Ok, so this isn’t part of my NaTheWriMo, just something I’d forgotten to post earlier:
One of the coolest – if not the coolest presentation I saw in England last spring was given by an art historian and medievalist named Kathryn M. Rudy, and entitled “Dirty Books”. Not dirty as in naughty, but dirty as in soiled – it was about the grime left by readers’ hands in the margins of 16th-century prayer books, and what that can tell us. Basically, she used a densitometer to measure how thick the grime was, and the measurements revealed the reading habits of the owner of the prayer book. I thought it was great stuff!
Well, now it’s been published and is available freely on the Journal of Historians of Netherlandish Art website. Well worth a perusal.
There’s something in the hands-on approach in her study that I really like, and the way it brings the past closer – not only through said hand grime, but in revealing that person x only read the optimistic bits, whereas person y was a true zealot and fundamentalist (to use modern parlance). I’m sure her method can be used to good effect on other sources too – alas, however, not on mine. But that’s not really the point either. Rather I’m enthusing about the way her study combines tools from one discipline with the sources of another – modern technology and medieval manuscripts – in order to bring out something which neither discipline could reveal on its own. That’s really something I’m trying to do with my work, too.