Alex Steer

Better communication through data / about / archive

Getting medieval on your internet

427 words | ~2 min

This barely counts as a thought, let alone a point of view, but anyway.

I was reading this, and I thought: what is it with medieval literature and modern internet culture?

As I've no doubt mentioned here before, like lots of planners I came wandering into planning from somewhere far away. My somewhere far away was medieval and early modern historical bibliography. I wrote an MPhil thesis on it, I used to teach it, and I used to do it professionally (as a surprisingly large part of my lexicographical duties). So I can probably talk about medieval literary practice for even longer than I can talk about advertising, and almost as long as I can talk about the history of the English language. All of which makes me the worst person to be sat next to at a dinner party. I can read medieval handwriting, I can do a half-decent physical description of a manuscript, I know more than is quite proper about vernacular miscellanies of the late thirteenth century, and I honestly never thought it would be of the slightest use to me once I moved away from that world in 2008 and went into strategic planning.


Because it turns out that the two things bibliographically-minded medievalists have to know about are two of the things that modern internet culture is learning about all over again: the relationship between form and content in communications, and the synthesis, transmission and reception of ideas in culture.

So I'll see your 'is Facebook eroding privacy?', and raise you a 'did print destroy intimate social networks of communication?'. Give me your retweets, and I'll give you Thomas More's Confutation of Tyndale's Answer (look it up, it's brilliant, like reading an email with too many layers of quoted text).

If you want to talk about the social life of media, find a historical bibliographer. I've worked out what this post is. It's a plea to people who teach what now normally gets called 'history of the book' to use the debates we're having now about communication to get people into their field. And it's a plea to any agency or organisation who cares about communications media to seek out the people who know a bit about its past. You'll find them in the library, thumbing through Pollard and Redgrave's Short-Title Catalogue and muttering about signature numbering.

If they're anything like me, they might not have realised how interesting the future of the book is too.

# Alex Steer (14/10/2010)