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  • Lecture

Dirty Books 2.0

Professor Kathryn M. Rudy, FBA FRSE, University of St. Andrews and SIMS Visiting Research Fellow

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Wednesday, February 1, 5:15 - 6:30 pm EST
Kislak Center, Class of 1978 Orrery Pavilion, 6th Floor & Online
Open to the Public

Hosted by: Kislak Center

Screenshot showing folio openings of a book of hours in Chantilly, Bibliothèque du château

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)