Medieval manuscripts have an anomalous status in modern culture. They are visible as precious objects, but little understood for what they actually were: dynamic creators of culture in their own time. This lecture will illustrate the nature of the medieval manuscript culture at its most vibrant: Paris in the fourteenth century, the center of international cultural production. It will tell the story of this culture by addressing such questions as the difference between print and manuscript technology; manuscripts as political propaganda; manuscripts as a politics of knowledge; the relation of manuscripts to nature and urban life; the role of patronage; Christine de Pizan as cultural arbiter; the role of manuscripts in making polyphony possible; manuscripts as social satire.
Stephen G. Nichols, a medievalist, is James M. Beall Professor Emeritus of French and Humanities, and Research Professor at Johns Hopkins University. He received the MLA’s James Russell Lowell Prize for Romanesque Signs: Early Medieval Narrative and Iconography, and his The New Philology was honored by the Council of Learned Journals. He holds an honorary Docteur ès Lettres, from the University of Geneva, and was decorated Officier de l’Ordre des Arts et Lettres from the French government. The Alexander von Humboldt Foundation awarded him its coveted Research Prize in 2008 and again in 2015. In 2010, he received a Mellon Emeritus Research Fellowship, and is Principal Investigator for a research grant involving four universities in the United States and Europe awarded by the Mellon Foundation also in 2010. In 2011, he co-founded the electronic journal, Digital Philology, A Journal of Medieval Culture, published by the Johns Hopkins University Press. He chaired the Board of the Council of Library Information Resources from 2008-2013, and Co-directs JHU’s Digital Library of Medieval Manuscripts (www.romandelarose.org). Nichols is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, as well as of the Medieval Academy of America, and Senior Fellow of the School of Criticism and Theory, which he also directed. Books include: From Parchment to Cyberspace: Medieval Literature in the Digital Age; Philology, History, Theory: Rethinking the New Medievalism; The Long Shadow of Political Theology; Rethinking the Medieval Senses; L’Alterité du Moyen Age; Medievalism and the Modernist Temper; The New Medievalism; The Whole Book; Mimesis: From Mirror to Method; and De theoria: Medieval Studies in Memory of Eugene Vance. A new, augmented edition of Romanesque Signs was published by the Davies Group in Spring 2011.