Field Book #3

How are texts we read today shaped by the people who wrote and rewrote them?

Scribes were key to passing on knowledge to future generations through the production of books because they wrote and rewrote versions of particular texts. Therefore, if they made a mistake, skipped words or paragraphs, or couldn’t read the handwriting, their new text would still be regarded as the “original” even if it was not. The scribes could quite literally rewrite history.

Chaucer recognized the fact that scribes were unreliable and quite often they had to “eke to rub and scrape” to correct their mistakes. He also notes that many people who scribe are not as invested in the texts like monks so they tend to have more careless mistakes. So, each text recopied would be like a fingerprint of the scribe depending on their handwriting, mistakes, and interpretation.

What do physical artifacts tell us about history?

Illuminated manuscripts (my provenance of choice) could indicate certain information about the patron. These physical attributes also indicate what life was like during certain periods of time:

  • Parchment Paper: Since the process to make parchment paper was so extensive (flaying, soaking, dehairing, stretching, treatments, drying), it was a costly product. Only those with access to money, like churches, royals, and government officials, could afford the paper. Also, uterine calves were the most expensive and best textile to use. It was reserved for the rich.
  • Ink and Gold Leaf: From the obvious beauty of the illuminated manuscripts, there was a need for talented artists and scribes. This indicates the importance of art because it was incorporated into the only form of recorded history. Lastly, Illuminated manuscripts were reserved for the literate and educated.
  • Form of Media: Illuminated manuscripts were the richest form of information for hundreds of years. The various types of images and texts ranged from religious to science that gives us a peak into life before the printing press.

What do scholars believe is authentic to the “original” text, and what do they believe was inserted in later moments of editing and recomposition?##

There are many ways scholars can interpret this question since many authentic, original texts do not exist. However, there are many ancient copies that provide insightful information. Generally, the original texts are the oldest texts, which go back thousand of years (like the Bible). As we read in Chaucer’s text, there were many moments of editing and recomposition because of errors made by scribes when copying texts. Careless mistakes happened for a variety of reasons, all of which ruin the original text because over time the little changes and mistakes added up to big changes that were not apart of the original text.

However, in terms of illuminated manuscripts, the authentic original text are easy to spot since they were one of a kind. There are many originals that live in museums around the globe. Historians take great care to [preserve illuminated manuscripts] ( and restore them back to their original form while maintaining the integrity of the manuscript.

How does the long chain human interaction inform us about media forms, and larger political, religious, and social movements?

The texts we read today are present because of a series of human interactions and larger movements. There are many factors that contribute to reproducing text via scribes and apart of this is discussed in the “Preface to Genesis”: unlearned priests based their readings and knowledge of the bible and other religious texts on the translated version, and that is based on another scribe’s translation of latin to english. A very select few actually read the original text. Soon, less educated priests began interpreting the latin texts and most likely, scribing things wrong.

A long chain of human activity was needed to create illuminated manuscripts which included a scribe, an artist, someone to make the parchment, ink, and goldleaf, and someone to bind the book. This cycle of human communication made it possible to make illuminated manuscripts.

How did our activity in class help you reflect in new ways about that long chain of human activity?

Our candlelit activity in class highlighted the chain of miscommunication because it was very difficult to read the texts assigned. I had a letter from Virginia Woolf and her handwriting was absolutely impossible to read. The words were illegible so I had to leave a lot of blank spaces and in the end, I still couldn’t distinguish the subject of the letter. Honestly, it was frustrating! My neck began to ache, my hand cramped, and my eyes hurt from squinting – and that was only from 25 minutes of scribing!

I recognized a few important things about the chain of human activity from that lab:

  1. I would make a terrible scribe.
  2. Scribing is more than copying words, it’s interpreting the text if it’s illegible.
  3. It took a lot of patience otherwise mistakes are easy to make.

How did our readings about manuscript inform your experience in the lab and your research into your chosen text?##

Our readings prepared me for our scribing lab because the article “In the Praise of Scribes” discusses the resilience of parchment paper and the value of artistic, skilled monks who have the patience and virtue to scribe. After scribing by candlelight for twenty-five minutes, I understood why the monks would have to be very emotionally invested in their work since it was grueling, tedious, and boring. If the monks considered scribing religious texts as a spiritual experience, then they would be more invested in what they were doing. They were rewarded by virtue.

I chose illuminated manuscripts as a form of text. It a handwritten book decorated with gold or silver leaf, bright colors, and elaborate designs and pictures. The earliest surviving manuscripts date back to the third century and over a thousand years, they were used to tell stories, record history, illustrate saints’ lives, rewrite the Bible, and more. The video that we had to watch helped me chose illuminated manuscripts because it informed me about the process of making parchment paper from animal hide and also, applying gold leaf and making ink.