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Introduction

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 February 2021

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Summary

Whereas the previous sections of this book were devoted to producers of manuscripts, highlighting the accomplishments and products of scribes, decorators, and binders, the focus will now shift to readers and reading practices. It is much harder to shed light on this dynamic of medieval written culture. Books before print contain relatively few ownership inscriptions of specific medieval owners; moreover, rarely do ex libris inscriptions affiliate the manuscript to its first owner, the person or community that had the book made. The latter type is most interesting, as the General Introduction explained, because the first owner is the one who influenced (or, in case of a commercial book, even negotiated) the material features of the manuscript. While the next five chapters explore various aspects of reading culture in detail, we rarely encounter “real” readers, people we know by name and can place on the map of Europe.

Even though medieval readers of surviving manuscripts are commonly anonymous, many of them left traces that enable us to gauge why they consulted the manuscript or how they valued the text it held. The first two chapters explore these marks left behind during the act of reading. As Chapter 14 shows, medieval readers frequently consumed their books with a pen in their hand. This instrument was used to make notes in the margin, verbally attack the author of the text, and correct and expand the text, if needed. Moreover, readers highlighted important passages with special signs. It was so common for readers to engage with the text in this manner that it is indeed quite unusual to encounter manuscripts with spotless margins. While the absence of marginalia does not necessarily mean that the book in question was not read (an incorrect inference found in some studies), a margin that remains empty does limit our ability to say something about the people who read the book in the Middle Ages.

Chapter 15 subsequently highlights a particularly charming marginal addition, one that was deemed so useful that it even made it into the era of print: a pointing hand, or manicula, as defined in this book's General Introduction.

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Books Before Print , pp. 120 - 122
Publisher: Amsterdam University Press
Print publication year: 2018

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  • Introduction
  • Erik Kwakkel
  • Book: Books Before Print
  • Online publication: 05 February 2021
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/9781942401636.018
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  • Introduction
  • Erik Kwakkel
  • Book: Books Before Print
  • Online publication: 05 February 2021
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/9781942401636.018
Available formats
×

Send book to Google Drive

To send content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

  • Introduction
  • Erik Kwakkel
  • Book: Books Before Print
  • Online publication: 05 February 2021
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/9781942401636.018
Available formats
×