of authenticity as pictures that reproduce, and also are therefore imbued with, the essence of the holy. ~ all, manuscripts room themselves very often copies, facsimiles, hearkening earlier to a model, whether it be a monk-copied work-related of theology, a book of hours with codified iconography and also standardized prayers, or Carolingian transcriptions of antique texts that, if copies, have appropriated a position of authority since the original texts no much longer survive.

While us may lose the ability to manage original manuscripts, technology can profoundly improve the way we understand them.

Digitized manuscript collections, especially those through open accessibility policies, allow both scholars and also the basic public the possibility to search and also explore manuscripts in a myriad that ways, and also the large data that can be mined from such databases can be revelatory, allowing researchers come search, organize, and also manipulate info with a convenience and speed i m sorry is nearly unfathomable. Ipads loaded through digitized manuscripts average that they can be viewed much more comprehensively, past a solitary opening – and also that they have the right to be enjoyed by everyone, not simply those with scholastic credentials and also a take trip stipend. Online exhibitions, such as “Renaissance sparkle of the north Italian Courts” in ~ the Getty, with gorgeous high-res images, deserve to be perceived either in conjunction v on-site exhibitions, or completely on their own ( Not only are together exhibitions available in a digital sense, lock are likewise a godsend for someone choose my own mother, that is disabled and also can no longer conveniently get come an actual physics museum.

Digital tasks seem come be an especially well-suited for, to also demand, collaboration. In ~ times once interdisciplinarity deserve to sometimes it seems ~ to it is in no much more than a buzzword, together endeavors frequently truly are partnerships between people with varied skill sets. As just one example, the exorbitant “Opening the Geese Book” project, spearheaded by Corine Schleif and Volker Schier, is a joint initiative involving arts historians, musicians, musicologists, web designers, computer programmers, actors, conservators, and a organize of other professionals (

So while something is lost – the an individual interaction with the object, the potential for mystery discovery – much much more has been gained. The rich human being of medieval manuscripts is opened to a more comprehensive audience, and also with that comes the possibility of a pooling that knowledge, that collaboration, of common purpose. In a politics moment, both in middle ages studies and in the bigger world, whereby gatekeepers vie come restrict accessibility to others, even if it is those borders are academic, geographic, or personal, us must always advocate for freedom, because that diversity, because that equality, for accessibility, because that inclusion. Due to the fact that in the end, everyone IS special.

<1> view Angie Bennett Segler, “Touched because that the Very an initial Time: losing my Manuscript Virginity,” in Transparent Things: A Cabinet, eds. Maggie M. Williams and also Karen Eileen Overbey (Brooklyn, NY: punctum books, 2013); Jennifer Borland, “Unruly Reading: The Consuming duty of Touch in the endure of a medieval Manuscript,” in Scraped, Stroked, and Bound: Materially engaged Readings of medieval Manuscripts, ed. Jonathan Wilcox (Turnhout: Brepols, 2013), 97-114.

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<2> Michael Camille, “The Très riches Heures: an Illuminated Manuscript in an er of Reproduction,” Critical Inquiry 17.1 (Fall 1990): 72-107.