Judging a book by its covers

Don’t judge a book by its covers, they say. The inside is what counts, they say. The advertising community is not so sure. The cover design is said to increase the marketability of a book by 50%, by a conservative estimate, and by as much as 80% in some cases. Which means that while weContinue reading “Judging a book by its covers”

The enduring charm of hybridity

In at least one respect, we’re not too far away from the Middle Ages, and that’s in our cultural bend towards hybridity. I’m not taking about hybrid cars, or maybe I am. One question historians very rarely ask is: what’s in a hybrid? Sure, the word is familiar enough, and it conjures up images rangingContinue reading “The enduring charm of hybridity”

Guilty pleasures

Since the 14th century, many book lovers have been born in Florence or its vicinity. The Renaissance was, since its early days, a book rush, especially one for rare, lost, unread, unknown, neglected volumes. The humanists of the Renaissance were avid book finder and collectors. The Florentine scholar Poggio Bracciolini (1380-1459) made some incredible findsContinue reading “Guilty pleasures”

To inhabit a letter

What was the snuggest spot to inhabit on the medieval manuscript page? It couldn’t have been on the text, that was always shifting, the handwriting was not always steady, the spelling not always the same, the words not always in the right place. Scribes were tired and the light was generally bad in the medievalContinue reading “To inhabit a letter”

Pre-print UX

Everything today is about user experience. The standard ISO definition of user experience has it as ‘a person’s perceptions and responses that result from the use or anticipated use of a product, system or service’. The earliest case of user experience has to do with books before the age of print. Readers’ engagement with manuscriptsContinue reading “Pre-print UX”

Imag(in)ing Dante: an illustrated manuscript of the Divine Comedy (with complete set of drawings)

Of the several hundreds of manuscripts of Dante’s Divine Comedy, about a hundred have some illumination or decoration, drawn or painted. Of these, London British Library Harley MS 3460 is a remarkable specimen. The manuscript contains illustrations of the scenes covering cantos 1-20 of Inferno, drawn in plummet in the lower part of the page.Continue reading “Imag(in)ing Dante: an illustrated manuscript of the Divine Comedy (with complete set of drawings)”

The confession of a 15th-century curator of manuscripts

We generally know very little about the early physical life of medieval manuscripts. We know when texts were started and completed, we may even know where the book travelled, to whom it was donated, who sold it, etc, but to get really close to a particular moment in the volume’s history one has to beContinue reading “The confession of a 15th-century curator of manuscripts”

Teaching Latin meter through medieval invective

Here’s an idea for making Latin prosody more popular. Instead of scanning (working out the metrical pattern of a line of Latin verse) dull or hackneyed Latin verses, why not practice marking out long and short vowels on invectives and offensive verses. One example from the 10th century suggests near-contemporary Latin texts may have been moreContinue reading “Teaching Latin meter through medieval invective”

In the shadow of the book curse

In 1819 the Harvard Professor Edward Everett (d. 1865) was rummaging through monastic libraries in Greece for ancient manuscripts – as many professors were doing at the time, anyway. At Meteora he found the treasure he sought: “I saw a few MSS in this library, among which was a fine parchment Chrysostom, in several vols. folio.—IContinue reading “In the shadow of the book curse”

Arabic numerals in Europe

The introduction of Arabic (Hindu-Arabic, actually) numerals into the medieval West was not a mechanical process. Apart from translations of Arabic works on arithmetic and the copying and reproducing of numerals as found in the Arabic sources, European scholars, especially those working in Toledo, turned their minds to more philosophical aspects of these numbers. OneContinue reading “Arabic numerals in Europe”