Literature and Knowledge in Late Medieval England: A Codicological Perspective

Literature and Knowledge in Late Medieval England:
A Codicological Perspective

Michael Johnston, Purdue University
Friday, February 21, 2020
2-4 pm
Newberry Library

CRS is pleased to announce the second meeting of the Premodern Studies Seminar for the 2019-2020 academic year.

Michael Johnston will examine the pourous boundary between information-based texts (e.g., medicine, encyclopedias, astronomy) and literary texts within the premodern world. As opposed to an epistemological or ontological perspetive, Johnston considers this question from a codicological perspective by asking what the surviving manuscripts can tell us about the relationship between forms of discourse, with a specific focus on England, 1350–1500. In this investigation, Johnston identifies two main ways in which literary and non-literary discourses overlapped and interpenetrated. First, he argues that most literary texts were copied by scribes whose main employment was the production of documents (charters, bonds, wills, etc.), and thus that all such texts arose within the same “codicological ecosystems.” Second, he offers close readings of several manuscripts preserving literary and nonliterary texts together, focusing specifically on a diverse set of manuscripts produced in English households. These manuscripts contain a combination of land documents, medical recipes, mathematical treatises, and literary texts. Ultimately, Johnston’s project argues that manuscript culture was quite comfortable with the cohabitation of the literary and the non-literary.

This scholarly program is free and open to all, but space is limited and registration in advance is required. Newberry Scholarly Seminars papers are pre-circulated. For a copy of the paper, email Please do not request a paper unless you plan to attend.

For more information about the Premodern Studies Seminar, please visit our website:

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