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  • Print publication year: 2014
  • Online publication date: April 2014



Palaeography and Palaeographical Method

The early twenty-first century has seen some substantial new developments in the field of palaeography. These have come about largely through the convergence of two different but related changes: on the one hand, widespread access to digital images of manuscripts and computers powerful enough to process them, and on the other hand revived interest in the long-standing discussion of ‘scientific’ method versus connoisseurship in palaeographical study. To summarise this briefly, it has long been debated whether palaeography can (or should) be scientific, namely based as much as possible on concrete evidence and quantitative criteria, or if instead it should (or can only) be based on the judgement of experts. One response to this pressure for more ‘objective’ or ‘scientific’ methods has been to turn to digital methods, particularly the automated processing of digital images to identify scribal hands, but at the time of writing this approach is yet to bear convincing fruit, and identifying scribes is a very different problem from writing a history of script. Although image processing may not yet be helpful in writing the history of a script, it does not necessarily follow that digital approaches should be dismissed, and although they are not explicitly part of this book, it will become clear to the reader that the book could not have been written without them. Specifically, this study has taken some aspects of what is now referred to as a ‘big data’ or ‘distant reading’ approach. Associated most closely with Franco Moretti, distant reading was initially applied to literature in deliberate contrast to the ‘close reading’ of I. A. Richards and the New Critics.