Professor Christine Neufeld: Writing Beyond Pen and Parchment
What can stories of magical engraved rings or prophetic inscriptions on walls tell us about how writing was perceived before print transformed the world? Writing beyond Pen and Parchment introduces readers to a Middle Ages where writing is not confined to manuscripts but is inscribed in the broader material world, in textiles and tombs, on weapons or human skin. Drawing on the work done at the Collaborative Research Centre “Material Text Cultures,” (SFB 933) this volume presents a comparative overview of how and where text-bearing artifacts appear in medieval German, Old Norse, British, French, Italian and Iberian literary traditions, and also traces the paths inscribed objects chart across multiple linguistic and cultural traditions. The volume’s focus on the raw materials and practices that shaped artifacts both mundane or fantastical in medieval narratives offers a fresh perspective on the medieval world that takes seriously the vibrancy of matter as a vital aspect of textual culture often overlooked.
The volume is the result of Prof. Neufeld's participation in the University of Heidelberg's Research Centre on "Material Text Cultures," where scholars across the university are engaging in research projects to learn about the nature of writing in non-typographic contexts. (For example: antique statue bases, clay tablets inscribed with cuneiform writing from Mesopotamia, rune staves, epigraphs on medieval buildings or texts inked onto human skin.) The Research Center is an interdisciplinary collaboration between 18 different disciplines in the Humanities exploring the relationships between textuality, materiality, spatiality, as well as investigating how writing and reading practices changed fundamentally with the advent of print.
Professor Neufeld joined the Research consortium in 2016 as a Mercator Research Fellow and Guest Professor in the Faculty of Modern Languages at the University of Heidelberg, where she gathered comparative Old and Middle English data for a research database collecting and categorizing inscriptions, both actual and fictional, found by participants in the Research Centre. She was able to return to Germany to work on editing Writing Beyond Pen and Parchment thanks to an EMU Summer Research Fellowship in 2018. This volume, co-edited with Dr. Ricarda Wagner (University of Bern, Switzerland) and Prof. Ludger Lieb (University of Heidelberg) is the first work to offer a comparative analysis of inscriptions in medieval European literature and demonstrates just how regionally varied inscriptional practices were in contrast to the manuscript tradition shared across medieval European societies.