Time, chronicles and Arabic numerals

As I keep working on my book, I thought I’d share one of the most exciting ways in which a medieval chronicler thought about time and chronology. The year is 1212 or maybe 1214, it’s not clear. The author of the chronicle I edited for my doctoral project, and whose identity has largely been acceptedContinue reading “Time, chronicles and Arabic numerals”

Stranger things

From Homer to the Renaissance, there was a constant appeal for stranger things. Hybrids, mutants, incredible stories, fantastical episodes, all had a claim on the European imagination. Strangeness is ambivalent, it can’t be dismissed as false, but cannot be welcomed as true either, it sits on the precipice of credence, risking to fall into beliefContinue reading “Stranger things”

Discovering arguments

According to Cicero, the discovery of arguments was the most important of the five aspects of rhetoric, and also the most difficult. This was known in Latin rhetoric as inventio, it gave us the word invention, but it means finding or discovery. Inventio was the first stage in the construction of a speech or written argumentation, providingContinue reading “Discovering arguments”

Legal deposit in the ancient world

Under legal deposit legislation, copies of publications must be submitted to certain public libraries. In many countries, a copy of every published book has to be sent to the national library, thus ensuring that everything that gets published also gets to be publicly available as well as safeguarded. It is always easier and a greaterContinue reading “Legal deposit in the ancient world”

A climate of debate

Despite having access to the same sources and resources, and despite living in a climate that fostered conformity and homogeneity, Western medieval scholars developed a written culture of disputation, dissent and polemics. They reached different conclusions after reading the same works, critiqued each other, vied for having the last word on questions of philosophy, ethicsContinue reading “A climate of debate”

The banality of paper

It’s always hard to dislodge established technologies and replace them with new ones. In hindsight, the advantages of newer technologies appear clear and unmistaken. But in the fray, things are never like this. Newer isn’t always better, it might be exciting, but at the end of the day, you may want to stick with theContinue reading “The banality of paper”

The digital factotum della città

A precious opportunity was missed when multifunctional mobile devices were named ‘smart’ instead of ‘factotum’. It seems that phones became ‘smart’ in 1995, when the term appeared for the first time in relation to AT&T’s Phonewriter Communicator. As is the case with language in general, the term helped accommodate the thought that devices can beContinue reading “The digital factotum della città”