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For two weeks, on Mondays and Wednesdays, Dr. Amy Vines’ Chaucer classes looked over medieval and Renaissance manuscripts while studying the various elements that make up a medieval manuscript: parchment, decoration, and writing style. And on Friday, the professor and UNCG Libraries Specialists transformed the Jackson Library’s Hodges Reading Room into a scriptorium. (Readers, that means a room used specifically for the practice and use of writing, these were especially common in monasteries) 

During the assignment, students are prompted to complete a mock leaf page of a medieval manuscript using parchment-like paper, rulers, crayons, and colored pencils (no ink allowed around the rare books). Instructions are provided to students on how to line the paper, make a decorative border, and make an illuminated initial – just like in the manuscripts the students are studying. 

“My idea was to get students to experience the book as an object more than just the text that we analyze in class,” says Dr. Vines. “I just wanted them to see all of the wonderful kinds of creative processes behind medieval manuscripts as well as writing the texts.”

Dr. Vines is a researcher specializing in fourteenth- and fifteenth-century England, specifically literature and culture. She focuses on women’s readership, textual studies, patronage, and medieval romance. In UNCG’s Department of English, she teaches courses in medieval literature, history of the English language, and early women writers. 

“I think in contemporary society there’s so much that happens without paper, pen, and pencil,” Dr. Vines says, “it’s not a bad thing, but it sometimes moves us away from something, an object that’s beautiful in and of itself. What I wanted to do is ask my students to pause, look back, and just understand the beauty and peacefulness of a manuscript because it’s not about quickly communicating something, it’s about creating something beautiful.”

Both of Dr. Vines’s classes this semester focus on understanding the many cultural and intellectual changes that took place in fourteenth-century England and the influence those changes had on medieval writers during that period.

So far, the classes have read and discussed works such as: “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight”, “Amis and Amiloun,” “The Life of St. Margaret”, “Floris and Blancheflour,” and the “Canterbury Tales,” with much more to come. 

“For the Beyond Chaucer class,” Dr. Vines says, “I chose to teach certain texts based on what I knew the students would be able to see in the university archives.”

Dr. Vines worked closely with Special Collections and University Archives Specialists Carolyn Shankle and Suzanne Sawyer to pull the exhibit together. 

“This has been an incredibly collaborative experience for me to work closely with a professor who is so enthusiastic about teaching and wants students to have that hands-on experience,” Shankle says. “Nothing is quite the same as getting in and having a tactile experience with materials.” 

It’s thanks to the collaboration between Dr. Vines, Sawyer, and Shankle that the students were able to fully experience medieval literature as a material text that transcends the textbook. 

“It’s been so gratifying to see how students in both courses have really taken to this whole experience,” Shankle says. “They are working with the facsimiles and the original materials in the researcher room, and then coming over into Hodges Reading Room to go through the different pop-up stations.”

“I’m hoping to give the students a glimpse into how fun and almost irreverent some of the material is,” Dr. Vines said, “to see how the manuscripts were made and that it took so many people doing so much work to produce one single book. I also think it’s amazing to see how this exhibit was also pulled together through collaboration between faculty and library staff – that’s kind of what medieval literature was about. I think that’s important for us, especially coming off a pandemic where we’ve been so isolated. Just being able to sit down together and brainstorm while examining a facsimile or manuscript is important… one person notices something another person doesn’t, and you realize how much you appreciate the spark of collaboration.” 

The Martha Blakeney Hodges Special Collections and University Archives (SCUA) collects, preserves, and makes accessible unique and historical materials for learning and research. As students research specific historical events or time periods, they may discover that SCUA houses primary source items that bring their topic into focus. SCUA is here to support the mission of the University and University Libraries, they are an integral part in the success for students and outreach to the community. For more information about UNCG Special Collections and University Archives, please visit this link.


Story by Dana Broadus, University Communications
Photos courtesy of Special Collections and University Archives Specialists Audrey Sage and Carolyn Shankle

 
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