Call for Papers: Archival Scribes in the Medieval West

Call for Papers: Archival Scribes in the Medieval West :Training, Careers, Connections
2-4 May 2012

For the last two or three decades, the interest for the written evidence of the past has been growing. Primary sources used by historians have acquired new value and become privileged subject matters of history themselves. This new trend in socio-cultural history has been initiated by the studies on the “Schriftlichkeit” or “literacy” (littératie, as we can read in the most recent French-speaking literature). They have raised the question of the process of writing and the written culture, which seemed to prevail in the Middle Ages – or at least, this is how Medievalists see it. Since then, primary written sources have been considered archeological artefacts. The process of their development and use, both mechanical and intellectual, is a central concern. However, it might now be time to take some distance from the object and focus on the men who shaped and wrote these textual sources. Historiography indeed continues to provide us with a rather fixed image of the medieval scribes : monks at work in the silence of the abbey’s scriptorium ; notaries tirelessly busy doing two things at once ; or chancery clerks, with their mass production of official documents. How much of reality is there in such traditional postcard scenes ?
The question is, who wrote in the Middle Ages, especially in the abundant but yet unknown field of normative or pragmatic records intended for archive purpose? What are the profiles of these various medieval scriptores, employed for archival work by princes or lower noblemen, by justice officers or by manorial courts, by major monastic orders or by small collegiate churches, by urban authorities or local communities ? The international colloquium, which will be held at the University of Namur in May 2012, aims at laying the foundations of a wide prospecting of social history, based on a large questionnaire :

  • Is it possible to trace back some archival scribe’s career ? Is there a place for prosopography ? Case studies would be welcome anyway, to figure out about these people when they are not completely anonymous.
  • What are their social origin and their education path ? What is their status, and what does it mean ? What range of possibilities is there, between the « mechanical clerk » defined by R.-H. Bautier and the « top-ranking » civil servant, whose higher function implies writing ?
  • Which mobility, which versatility ? Some scribes are employed by several institutions : in this case, does it affect the way they work, do they adapt it ? Is the scribe able to change his handwriting, like some examples from the late Middle Ages tend to prove ?
  • What profession ? Is writing a job in itself, or is it a technical skill used for other activities ? And if so, what are the other jobs of these scribes (accountant, administrator, priest, tradesman, moneychanger, poet…) ?
  • What evolutions ? It remains essential to choose a diachronic position and also to focus on the chronology. Is it possible to notice one or some chronological evolutions in the scribe’s work, function or status ? How different is the early medieval scribe from the one living in the 12th or 15th century ?
  • What permeability ? We can’t set this prospecting apart from the well-known (and even ?) world of scribes working on library manuscripts (scribes in scriptoria, specialists of the pecia, and others). Are they the same people as those who write down the terms of a lease for their abbey ? And if not, is there an intellectual or social hierarchy between these different kinds of scribes ?

Abstracts (maximum 500 words, in French or in English) should be sent before November 15th, 2011, to Miss Morgane Belin ( Confirmation of acceptance will be given as soon as possible.

A small number of grants are available for junior scholars and PhD students who have no access to institutional funding. Please send your application (including a short CV) to the aforementioned email address.

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