This project will begin to build an understanding of the “book network” of the late medieval period in England, from the authors and commissioners of literary manuscripts to the scribes who copied them, from the people who sold and distributed them to the people who owned and bequeathed them. Such a network models the political, intellectual, professional, and familial associations of the age and is key to understanding the context of many literary works and extant manuscripts.
The project will begin building its understanding of the book network by focusing on a number of manuscripts in the Parker on the Web collection that were either produced or can be shown to have been used in London in the late fourteenth and fifteenth century. The hypothesis tested here is that in the period in question, London became a network “hub” for the production and circulation of medieval books – and that this helps to explain the major increase in the production and survival of literary and other texts in English in the period, and is a context for the successful introduction of printing to the metropolis by William Caxton in 1476.
The relationships between the producers and consumers of the books studied will be modelled electronically in the hope that, over time, a wider scholarly community will be able to add further nodes to the network and thereby increase our understanding of the human context of manuscript collections such as that of Matthew Parker.
The online collection of Parker manuscripts presents an unrivalled opportunity to investigate the networks of association of like-minded manuscript commissioners, makers, and collectors who preceded Parker but whose collections may now have been absorbed into his.
Recent work by scholars such as Ralph Hanna, Linne Mooney, and Wendy Scase suggests that medieval English literary manuscripts were produced, owned, and used in complex networks of political, intellectual, professional, and familial associations, but there has, as yet, been no attempt to research and formally document these networks for the benefit of the wider scholarly community. Until very recently it has been difficult to identify scribes working together in any kind of group environment whether in so-called “commercial” scriptoria or in scriptoria attached to religious institutions or departments of government at Westminster. The discovery by Linne Mooney and Estelle Stubbs of just such a group of scribes whose activities were centered on the London Guildhall is therefore of major importance.
The purpose of the proposed project, then, is to show how the activities of these scribes, owners, and users of books and others like them made, preserved, and passed on important texts – and in the process shaped culture in medieval England, especially literary and vernacular textual culture, and what we know about that culture.