Scribal Cultures in Late Medieval England
Edited by Margaret Connolly, Holly James-Maddocks & Derek Pearsall
Thank you for participating in the Medieval Herald! Can you please begin by providing an overview of your new book Scribal Cultures in Late Medieval England?
These 13 new essays take their inspiration from Linne Mooney’s work on later medieval English scribes. They show a variety of methodological approaches to the study of medieval manuscripts in the period 1350-1550, and cover reader reception and book ownership as well as scribal production. The collection reflects the central importance that close analysis of material forms has to our attempts to understand medieval literature.
What were your first encounters with Linne R. Mooney’s work?
Margaret Connolly: For me it was her Index of Middle English Prose volume focussed on the collections at Trinity College Cambridge (no xi in the series, D. S. Brewer, 1995). Later on when I was preparing my own volume based on the collections at Cambridge University Library (no xix, D. S. Brewer, 2009) her volume was my constant model.
Holly James-Maddocks: In my MA year at York, the staff ‘patterns of leave’ meant that there was very little in the way of late medieval literature on offer. Disgruntled, I took Professor Mooney’s course on ‘Textual Criticism & Codicology’. It turned out to be the best possible accident of fate!
Tell us about the book’s wide geographical scope and the varied perspectives that brings?
The collection is alert not just to scribal activity in England, but to scribal contexts where the English were abroad, notably in Ireland to the west and in France to the east; and books aimed at the English market were produced on the continent, especially Flanders. People and books were mobile in the Middle Ages and these essays reflect that.
Who was a scribe? How did someone become one and was it considered a respected role? How did they differ to the earlier Middle Ages?
Scribes come in all shapes and sizes. Many professional scribes were notaries or part of government bureaucracy, or secretaries to noblemen. With increasing levels of education and trade more individuals could write for themselves in the later Middle Ages, giving rise to the personal notebook or miscellany.
How were the contributors for this volume chosen?
Everyone included is a friend of Linne’s, but not all of her academic friends work on scribes and manuscripts, so this is far from a complete set. The idea took hold after a small one-day conference was held in honour of Linne Mooney’s retirement from York in 2019. It was clear that there was further scope for extending this celebration of an extraordinary career!
And finally, what has your experience been of online conferences over the last two years? The hybrid model (online and in-person) seems likely to spread, at least in the short-term. What are your thoughts on conference formats these days?
MC: In-person is so much better, in every way! One thing that online platforms struggle to replicate are the casual conversations in the comfort break. I think it’s especially hard to recreate the generational mix of scholars that naturally occurs in the coffee queue. Being based in a remote corner of Scotland I’ve appreciated being able to attend online seminars in London and Oxford, but real in-person conferences can’t return fast enough for me!
HJM: I wholeheartedly agree! While I’m pleased about the additional opportunities that the hybrid model offers, especially for conferences held abroad, it’s the discussion in between the sessions that often proves to be the most valuable.
Holly James-Maddocks, Derek Pearsall & Margaret Connolly
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HOLLY JAMES-MADDOCKS is Lecturer in Medieval Literature and Palaeography at the University of York.
The late DEREK PEARSALL was Emeritus Gurney Professor of Middle English Literature at Harvard University; he wrote extensively on Chaucer, Gower, Langland and Lydgate, including biographies of Chaucer and Lydgate, an edition of the C-text of Langland’s Piers Plowman.
MARGARET CONNOLLY is Professor of Palaeography and Codicology at the University of St. Andrews.
Cover Image: Cambridge, Trinity College, MS R.4.20, fol. 89r. Historiated initial of Thebes from John Lydgate’s Siege of Thebes. Reproduced with kind permission of the Master and Fellows of Trinity College, Cambridge.