The 2019 Harlaxton Medieval Symposium: The Medieval Book as Object, Idea and Symbol

The 2019 Harlaxton Medieval Symposium

The Medieval Book as Object, Idea and Symbol

Monday 22nd to Thursday 25th of July

The work of all medievalists is fundamentally dependent on medieval books. Written information transmitted through books supplies historical context and often constitutes a primary object of study. Scholars have long based their research on the written, printed, pictorial and decorative contents of individual books and classes of book from the middle ages. It is hardly surprising that less attention has been paid to books as cultural artefacts, i.e. objects that are recognised and understood in particular ways and defined according to given criteria. While most people recognise the symbolic value of books, few devote much attention to it, and the assumptions on which the definition of the medieval book rest have provoked little interest to date. Yet the subject raises important questions. Why, for example, is ‘book’ generally equated with ‘codex’ to the exclusion of single-sheet documents (OE boc, bec), rolls and fascicles? On what grounds are major distinctions drawn between ‘library’ books and ‘non-library’ books? Why, historically, did books and rolls signify differently? What underlay the signifying power of medieval images of books? Was there – to paraphrase Jesse Gellrich – an ‘idea’, or ‘ideas’ of the book in the middle ages, and, if so, what were they?
Such questions about the ontology, or ‘bookness’, of the medieval book could usefully absorb more thought. To this end, the 2019 Harlaxton Symposium will address the theme of the Medieval Book as Object, Image and Symbol. While many papers will have a later medieval focus, earlier material will also be included, and the object domain is not restricted to Britain. Speakers will include Jessica Barker, Jessica Berenbeim, Alixe Bovey, Clive Burgess, David Carlson, Laura Cleaver, Margaret Connolly, Brian Cummings, Elizabeth Danbury, Martha Driver, Tony Edwards, Vincent Gillespie, Marlene Hennessy, Nicholas Hermann, Holly Maddocks, Susie Nash, Lucy Sandler, Daniel Sawyer, Don Skemer, Kathryn Smith, Jenny Stratford and Magnus Williamson.

Inquiries can be addressed to the convenor (Julian Luxford) at

Draft programme to be published early 2019