Professor Rudy is the author of six books, including Image, Knife, and Gluepot: Early Assemblage in Manuscript and Print (Open Book Publishers, 2019); Rubrics, Images and Indulgences in Late Medieval Netherlandish Manuscripts (Leiden: Brill, 2017); Piety in Pieces: How medieval readers customized their manuscripts (Open Book Publishers, 2016); and Postcards on Parchment: The Social Lives of Medieval Books (Yale University Press, 2015). In 2023 she is studying creativity and inventiveness in humans and animals, together with Prof Sue Healy and Dr Emily Doolittle, with the support of an APEX award. Professor Rudy is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, Scotland’s National Academy and was elected Fellow of the British Academy in 2022.
In an article published in 2010 in the Journal of Historians of Netherlandish Art called "Dirty Books," I proposed a new method for conceptualizing how books of hours were read and handled in the late Middle Ages. The idea was this: medieval readers did not read books of hours from cover to cover in a linear fashion; instead, they read and re-read particular texts in their books, and pored over particular images, and circled back to those again and again. The sections that they used the most became most darkened with fingerprints. The intensity of those fingerprints can be measured by using a machine called a densitometer, which detects the optical density of a reflecting surface, as the darkness indirectly indexes the intensity of use. The most well-loved sections will also become the most worn. We can, in effect, trace the amount of time and attention early owners lavished on particular parts of their book. Their fingerprints form an indexical trace. In this updated project, I am working with my students to measure dirt on digitized manuscripts with a pixel meter rather than a densitometer. This lecture will explore the results of this project as they reveal meta-patterns of use across a range of books of hours.
Featured image: A screenshot of openings in a book of hours (Chantilly, Bibliothèque du château, Ms. 82)