royal alberta museum
visitors since 1967

Town and Gown

October 17 – 24, 2012

Books Before Print: Reading and Writing in Medieval Society—Dr. Erik Kwakkel

FREE admission to all lectures

This Book Looks Weird: Textbooks in the Medieval Classroom 

October 17, 2012 3:30 – 4:30 pm

University of Alberta CAB 239

The dimensions of our modern book were born in the twelfth century. Before that, books were much broader than what we modern readers would expect. However, from the eleventh and twelfth centuries a very unusual book format survives as well, in surprisingly large numbers: very tall and narrow books. While these books may look very odd to our modern eyes, even medieval readers reflected upon them as unusual, sometimes explicitly so, as the title of this lecture expresses. The presentation focuses on these most peculiar books: it shows how they were designed for use in the medieval classroom and what this tells us about teaching practices before the birth of the university. Ultimately, the lecture shows what we can learn from books of learning.

St. Augustine Was Eaten by a Bear: Book Production in Carthusian Monasteries 

October 19, 2012 7 – 8 pm

Royal Alberta Museum Theatre

Carthusian monks loved books. Their rule prescribed that they copy them a set number of hours per day, that they look after them, and that they not write in them. So when a bear near the Grand Chartreuse, the order's motherhouse, got hold of the larger volume of St Augustine's Letters, the monks quickly wrote to a friend in Paris to send them a new copy. The book practices in the Carthusian Order form a great introduction to the production of the book in the Middle Ages. Carthusian scribes reflect the full spectrum of medieval book production: on the one hand they conformed to broader norms, while on the other they adopted new practices. Covering this scope, the lecture will show how monks in the Middle Ages made books; it will also reveal what is special about the book-loving Carthusians.

Lotions and Potions: Medical Books from the Middle Ages 

October 23, 2012 3:30 – 4:30 pm

University of Alberta CAB 243

Medicine existed long before it was a science taught at medieval universities. This lecture takes the audience to the eleventh and twelfth centuries, when the first medical handbooks were translated from Arabic into Latin, the learned language of the West. Arabic medicine provided a new way of treating patients, by focusing on physical symptoms as opposed to divine providence. This paper considers the question of how this knowledge was transmitted. Through what channels did the new medicine travel through Europe? In what kind of books were the new texts placed, and what can we learn about the dawn of western medicine by looking at these medieval books from our 21st-century standpoint?

In It for the Money: The Birth of Commercial Book Production  

October 24, 2012 7 – 8 pm

Royal Alberta Museum Theatre

Most books we read are purchased in bookstores, virtual or not. While mankind has read books in one form of another from Antiquity, it was not until around 1200, in the age of the handwritten book, that readers would purchase their reads the way we do today—from a shop where the objects were sold for a profit. This paper focuses on the thirteenth century, when the commercial book was born, developed, and perfected into our modern book standard. It introduces the main players of this world of commerce—parchment makers, paid scribes, illuminators, shopkeepers—and discusses why these traditionally separate professions blended into a closely knit community that stands at the cradle of our bookish world today.