Dirty Books: Quantifying Patterns of Use in Medieval Manuscripts Using a Densitometer (4 October, 2012)
Dr. Kathryn Rudy (University of St. Andrew's)
Early users of medieval books of hours and prayer books left signs of their reading in the form of fingerprints in the margins. The darkness of their fingerprints correlates to the intensity of their use and handling. A densitometer—a machine that measures the darkness of a reflecting surface—can reveal which texts a reader favored. Kathryn Rudy introduces this new technique, densitometry, to measure a reader’s response to various texts in a prayer book. Tracking what medieval book users handled with their grubby hands shows us what they read and cared about.
KATHRYN M. RUDY is lecturer in Art History at the University of St Andrews. She has written extensively about the ways in which medieval users handled their manuscripts. Her two forthcoming books are provisionally titled “Touching Skin: How Medieval Users Rubbed, Kissed, Inscribed, Dunked, Begrimed, and Pricked their Manuscripts”; and “The Postcard, the Pallium, the Amulet, and the Altar: the Flexible Autonomous Image in the Late Middle Ages,” which will be published by Yale University Press.
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