New Directions in Later Medieval Manuscript Studies

New Directions in Later Medieval Manuscript Studies

New Directions in Later Medieval Manuscript Studies

New Directions in Later Medieval Manuscript Studies


Eleven essays by leading Arthurians lead off with an overview of the field suggesting directions that Arthurian studies must take to remain vital. Other essays contain innovative approaches, overviews of specific areas of Arthurian studies, and suggestions for new ways to approach Arthurian material; they range over Malory, Latin Arthurian literature, Gawain and the Green Knight, Merlin in the twenty-first century, Tennyson's Idylls, Arthur in African-American culture, current trends in criticism, Arthurian fiction, and Arthurian film. Contributors: ROBERT BLANCH, DEREK BREWER, P. J. C. FIELD, SIAN ECHARD, PETER GOODRICH, KEVIN HARTY, NORRIS J. LACY, BARBARA TEPA LUPACK, DAVID STAINES, RAYMOND THOMPSON, JULIAN WASSERMAN, BONNIE WHEELER.


Derek Pearsall

The study of manuscripts is one of the most active areas of current research in medieval studies: manuscripts are the basic primary material evidence for literary scholars, historians and art-historians alike, and there has been an explosion of interest over the past twenty or twenty-five years. Manuscript study has developed enormously: codices are no longer treated as inert witnesses to a culture whose character has already been determined by the modern scholar, but are active participants in a process of exploration and discovery. All aspects of the manuscript's physical existence are relevant to such an enquiry, not just the texts it contains, but the materials, the choice and arrangement of contents, the lay-out and format of the page, the choice of script, the hierarchy of decoration, the illustration, the use of marginal annotation and glossing. Even after a manuscript has been 'published', it remains an active witness to the culture of its reception, in the scope it offers for readers' marginal and other comments.

I believed all this twenty years ago, when during the early 1980s I organised a series of biennial conferences at the University of York on late medieval English manuscript studies. Two books of essays collected from the papers given at those conferences were subsequently published: Manuscripts and Readers in Fifteenth-Century England: the Literary Implications of Manuscript Study, Essays from the 1981 Conference at the University of York (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 1983), and Manuscripts and Texts: Editorial Problems in Later Middle English Literature, Essays from the 1985 Conference at the University of York (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 1987). the conferences were continued, on a slightly different basis and with a different emphasis, after I left York for Harvard in 1985. But I have lost none of my conviction of the centrality of manuscript studies to the discipline of medieval studies, and so it seemed to me appropriate that during my last year at Harvard I should organise another conference on medieval manuscript studies, to see where the subject had got to. Such was the originating moment of the conference at Harvard University in October 1998 held under the auspices of the Committee on Medieval Studies. the title, 'New Directions in Later Medieval Manuscript Studies', was entirely predictable, given the rapid approach of the millennium with all its expectations of renewal.

Not all the twenty-one papers presented at the conference were available . . .

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