@erik_kwakkel filmed public lectures – essential!

On medieval medical books:

‘Lotions and Potions: Medical Books from the Middle Ages’

Medicine existed long before it was a science taught at medieval universities. This lecture takes the audience to the eleventh and twelfth centuries, when the first medical handbooks were translated from Arabic into Latin, the learned language of the West. Arabic medicine provided a new way of treating patients, by focusing on physical symptoms as opposed to divine providence. This paper considers the question of how this knowledge was transmitted. Through what channels did the new medicine travel through Europe? In what kind of books were the new texts placed, and what can we learn about the dawn of western medicine by looking at these medieval books from our 21st-century standpoint?

On commercial book production in the Middle Ages:

‘In It for the Money: The Birth of Commercial Book Production’

Most books we read are purchased in bookstores, virtual or not. While mankind has read books in one form of another from Antiquity, it was not until around 1200, in the age of the handwritten book, that readers would purchase their reads the way we do today — from a shop where the objects were sold for a profit. This paper focuses on the thirteenth century, when the commercial book was born, developed, and perfected into our modern book standard. It introduces the main players of this world of commerce — parchment makers, paid scribes, illuminators, shopkeepers — and discusses why these traditionally separate professions blended into a closely knit community that stands at the cradle of our bookish world today.

On narrow medieval books:

‘These Books are Tall and not Wide Enough’: Anomalous Page Dimensions in the Eleventh and Twelfth Centuries’

Various codicological studies have pointed out how the dimensions of the page in medieval manuscripts were more or less standard: as today, the relative width of the page commonl y measured between 0.69 and 0.74 of its height. Sporadic deviations from this norm are encountered throughout the medieval period, most noteworthy books that were much narrower than the norm. However, in the eleventh and twelfth centuries a noteworthy number of such tall and narrow books were produced. This paper investigates this phenomenon: the explanations for the anomalous page dimensions are found in the contents of the books and in their manner of use.

Short videos:

  • On the development of medieval script (InScribe project)


  • About the discovery of a “garbage manuscript” in Leiden University Library.

Dr. Erik Kwakkel is a medieval book historian at the Leiden University Institute for Cultural Disciplines, where he directs an NWO-funded (Vidi) project on manuscript innovation in the Twelfth-Century Renaissance.

He is on Tumblr, Flickr, Twitter, WordPress and on ULeiden website (project ‘Turning over a new leaf’).

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