The Boring, Ugly, and Unimportant – Biases in Manuscript Research

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medievalfragments

By Jenneka Janzen

As I carry out my dissertation research, I’ve spent some time thinking about the role aesthetics play in which manuscripts are studied, and which ones are deemed too boring, unimportant, or ugly to attract interest. Certainly, it depends on your field of study. But where do some of these research biases come from?

There have, undoubtedly, been individual manuscripts or whole genres of manuscripts that get a short-shrift based, at least in part, on aesthetic grounds. Some of this bias can be blamed on availability and the lesser appeal of reproductions; some results from a devaluation of particular styles/locales/methods growing from early nineteenth-century discourse of “high” and “low” culture; and, perhaps, some may be too clean or too common.  I’ll give examples of each of these instances below.

First, the case of a Luxeuil copy of Gregory the Great’s Homeliae in Ezechiel (National Library of Russia, St…

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