Pondering the Physical Scriptorium

medievalfragments

By Jenneka Janzen

When meeting new people, sooner or later one is invariably asked “What do you do?” In my case, after providing my go-to brief description of Manuscript Studies, it is nearly always followed with “How did you get into that?” Consequently, I’m often reminded of my first manuscript experiences, and also of the early (mis)conceptions I had about their production.

Initially, I always pictured a tidy row of tonsured monks stationed at their desks, painstakingly copying out the texts before them. These men silently worked together, not only in a collaborative sense, but also physically; without fail, I imagined their activities happening simultaneously, and very much defined by shared space. In my manuscript-making vision these scribes always worked in a room purpose-built for their task, i.e. the scriptorium.

The scriptorium in The Name of the Rose. The scriptorium in The Name of the Rose.

While this impression isn’t wrong per se, it is easily complicated…

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