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Manuscript Historian Kathryn Rudy to Deliver Goldberg Lecture on April 3

Posted by on Friday, March 22, 2019 in Events, HART, Lectures, News, Vanderbilt University, VRC.

Paris BnF, Fr. 574, fol. 140vReaders in the late Middle Ages sometimes destroyed their manuscripts in the very act of handling them through acts of veneration, ritual, and public performance. Kathryn Rudy, manuscript historian and professor in the School of Art History, University of St Andrews, Scotland, will deliver the Norman L. and Roselea J. Goldberg Lecture on Wednesday, April 3, at 4:10 pm in 203 Cohen Memorial Hall, with a reception to follow in the atrium. Her lecture is entitled “Rubbing, Touching, and Kissing Medieval Manuscripts in the Late Middle Ages.”

As literacy grew during the three centuries before the printing press, people learned not only how to read, but also how to handle their manuscripts. Certain physical gestures that readers enacted with illuminated manuscripts—including kissing or laying hands on certain images, and rubbing out the faces of others—imparted a ritual significance to books. Just as our 21st-century culture of ever smaller screens has created a set of gestures and habits that had not previously existed (typing with two thumbs, scrolling, clicking, tapping), reading manuscripts, which were increasingly available in the late Middle Ages, also gave people a new set of physical gestures, several of which destroyed the images in their books.

In her lecture Rudy will consider the settings and circumstances by which readers learned to handle—and deface—their manuscripts. People in authority, including priests, teachers, parents, and legal officials, touched books publicly to carry out rituals. In so doing, they inadvertently taught audiences how to handle books in highly physical ways. Cumulative wear in books testifies to how they were used and handled.

Rudy’s research concentrates on the reception and original function of manuscripts, especially those manufactured in the Low Countries, and she has pioneered the use of the densitometer to measure the grime that original readers deposited in their books. She is currently developing ways to track and measure user response to late medieval manuscripts.

Rudy is the author of five books, including Rubrics, Images and Indulgences in Late Medieval Netherlandish Manuscripts (Leiden: Brill, 2017); Piety in Pieces: How medieval readers customized their manuscripts (Open Book Publishers, 2016); and Postcards on Parchment: The Social Lives of Medieval Books (Yale University Press, 2015).  She held a Paul Mellon Senior Fellowship (2017-2018) to write a book about physical interactions with the manuscript in late Medieval England. She currently is a fellow (2018-2019) at the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study in Amsterdam to complete a book about manuscript production in Delft. She has a Leverhulme Major Research Grant (2019-2022) for a study titled “Measuring medieval users’ responses to manuscripts: New technological approaches.”

Sponsored by the Department of History of Art, the Goldberg Lecture is free and open to the public. Parking is available in all non-reserved spaces in Lot 95 near Cohen Hall, off 21st Avenue South on the Peabody campus and across from Medical Center East. For more information, call the department at 615.322.2831.

*Manuscript folio with a design featuring the Wound of Christ, which has been severely scraped (Paris, BnF, Ms. Fr. 574, fol. 140v.)


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