I found approaching canon law for the first time for historical research more than a little tricky, so I thought I would distill some of the most helpful ‘starter’ information I found on the way for anyone else embarking on it. (For more detail on what I was actually looking for, see my earlier post.)
In a (not so) recent post, I was
complaining about remarking on the difficulties I’ve encountered deciphering the early modern printed editions of the canon law texts I’m working with. Today I thought I’d focus on what canon law is and why I’m hoping these texts will be worth the effort.
I’ll start by giving some general background on canon law and then dive into a more detailed discussion of an example from my own research.
Take a foreign language, write it in an unfamiliar script, abbreviating every third word, and you have the compound puzzle that is the medieval Latin manuscript.
Preface to English translation of A. Cappelli’s The Elements of
Abbreviation in Medieval Latin Paleography (1982)
I have spent a concerning number of hours over the past month or two puzzling over pages that look like this:
Anyone who has spent five minutes in Oxford knows about the Bodleian Library, but the university actually brims over with dozens of libraries, each with its own charms (admittedly, some more than others). The following are the libraries I tend to use most in the course of my various research tangents. (The unfortunate lack of decent interior pictures of my own is due to library regulations against wandering around like a tourist snapping shots of the ceiling.)
- Words: 15,000 (exactly!)
- Pages: 41
- Footnotes: 158
- Primary sources: 26
- Secondary sources: 67
- Mentions of the word ‘counsel’: 210
- Reading rooms used for research: 10
- Hours spent formatting footnotes and bibliography: 6
- Steps climbed up and down in the Bodleian: Countless
It’s interesting that the etymology of the word essay goes back to the Latin word exigere, which means “to weigh, or put to the test”. While in Oxford the word does typically just refer to “a short piece of writing on a particular subject”, that older definition is actually feeling pretty accurate at the moment.
An incredible thirteenth-century chronicle intersecting the genres of biography, hagiography, and autobiography. Ostensibly a record of the life of Louis IX of France, later canonized Saint Louis, eyewitness Jean de Joinville adds a good deal of his personal thoughts, experiences, and perspectives, making this one of the most interesting and personal of medieval primary sources.
Image: Saint Louis embarks from France in 1248 on the disastrous Seventh Crusade.