AHRC Award: Crafting Documents, c.500-c.800 CE

Professor Julia Smith

Congratulations to Professor Julia Smith for securing an AHRC-DFG award to undertake her project titled: Crafting Documents, c.500-c.800 CE.

Together with co-investigators Professor Ira Rabin and Professor Oliver Hahn at the ‘Analysis of Artefacts and Cultural Assets Division’ of the Bundesanstalt für Materialforschung und-prüfung (BAM) in Germany, the team will work to understand how documents were made in the transition period between Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, c.500 to c.800.  This is coupled with a determination to set a new international standard for the comprehensive description of any written documents from the Middle Ages.

This pioneering project brings together technical analysis of parchment and ink with a palaeographical examination of penmanship to explore how documents were made in the key transitional period between the writing practices of Antiquity and those of the Middle Ages, c. 500 to c. 800.  At its centre is the systematic exploitation of a huge but almost entirely neglected corpus of tiny documents, many no more than a few centimetres long, which to date have been judged too insignificant for attention.  They will be analysed to reveal a hitherto invisible world of widespread informal writing which has escaped the notice of scholars who study medieval manuscript books (codices) and formal documents such as charters granting land, offices and privileges.

The aims of the project are to:

  1. Conduct a systematic analysis of the relationship between the evolution of handwriting, the quality of parchment and of the ink used to write on it.
  2. Understand whether the techniques for making parchment changed in these centuries, and if so, to propose an explanation.
  3. Investigate the variety of methods of making ink in this period.
  4. Evaluate whether relic cults played a role in transmitting knowledge of how to make parchment and/or prepare ink.
  5. Explore whether the knowledge generated by objectives 2 and 3 above adds to understanding to the development of saints' cults in this period.
  6. Bring to scholarly attention a large but neglected body of documents by means of web resources, conference papers, and publications.