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Medieval multitasking

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 26, 2010

A look at medieval manuscripts reveals that they were hypertextual, written by multiple authors, and read/shared/discussed in groups. You know, less like the book circa 1990 and more like the current web.

The function of these images in illuminated manuscripts has no small bearing on the hypertext analogy. These “miniatures” (so named not because they were small-often they were not-but because they used red ink, or vermillion, the Latin word for which is minium) did not generally function as illustrations of something in the written text, but in reference to something beyond it. The patron of the volume might be shown receiving the completed book or supervising its writing. Or, a scene related to a saint might accompany a biblical text read on that saint’s day in the liturgical calendar without otherwise having anything to do with the scripture passage. Of particular delight to us today, much of the marginalia in illuminated books expressed the opinions and feelings of the illuminator about all manner of things-his demanding wife, the debauched monks in his neighborhood, or his own bacchanalian exploits.