Late Medieval Books and their Fittings: A material culture study
Paper by Charlotte Howsam
Given at the Theoretical Archaeology Group Conference on December 19, 2017
Abstract: There have been various approaches applied to study and understand the nature of the late Medieval book, including historical, palaeographical and codicological methods, and yet, traditionally, little attention has been given to the book as a form of material culture, especially by archaeologists. This paper will briefly discuss the different approaches that have been applied in recent years to the study of the book, before giving a detailed consideration of how the archaeological investigation into late Medieval book fittings excavated from English monastic sites offers an innovative approach to the wider study of the late Medieval book.
To move beyond simply defining the various types of late Medieval book fittings, an interdisciplinary approach can be applied to further understand the nature of this type of material culture, including the books on which fittings were used, the influences of different monastic orders, their geographical distribution and the significance of their deposition. It is the purpose of this paper to demonstrate how the archaeological investigation of book fittings provides not only the opportunity to study book fittings typologically but also to place such material culture into its wider social and cultural contexts within late Medieval society.
Top Image: Girdle Book at Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University – photo by Beinecke Library / Flickr