So how did medieval readers locate books, especially when they owned a lot of them? The answer lies in a neat trick that resembles our modern GPS : a book was tagged with a unique identifier (a shelfmark) that was entered into a searchable database (a library catalogue), which could subsequently be consulted with a handheld device (a portable version of the catalogue). Here is how to plot the route to a specific book in the medieval library.[more inside]
In the year 1450, a pack of man-eating wolves invaded Paris. Dozen of Parisians died, until the people lured the wolves into the Île de la Cité and stoned them to death. This year, a new beast was sighted prowling the suburbs of Paris. Was it a tiger? Or was it something else?
Manuscript Miniatures, Effigies & Brasses, Armour in Art, and Aquamanilia are four online databases of medieval art. Together they comprise some 19,506 images. [more inside]
Scissors or Sword? The Symbolism of a Medieval Haircut:
"Simon Coates explores the symbolic meanings attached to hair in the early medieval West, and how it served to denote differences in age, sex, ethnicity and status."
If you have a good cat and you don't want to lose it, you must rub its nose and four legs with butter for three days, and it will never leave the house. [more inside]
Model books, examples for medieval scribes to copy from and adapt in their work, are like illuminated manuscripts in concentrated form. A post from medieval historian Erik Kwakkel's excellent new blog, a longform complement to his excellent Tumblr (previously).
One of the great things about medieval art and architecture is that people just went in and did things. They didn’t build models and scale them up. Building great cathedrals and abbeys was a learning process as much as anything else. This means many of these apparently perfect aspirations to the Heavenly Jerusalem have some often quite comical mistakes, corrections and bodge-jobs that once you see, you can’t unnotice. Great Mistakes in English Medieval Architecture.
The DMMapp (Digitized Medieval Manuscripts App) is a website that links to more than 300 libraries in the world. Each one of these contains medieval manuscripts that can be browsed for free. The DMMapp is a product of Sexy Codicology, an independent project focused on medieval illuminated manuscripts and social media. It maintains a great blog about medieval manuscripts, especially those that are available online.
Just how heavy and cumbersome was medieval armor? Who wore it? What did it look like? To find out, watch How to Mount a Horse in Armor and Other Chivalric Problems, an entertaining, informative, and deliciously snarky presentation by Dirk H. Breiding, assistant curator of the Department of Arms and Armor at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. [more inside]
The images vary widely, but they tend to be very strange and even disturbing—overt sexual acts, defecation, monsters, human-monster hybrids, animals acting like humans. There’s also examples of clergy behaving very badly, the sort of thing you would not expect to see in the margins of a sacred book.Kaitlin Manning of B & L Rootenberg Rare Books and Manuscripts talks to Collector's Weekly (previously) about the exquisitely detailed religious texts surrounded by all manner of illustrated commentary, known today as marginalia.
The uncommonly well-moderated and researched Ask Historians subreddit answers the question: What common medieval fantasy tropes have little-to-no basis in real medieval European history?
In England coats of arms and other issues of heraldry are registered and administered by the College of Arms. But what if some base scoundrel displays your family's ancient and noble coat of arms without the right to do so? You sue them in the Court of Chivalry. [more inside]
The Travels of Sir John Mandeville is a remarkable 14th Century book which tells the autobiographical story of Sir John Mandeville's travels from England to Jerusalem and beyond to Asia. The only problem is that the book "had been a household word in eleven languages and for five centuries before it was ascertained that Sir John never lived, that his travels never took place, and that his personal experiences, long the test of others' veracity, were compiled out of every possible authority, going back to Pliny, if not further." The book was very popular for many centuries and was illustrated many times. For more about the book there is the introduction to a recent scholarly Middle English version and an illuminating podcast interview [iTunes link] with Professor Anthony Bale, the translator of a new version of the "defective" version of the book, which was the best known version for centuries. The interview goes into the many errors and fantasias of Mandeville but also puts the work in the context of its time and place.
"The idea that Medieval people drank beer or wine to avoid drinking bad water is so established that even some very serious scholars see no reason to document or defend it; they simply repeat it as a settled truth. In fact, if no one ever documents the idea, it is for a very simple reason: it's not true."
Here she discovered photographs of several of the absent illuminations, a partial ownership history, and a surprising fact: Christie’s had listed the book as “APPARENTLY COMPLETE.” In other words, the devotional had been taken apart—“broken” is the industry term—not a hundred years ago, but within the last three years. Its leaves had been stripped for individual sale by a modern-day dealer. “I was almost physically sick,” Treharne told me. “I could not believe what I had in front of me.”
Have you ever wished that you had an array of reaction gifs featuring hilarious medieval art? u don't say. Previously.
Digitised Diseases is an open access resource featuring human bones which have been digitised using 3D laser scanning, CT and radiography. The resource focuses on a wide range of pathological type specimens from archaeological and historical medical collections, specifically examples of chronic diseases which affect the human skeleton for which many of the physical changes are often not directly observable within clinical practice. Of major interest to many will be high fidelity photo-realistic digital representations of 3D bones that can be viewed, downloaded and manipulated on their computer, tablet or smartphone. [more inside]
Wielding bagpipes, the largest hurdy-gurdy in the world, and a huge array of other medieval instruments, neo-medievalists Corvus Corax (official site) join with taiko drummers Wadokyo for an incredible sunset performance at 2013's Wacken Open Air festival. [more inside]
"As anyone who is familiar with 13th and 14th century illuminated manuscripts can attest, images of armed knights fighting snails are common, especially in marginalia. But the ubiquity of these depictions doesn’t make them any less strange, and we had a long discussion about what such pictures might mean."
Crusader Kings II is a computer game in which you play as any one of hundreds of feudal lords in Europe in the High to Late Middle Ages. Hoping for your family to become just that little bit more powerful, you scheme against your liege, your vassals, and occasionally even your enemies. Meanwhile, at least half of the game's cast of thousands schemes against you. The game's potential for Shakespearean intrigue has made it ripe for post-game write-ups called after-action reports. With the recent release of The Old Gods, an expansion allowing for play as a pagan ruler, PC Gamer published its own series of after-action reports: Lords of the North. The game's thematic similarities to A Song of Ice and Fire/Game of Thrones have not gone unnoticed, either. [more inside]
The diverse range of misconceptions and erroneous beliefs within historical fencing studies today is considerable. But there are perhaps some myths that are more common, and more pervasive, than others. This webpage presents an ongoing project that will continually try in an informal and condensed manner to help address some of these mistaken beliefs.
Of cats, rabbits and monstrous births, about the persistent Medieval/Early Modern belief that a woman's pregnancy could be influence what she gave birth too, as in the case of Agnes Bowker, who supposedly gave birth to a cat.
Skeleton doodles, crappy D's, cat hats, embroidered book repair, dentistry, and a duck going queck, from the tumblr of Erik Kwakkel, a medieval book historian at Leiden University.
In the heart of Puisaye, in Yonne, Burgundy, a team of fifty people have taken on an extraordinary feat: to build a castle using the same techniques and materials used in the Middle Ages. [WARNING EMBEDDED YOUTUBE AUTOPLAYS] The wood, stone, earth, sand and clay needed for the castle's construction are all to be found here, in this abandoned quarry. Watched by thousands of visitors, all the trades associated with castle-building - quarrymen, stonemasons, woodcutters, carpenters, blacksmiths, tile makers, basket makers, rope makers, carters and their horses - are all working together to complete the castle.
Fido and Spot weren't always generic dog names. Dogs and cats (and monkeys, birds, etc) have been kept as pets for a long time, and medieval pet names can sound very strange or oddly familiar to modern ears. [more inside]
Each event has a different theme, revolving around a past era. Previously, Steam Garden did a Meiji-themed party — a fascinating time when Japan was opening its doors to the West, and fusing Victorian fashion with traditional kimonos and obis. This time, the code word was Celtic Fantasy. Luke describes it as “a blend of industry, fantasy, and epic adventure set to a soundtrack of exciting tribal and Celtic music.” - Japanese Steampunk, complete with bagpipes, medieval food, fire dancers and wood elves.
Weird, funny, surreal, fun, silly, bawdy, macabre, cool and strangely beautiful. The Discarded Image is a Tumblr collection of Medieval illustrations gleaned from various illuminated manuscripts, bestiaries, books describing the cosmology of the Middle Ages, ordered and maintained by a celestial hierarchy. The Discarded Image is also the name of CS Lewis' last book, about the fascinating Medieval mindset and world picture. [more inside]
"To the world of today the men of medieval Christendom already seem remote and unfamiliar. Their names and deeds are recorded in our history-books, their monuments still adorn our cities, but our kinship with them is a thing unreal, which costs an effort of imagination. How much more must this apply to the great Islamic civilization, that stood over against medieval Europe, menacing its existence and yet linked to it by a hundred ties that even war and fear could not sever. Its monuments too abide, for those who may have the fortunate to visit them, but its men and manners are to most of us utterly unknown, or dimly conceived in the romantic image of the Arabian Nights. Even for the specialist it is difficult to reconstruct their lives and see them as they were. Histories and biographies there are in quantity, but the historians for all their picturesque details, seldom show the ability to select the essential and to give their figures that touch of the intimate which makes them live again for the reader. It is in this faculty that Ibn Battuta excels." Thus begins the book, "Ibn Battuta, Travels in Asia and Africa 1325-1354" published by Routledge and Kegan Paul. Step into the world of "the first tourist" who made his mark as the world's greatest traveler before the age of steam. [more inside]
The Geese Book is a lavishly illustrated manuscript of choral music, written for the church of St Lorenz, Nuremberg, between 1504 and 1510. It takes its name from a whimsical illustration showing a choir of geese with a wolf as their choirmaster. The manuscript has now been digitized, and many of the chants recorded, so that you can listen to the music (or even sing along) while following the text. Highlights include Christmas, with a fox and rooster, Ascension Day, with the famous choir of geese, All Saints' Day, with a dragon eating a baby, and the Mass for St Lawrence, with a musical bear.
Early English Laws is a project to publish online and in print new editions and translations of all English legal codes, edicts, and treatises produced up to the time of Magna Carta 1215. [more inside]
The beautiful library of the Abbey of St. Gall in Switzerland contains over 2000 manuscripts, including hundreds from the Abbey's glory days of the 9th and 10th centuries. The library is open to the public and to scholars, and the Codices Electronici Sangallenses project is making selected codices - 436 so far - available online.
A team of Austrian archaeologists has discovered four bras from the 1400s. It reveals that women wore the garment some 500 years before fashion historians thought it was invented.
Today's I09 has a guest column by John Clements titled "Swordfighting: Not What You Think It Is." And it isn't. [more inside]
Anniina, the editor of Luminarium, makes beautiful cookies that look like medieval illuminated initials: "I chose historiated initials from several manuscripts, printed them on edible paper with edible ink, attached them to square cookies and gave them gold edges. Who says love of literature and art can't fill a belly?!" [more inside]
If you’ve spent much time in museums—or even leafing through art books—you’ve probably come across something that leaves you scratching your head. You’re not alone. The very funny, if occasionally puerile blog WTF Art History was created, according to the anonymous art historian who writes it, for “everyone who loves art history but has a sense of humor to know that even great masters create things that leave us asking, WTF?” [via] [prev]
If you'd like to know a bit about medieval life in Europe, History on the Net has some information on life in medieval times, prepared as educational summaries for students. If you'd like to know more, Medieval Life And Times has a broader scope, and the surface links often have a number of subsequent links to even more information on sub-topics. If you want even more specifics, here is a list of medieval occupations, some information on buying, selling and bartering in medieval times, and a history of horses in Europe. [more inside]
After a long personal hiatus, pithy history blog Got Medieval recently returned (previously: 1, 2). It comes back with a new project, an ongoing series of posts [Intro, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7] on the author’s dissertation topic, the role of Uther in the story of King Arthur as told in the less-than-accurate 12th century Historia Regum Brittanae by Geoffrey of Monmouth. If you want more, the saints feasts calendar commentaries may be completed now, but don’t worry, the marginalia posts continue (e.g. sketches of naked men in a nun’s devotional book).
Teach Thee How to Curtsy by Sir Jarlsberg
Bugs and Beasts Before the Law - "Murderous pigs sent to the gallows, sparrows prosecuted for chattering in Church, a gang of thieving rats let off on a wholly technical acquittal – theoretical psychologist and author Nicholas Humphrey explores the strange world of medieval animal trials." More on the theme of barnyard scapegoats from the BBC podcast documentary: Animals on Trial.
The Academy of Saint Gabriel's Medieval Names Archive: for all your period-accurate onomastic needs.
NPR's food blog gets wordy: for the origins of "pie," look to the humble magpie. Though the etymology of pie doesn't present one clear path, the possibilities are fascinating. English surnames point to pie and pye as a baked good in the 1300s, with a Peter Piebakere in 1320 and Adam le Piemakere in 1332. Chaucer referred to "pye" as both a baked good and a magpie (Google books). Or perhaps the fillings were like a magpie's collection of bits and bobs, similar to haggis. You know, like the French "agace," or magpie (Gb), and similar to chewets, those baked goods, or another name for jackdaws (Gb), relative of the magpie. [more inside]
The City of London Corporation has been in the news lately related to Occupy London. But the deeper story of how this medieval remnant functions in 21st century England is far stranger... and more sinister.