Siân Echard Lecture: “Parchment, Print, Pictures and Pixels: Change and Continuity in the Reproduction of Medieval Manuscripts”


Location: MI Reading Room, 715 Hesburgh Library

Siân Echard completed her undergraduate degree at Queen’s University, Kingston in 1984. She received her M.A. and Ph.D. at the Centre for Medieval Studies at the University of Toronto in 1990 and is currently Professor of English at the University of British Columbia. Her research interests include Anglo-Latin literature, Arthurian literature, John Gower, and manuscript studies. She is especially concerned with how textual presentation—on the written folio, on the printed page, or through a digital medium—affects the reception and study of a particular text. She is co-editor of The Book Unbound: Editing and Reading Medieval Manuscripts and Texts (2004), a work which engages how to employ new technological tools and methodologies in the examination, editing, and reproduction of medieval literature, and her most recent book, Printing the Middle Ages (2008), addresses the history of post-medieval editions of medieval texts. She also holds a UBC Killam Research Prize for 1998, a UBC Killam Teaching Prize for 2001, and was named a Distinguished University Scholar in 2004.

Medieval texts undergo many kinds of translation as they move through time and space. Modern readers of medieval literature must deal with unfamiliar languages and unfamiliar historical and cultural contexts, but there is another kind of translation—the material—that is every bit as powerful in determining how (or if) we relate to these texts from the past. Many medieval texts began as oral works, and even those that are firmly textual were often experienced, by part of their first audience, purely in aural form. As time passed, medieval texts made the transition from manuscript to early print; from early print to the developed avalanche of printed material that we sometimes refer to as “print culture;” from texts produced to be read, to texts edited as the object of study; and now, they are moving again, from the page to the screen. This last shift in particular emphasizes visual access to “original” contexts, as new technologies allow us to approach ever more closely the possibility of easily accessible, affordable, complete facsimiles of medieval manuscripts. But a look at the history of facsimile makes it clear that pictures are not always straightforward. This richly-illustrated lecture will explore, not just the history of medieval manuscript reproduction, but also the language surrounding that history. The comments made by generations of collectors, editors, curators, journalists, and scholars demonstrate that the practice of facsimile is guided by imagination as well as by technology. Fac-simile means, literally, ‘to make like;’ this talk will think through what is means to “make” the Middle Ages by picturing it.

A short reception will follow the lecture.

Lecture organized by Hannah Zdansky (graduate student, Ph.D. in Literature), and sponsored by the Nanovic Institute for European Studies, the Ph.D. in Literature Program, the Medieval Institute, and the Department of English

Echard Lecture Poster