Session Title

Vernacular Readings of the Medieval Library

Sponsoring Organization(s)

School of Modern Languages and Cultures, Durham Univ.

Organizer Name

Luke Sunderland

Organizer Affiliation

Durham Univ.

Presider Name

Giles E. M. Gasper

Presider Affiliation

Durham Univ.

Paper Title 1

Medieval Libraries, Critical Theory, and History of the Book

Presenter 1 Name

Luke Sunderland

Paper Title 2

Conceptualizing Library Collections in the Middle Ages

Presenter 2 Name

Thomas Hinton

Presenter 2 Affiliation

Univ. of Exeter

Paper Title 3

Self-Portrait in a Library: Charles d'Orléans and His Books

Presenter 3 Name

Philippe Frieden

Presenter 3 Affiliation

Univ. de Genève

Start Date

9-5-2014 1:30 PM

Session Location

Schneider 1265

Description

The medieval library is a single formula that masks a bewildering variety of forms. From the institutional libraries of monasteries and, later, royal holdings, to the badly documented and often transient collections of private readers, medieval collections reflect the mobility of books and the varied uses to which they might be put. The disciplines of History of the Book and Library History have much to contribute to our understanding of this topic, but their reliance on empirical data runs up against natural limits where such information is sketchy or unavailable. Instead, we propose a literary perspective, drawing on medieval and modern theories of reading and textuality, to pursue two central questions: how the study of book collections might inform alternative readings of the texts contained within them, and what work the figure of the library performed in the medieval cultural imaginary. We deliberately eschew a teleological approach which would prioritise study of medieval libraries as precursors to modern institutions. Instead, we aim to be sensitive to the range of meanings ascribed to book collections by their medieval users, and the flexible values ascribed to them by reading communities.

Medievalists working on vernacular languages have in recent years made compelling cases for changing the paradigms through which we think about the relation between poetry and society, or about multilingualism and cultural contact. Our vernacular focus (primarily, but not exclusively, French) aims to build on such work in exploring how the library functions in vernacular textual contexts. Vernacular literacy is underexplored in the study of medieval libraries, yet vernacular texts constantly project themselves in terms of, or against, the mainstream book culture of institutional literacy. Such texts, and their readerships, thus offer an exciting opportunity to glimpse the range of social and cultural roles performed by books and book collections in medieval society.

Luke Sunderland

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May 9th, 1:30 PM

Vernacular Readings of the Medieval Library

Schneider 1265

The medieval library is a single formula that masks a bewildering variety of forms. From the institutional libraries of monasteries and, later, royal holdings, to the badly documented and often transient collections of private readers, medieval collections reflect the mobility of books and the varied uses to which they might be put. The disciplines of History of the Book and Library History have much to contribute to our understanding of this topic, but their reliance on empirical data runs up against natural limits where such information is sketchy or unavailable. Instead, we propose a literary perspective, drawing on medieval and modern theories of reading and textuality, to pursue two central questions: how the study of book collections might inform alternative readings of the texts contained within them, and what work the figure of the library performed in the medieval cultural imaginary. We deliberately eschew a teleological approach which would prioritise study of medieval libraries as precursors to modern institutions. Instead, we aim to be sensitive to the range of meanings ascribed to book collections by their medieval users, and the flexible values ascribed to them by reading communities.

Medievalists working on vernacular languages have in recent years made compelling cases for changing the paradigms through which we think about the relation between poetry and society, or about multilingualism and cultural contact. Our vernacular focus (primarily, but not exclusively, French) aims to build on such work in exploring how the library functions in vernacular textual contexts. Vernacular literacy is underexplored in the study of medieval libraries, yet vernacular texts constantly project themselves in terms of, or against, the mainstream book culture of institutional literacy. Such texts, and their readerships, thus offer an exciting opportunity to glimpse the range of social and cultural roles performed by books and book collections in medieval society.

Luke Sunderland