Tag Archives: sermons

Bibliothecal Bumblings Abroad

Sitting at home, planning a research trip seems like a fairly straightforward matter. You draw up your list of manuscripts, check the library opening hours, and book the nearest AirBnB, confidently promising valuable results your supervisor and anyone willing to give you money.

On the ground, things are a different matter: catalogues were wrong, the microfilms are awful, your bibliothecal vocabulary in the required foreign language is distressingly limited, all while you try to navigate a strange new system with surprisingly numerous slips of coloured paper.

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Scribal Higgledy-Piggledy

I don’t expect too much from a medieval scribe. I accept that he may not always know the correct spelling of a classical name or whether he needs a subjunctive and he might occasionally have to fudge it a bit. I accept that he contents himself with only writing about a quarter of the letters, leaving me to fill in the rest. I accept that his speed of writing may result in a certain loss of legibility.

I would, however, expect him to write from left to right in a reasonably straight line.

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Eureka! (and some elephants and Mongols…)

Lest I paint too grim a picture of the doctoral student’s life and efforts, I should clarify that while there are days when researching with medieval manuscripts feels like a very slow attempt to squeeze meaning from a stone, there are at least, in compensation, the days when you actually find something, even the something, that makes the previous weeks of fruitless research almost worthwhile.

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