Detail from Guillaume de Lorris and Jean de Meun, Roman de la Rose, France (Paris), c. 1320-c. 1340, Royal MS 19. B. xiii, f. 4r.

Technologies of Reading:
The Learned Clerk and the Digital Turn

Roundtable session sponsored by Exemplaria
Organized by Sylvia Federico & James Clark

ICMS Kalamazoo 2016

We seek to further the conversation started at the July 2015 symposium sponsored by Exemplaria:The Learned Clerk and the Digital Turn” held at Bates College.

How might we analyze and understand, especially through theoretical engagement, the possibilities and challenges afforded by computational approaches to manuscript study? In medieval studies, the emphasis of digital scholarship to date has been on the creation of digital surrogates of primary material (either the digitization of major categories of manuscripts [e.g., the Royal Manuscripts at the British Library] or of canonical texts, [e.g., the Beowulf manuscript or the Hengwrt manuscript of the Canterbury Tales]). This approach contrasts with efforts in the field of early modern studies, where the emphasis has been on the creation of large-scale searchable resources (such as the Text Creation Partnership corpus).

Digital facsimiles of medieval manuscripts have made it easier for scholars and for the wider public to explore manuscripts as evidence for all aspects of the literature, history, art, and culture of the middle ages. This development is typically hailed as a democratization of the library. Yet some negative consequences are also evident: The availability of digital surrogates has led libraries and archives to adopt more stringent rules for consulting original manuscripts. To what extent does this render the medieval manuscript as a disembodied image, disconnected from its material characteristics as a highly crafted artifact, a physical object intended to appeal to all the senses?

This roundtable provides an occasion to think critically about the paradigm shift (from manuscript to digital) often hailed as simply innovative as a set of changes in our reading and writing. At a meta-critical level, how should this shift be theorized? How should we best understand acts of reading of manuscripts and their digital surrogates by humans and / or machines in specific textual, institutional, or archival environments? How do those acts of reading relate to composition, compilation, editing, or disseminatation? How might literary and cultural theories (feminist, deconstructive, queer, disability, Marxist, historicist), or theories of reading and writing (including those drawn from cognitive, behavioral, social and computer sciences), be brought to bear on this situation? How might it change our narratives of literary production and the textual productions (i.e. editions) that we make?

Papers given will be considered eligible for publication in a special issue of Exemplaria edited by Sylvia Federico & James Clark.

Abstracts and queries to sfederic [at] bates [dot] edu.