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Inner Circles: Reading and Writing in Late Medieval London

Inner Circles: Reading and Writing in Late Medieval London

Paper by Sebastian Sobecki

The 2021 Chaucer Lecture, given by The Centre for Medieval & Early Modern Studies (MEMS), University of Kent, on March 18, 2021

Abstract: The explosive growth of Europe’s literary culture in the 14th and 15th centuries was unprecedented as an urban phenomenon. The concentration of aristocratic tastes, mercantile capital, and political power and the presence of civic, ducal, royal, or imperial chanceries accelerated the development of literary production in Europe’s cities, including Budapest, Cologne, Cracow, London, Naples, Paris, and Prague. Cities began to emerge as literary centres, and clerks and commercial scribes played a central role in this cultural shift.

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New findings reveal that London’s clerks and scriveners, who moved between English, French, and Latin, formed professional ‘communities of practice’, which played a significant part in the dissemination of literary manuscripts. These findings are transforming our knowledge of the contexts of English literary culture, book production, and ideas of authorship.

Were London’s civic, national, and commercial administrative centres involved in the production of literary manuscripts? Which of its urban settings or institutions can be identified as hubs of literary activity? Can comprehensive empirical analysis of the capital’s scribal output reveal the extent to which bureaucratic, commercial, and ecclesiastical scribes shaped England’s intellectual culture and the tastes of a reading public in the city and the country’s regions?

Sebastian Sobecki is Professor of Medieval English Literature and Culture at the University of Groningen. His latest book is Last Words: The Public Self and the Social Author in Late Medieval England. You can learn more about Sebastian’s work on Academia.edu or follow him on Twitter @SebSobecki

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