Dr Megan McNamee: A Fourteenth-Century Almanac and the Affordances of Folding in the Later Middle Ages

  • 5.15pm

  • Online

Chair – Dr Heather Pulliam

Megan C. McNamee is Lecturer of Pre-Modern Art, 500 to 1500, at the University of Edinburgh. She has published on low-relief sculpture and diagrams. At present, she is completing a book that reconstructs numeric study circa 1000, and traces the effects of widespread numeracy on representation in Europe with a focus on religious art and architecture. Her work has been supported by the Kress Foundation, Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, Mellon Foundation, American Philosophical Society and Leverhulme Trust.

This paper explores the semantics of folding through the remarkable Oxford, Bodleian Library, Rawlinson D. 939, a fourteenth-century almanac. The manuscript comprises six oblong parchment sheets, each folded first lengthwise to form a narrow strip and then again, in a zig-zag pattern, to create a palm-sized packet. Although Rawl. D. 939 can be leafed through like a codex, its pages also open (somewhat like a pop-up book) revealing another layer of calendrical, chronological, devotional, medical, economic and prognostic material. Cuts in the parchment allow a viewer to access information on the inside without unfolding an entire sheet. Folded, Rawl. D. 939 measures 14 x 11 cm—compact, but no more so than many almanac codices, which were on average around 15 x 10 cm, making them just as portable. Given this, I am curious why a thing like Rawl. D. 939 was created and believe the answer to that question lies, on the one hand, in the expressive pressures that time-related content put on the codex, and, on the other, in the formal and relational possibilities that folding afforded. Seen as novelties, folded manuscripts like Rawl. D. 939 have been studied in isolation. In this paper, I place them in context, as part of the larger family of late-medieval folded objects such as letters, charters, amulets, devotional ephemera (i.e., parchment diptychs and triptychs) and textiles. Doing so yields a more nuanced, period-specific understanding of implications of folding. My analysis sheds light on the structural significance of Rawl. D. 939 and books more generally since the fold was, of course, the constituent element of codices, pamphlets, loose gatherings and pecia alike.

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