By Rosamond McKitterick
Turning over a New Leaf : Change and Development in the Medieval Book, by Erik Kwakkel, Rosamond McKitterick and Rodney Thomson (Leiden University Press, 2012)
Introduction: Carolingian book production needs to be understood within the context of the communication of knowledge, the transmission of ideas across time and space and the consequent formation of what can be described as a cultural map in Europe.
One of the things this entails is the practical means by which ideas could be exchanged, that is, modes of communication and consequently the role of books, the evidence for the exchange of ideas, connections between individuals and institutions and examples of texts and types of knowledge. The importance of the theme of the migration of ideas in relation to books and texts is reflected in the attention increasingly being paid to it, not least in the Leiden-Palermo-Groningen project on the ‘Storehouses of wholesome learning and transfer of encyclopaedic knowledge in the early middle ages’ directed by Rolf Bremmer, Kees Dekker and Patrizia Lendinara, the Martianus Capella project under the direction of Mariken Teeuwen at the Huygens/ING Institute in Den Haag, and, more generally, the ‘Francemed’ project based at the German Historical Institute in Paris on ‘Processes of cultural transfer in the medieval Mediterranean’ led by Daniel König, Rania Abdellatif, Yassir Benhima and Elisabeth Ruchaud.
Concerns with how knowledge was transferred are particularly germane to Erik Kwakkel’s enquiries about the relationship between the physical features of medieval manuscripts and the texts they contain, and the extent to which any group of scribes at a particular moment may have made radical innovations in the presentation of their texts. Is it possible for modern scholars to extrapolate, from the layouts of the texts them- selves, how books might have been used and what the needs of readers were at any period in the middle ages? In what ways do medieval manuscripts provide the evidence for how such needs may have changed and been accommodated?