The Learned Clerk in Late Medieval England
Neglected Sources, New Perspectives
A Symposium at Bates College, 9-10 July 2015
Sylvia Federico & James Clark
Between the death of Edward III and the first deposition of Henry VI the foundations of the English polity fractured. The magnate compact, which healed old wounds and won early victories in the Hundred Years War, was dissolved; the subordination of the commons, within and beyond parliament proved unsustainable; consensus and co-operation across the competing constituencies of the institutional church could no longer be assured. Yet an historical moment of acute crises and chronic uncertainties was also one of remarkable intellectual ferment; of new writing in all three of the kingdom’s languages; of the recovery of old and the reception of new authorities which (re)connected writers and readers both with their cultural heritage and with their cultural neighbours; of a readership which appeared to reach across institutional and occupational groups; of the renewal of England’s early passion for the material book, which blossomed in what may be seen as the last great age of script and decoration before the advent of print. The tried and tested labels for this learned culture – the rise of the vernacular, the triumph of the secular clerk, among others – are now recognised to be tired and tenuous. The true fascination of this period is that its intellectual energy flowed not from any one source – or institutional, occupational, social or cultural context – but from the creative tensions between them. The critical challenges for current researchers are to (re)trace and (re)interpret these relationships. This symposium aims to bring together scholars who have been drawn to the period from a variety of disciplinary positions – literature, Latin and Vernacular, history, of church, intellectual life and visual culture, and manuscript studies – together to begin the task of fashioning a fresh interpretative framework. Papers will be grouped according to a number of the themes highlighted in the most recent research: Recovering the sources and the scope for digital renewal; Learned clerk: contexts and outlooks; Authorities; Humanist Gestures; Publication & transmission; Coteries & networks; Modus compilandi libellos: modern editorial approaches to late medieval authorial practice.