Wanna see some dirty books?
April 24, 2012 10:35 AM   Subscribe

A researcher at St. Andrews University is using a tool called a densitometer to measure which pages in medieval manuscripts are the dirtiest, and therefore the most frequently read. The complete (and well-illustrated) study is available online from the Journal of Historians of Netherlandish Art.

Andrew Prescott, a former Curator of Manuscripts at the British Library, discusses the exciting potential, but also some possible drawbacks, to this kind of analysis.
posted by Horace Rumpole (12 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
I too have found that the dirtiest pages are the ones I read most frequently.

Seriously though, this is pretty cool, thanks!
posted by ODiV at 10:44 AM on April 24, 2012

I am so forwarding this to my medieval historian sister.
posted by Mental Wimp at 10:45 AM on April 24, 2012

It's the ones with the dirty pictures. Just the thought of getting a glimpse of Mary's exposed calves would make many young illuminators tremble in ecstasy.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 10:45 AM on April 24, 2012

Great find. Makes me miss my grad school days.
posted by immlass at 10:46 AM on April 24, 2012

I see that "the pages with the nekkid ladies" is the obvious joke. Oh, well. Does it turn out that the hypothesis is proven, or what?
posted by Meatbomb at 10:52 AM on April 24, 2012

Ironcially, St Andrews' own library is filthy, and I guess, is therefore heavily used. Seriously, it's one of the most resoundingly unpleasant academic buildings that I've ever set foot in (and that's setting a really low bar). St Andrews, books, and filth are all permanently associated in my mind.

(On the other hand, the library's located off of an alleyway named "Butts Wynd," so I can't hate it too much)
posted by schmod at 10:54 AM on April 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

This is really wonderful. One of my favorite parts of artifacts is understanding how the real people who made and used them wore down certain areas and so forth, but I had no idea about the Monk Kiss Shield in medieval texts.
posted by jetlagaddict at 11:56 AM on April 24, 2012

Thank you! I love this kind of stuff.
posted by mareli at 3:08 PM on April 24, 2012

Looking at which pages in a book are dirtier has been done before. On logarithm tables, specifically, which lead to Benford's Law.
posted by benito.strauss at 3:21 PM on April 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


Such a British-sounding gadget.
posted by jabberjaw at 5:25 PM on April 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

That is the prettiest journal article I've ever seen.
posted by smirkette at 6:38 PM on April 24, 2012

This is why we need to preserve actual books, and not just digital copies. Future generations will find information locked inside of them that we can't even imagine yet.
posted by Kevin Street at 10:40 PM on April 24, 2012

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