contributor.author: Dr. Sarah. Rees-Jones

title.none: Arlinghaus, Transforming the Medieval World (Dr. Sarah. Rees-Jones)

identifier.other: baj9928.0803.006 08.03.06

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Dr. Sarah. Rees-Jones, University of York, srrj1@york.ac.uk

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2008

identifier.citation: Arlinghaus, Frans J., Marucs Ostermann, Oliver Plessow and Gudrun Tscherpel, eds. Transforming the Medieval World: Uses of Pragmatic Literacy in the Middle Ages. CD-ROM and Book. Utrecht Studies in Medieval Literacy, vol. 9. Turnhout: Brepols, 2006. Pp. ix, 312. $99.00 (hb) 978-2-503-51166-5 (hb). ISBN: .

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 08.03.06

Arlinghaus, Frans J., Marucs Ostermann, Oliver Plessow and Gudrun Tscherpel, eds. Transforming the Medieval World: Uses of Pragmatic Literacy in the Middle Ages. CD-ROM and Book. Utrecht Studies in Medieval Literacy, vol. 9. Turnhout: Brepols, 2006. Pp. ix, 312. $99.00 (hb) 978-2-503-51166-5 (hb). ISBN: .

Reviewed by:

Dr. Sarah. Rees-Jones
University of York
srrj1@york.ac.uk

Transforming the Medieval World is a piece of multimedia software published with a book. It is the product of a research project on pragmatic literacy in the later middle ages based at the University of Mnster. By linking texts with images, spoken commentaries and animations, it aims to present the interdisciplinary results of the project in a succinct and accessible manner to a wide audience from scholars to the general public. In doing so it seeks to reflect the fluid and open nature of medieval manuscript culture in the "first media revolution" of Europe which saw the rapid proliferation of new forms of literacy between the twelfth and fifteenth centuries. The geographical focus on the work is on Germany and Italy, with the emphasis varying from section to section.

The book accompanying the CD is simply a transcript of the texts and scripts on the disk itself, so that the reader is best served by using the CD rather than sitting down to read the book. Given the format, there is no use of textual notes, but each section is followed by a helpful scholarly bibliography. The CD itself is pleasant to look at and fairly easy to use, although there was a section on the menu called "essays in pdf format" which this reader was unable to access, and appeared to be another bibliography of related articles published from the project but not included on the CD itself.

The major contents of the CD are thus the multimedia presentations. After the introduction there are ten sections, each focussed on a different type of literary product and each with a different author: account books (Franz-Josef Arlinghaus), book communities (Theo Klausmann), book illumination (Anna Grebe), broadsides (Sabina Griese and Marcus Ostermann), city chronicles (Franz Schweppenstette), encyclopaedias (Christel Meier), Episcopal histories (Oliver Plessow), notarial documents (Petra Schulte), prayer books (Thomas Lentes), schoolbooks (Michael Baldzuhn), and world chronicles (Gudrun Tscherpel). There is no index and no means of cross reference between sections. Each thematic section starts with an introduction, concludes with an abstract, and in between has subsections on production, reception, form and technology. In some cases, for example in Franz Arlinghaus's section on the development of Italian account books between 1200 and 1500 the text is printed on the screen and accompanied by good digital images of the manuscripts which can be magnified and so could be used separately as a teaching aid. In others the explanatory text is in an audio file read by an actor and illustrated on screen with images chosen from a wide variety of other contemporary visual materials relevant to the theme. In a few cases there are simple animations (for example to show how texts were used in the school room.)

As a traditional, old-style (mid twentieth-century) reader I found the whole CD quite hard to read and absorb, having not made the transition to web or cd learning myself. The temptation to hop around rather than read a section from beginning to end, and to be distracted by the images and sounds (as well as informed by them) is quite strong. On one level this is clearly a useful product for students. All the texts, originally published in German, have survived the translation to English well. They provide succinct, learned and clear introductions to their field of study and the illustrations must bring these alive for the novice. They are backed up with enough detail to engage without overwhelming, and together they provide a rich resource for considering the production and the use of an interesting and well-referenced collection of texts. Transcriptions of passages from the manuscripts are also included, together with parallel translations into English. The product is probably too expensive for a student to purchase, but if the cd could be networked it would make a very useful classroom tool indeed.

It would not be fair, however, to present this only as a tool for teaching. The project itself has clearly generated a substantial body of new scholarship on literacy, on the production, circulation and use of a wide variety of manuscripts, and the role that literacy played in forging new identities and communities within medieval Europe. Lentes' study of prayerbooks, for example, promises a rich new account of the circulation of vernacular prayerbooks, starting from convents, in southern Germany and the upple Rhineland in the fifteenth century. The largely unreferenced format of the reference articles give a good indication of the potential of this new work, but the reader will need to follow up the references to the more conventional published output to see the full extent of the project's scholarly achievements.