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Empire of letters and Tigers of parchment

Empire des lettres et tigres de parchemin

Reich der Schriften und Tiger aus Pergament

El imperio de las letras y tigres de pergamino

International Medieval Congress

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Published on Monday, September 02, 2013 by Elsa Zotian

Summary

Script is not a neutral communication medium. Scripts were particularly used throughout the Middle Ages to stage the idea of Empire, power and domination. The writing has the ability to connote authority and Empire and to inspire respect. On the other hand, the scriptural domain is a world in itself with its coherence and history. The idea of an ‘Empire of letters’ may have emerged within this world too. Both parts of this “empire of letters” are relevant for the palaeographical sessions on the specific thematic strand of ‘Empire’ organised at the International Medieval Congress 2014 in Leeds and sponsored by Apices and Cap Digital.

Announcement

Argument

Script is not a neutral communication medium. Scripts were particularly used throughout the Middle Ages to stage the idea of Empire, power and domination. Well known examples are the litterae caelestes in the late Antiquity, the papal curialis, the litterae elongatae. The concept of Empire in palaeography should, however, not be limited to pragmatic writings and scripts, as illustrated by the ‘prophetic’ alphabet of Hildegard of Bingen for her lingua ignota, connoting the divine Empire, or by the Humanistic script or littera antiqua, which claimed to re-introduce the Antique script, not only the script of Classical Latin literature, but, as a matter of fact, also the script of a (believed) former form of Empire. The writing has the ability to connote authority and Empire and to inspire respect.

That’s why these sessions are placed under both the title of E. T. Bannet’s study on letter manuals (showing how letters unified an Empire) and under the sign of the political irony of the expression “Tiger of paper”, here “tiger of parchment”, as the writings and their layout and staged scripts were able to create admiration, respect and sacred terror.

If the Caroline minuscule is an obvious symbol of a political and cultural endeavour, it also demonstrates how complex the link between Empire and scripts is. At the same time, Charlemagne unified a political space and gave it a common script. In this sense, he unified the Empire by its letters (the Caroline minuscule expelled the use of ‘national’ scripts such as the Beneventana of the Lombards and other scripts inherited from the Roman Empire, such as the curialis), but he also unified the Empire of letters (the Caroline minuscule expanded from book script to both a documentary and book script). Yet, the Caroline is not an ‘imperial’ creation. It arose before the renovatio imperii and is merely a selection of forms within the multiple evolutions of the time, while the other imperial scripts (litterae caelestes, curiales, elongatae) are the fossilised heirs of prestigious times. They are not only archaizing, they are connoting the authority of Empire.

On the other hand, the scriptural domain is a world in itself with its coherence and history. The idea of an ‘Empire of letters’ (the title of a classical manual of letter writing) may have emerged within this world too. Calligrapher’s manuals and posters, writing models, script types which are specific to a genre (e.g. “gothic liturgical script”, “imperial chancery script”), influences or political pretentions to the Empire (the French “mixte” is coeval with the motto “the king is emperor in his realm”) reflect the claim of a distinct ‘imperium’, used to distinguish different hierarchies and spheres of power.

Both parts of this “empire of letters”, that is, the ability to connote authority and Empire through the script, and the structure of a semi-autonomous world of scripts, are relevant to the theme.

Papers of 20 minutes in length are invited on any relevant aspect of palaeography and the notion of Empire. Possible topics could include, but are not limited to:

  • The typology of empire and related scripts: archaizing processes, canonisation, formalisation
  • Diversity of alphabets and diversity of Empires (perception of non-Latin scripts; fake scripts as symbols of power)
  • Influences of Imperial scripts (esp. papal and imperial chanceries) and innovations/resistances
  • The influence of medieval concepts and practices of empire on their post-medieval successors
  • Writing masters and posters

Submission guidelines

To propose a paper, please send a brief abstract (250 words max) to dominique.stutzmann@irht.cnrs.fr or vincent.debiais@univ-poitiers.fr

The deadline for receipt of submissions is 20th September 2013.

Conference : 7-10 Juily 2014

Evaluation

Proposals will be anonymously evaluated by the organizational committee of each session.

Date(s)

  • Friday, September 20, 2013

Keywords

  • paléographie, politique, écriture, empire

Contact(s)

  • Dominique Stutzmann
    courriel : dominique [dot] stutzmann [at] irht [dot] cnrs [dot] fr
  • Vincent Debiais
    courriel : vincent [dot] debiais [at] univ-poitiers [dot] fr

Information source

  • Dominique Stutzmann
    courriel : dominique [dot] stutzmann [at] irht [dot] cnrs [dot] fr

To cite this announcement

« Empire of letters and Tigers of parchment », Call for papers, Calenda, Published on Monday, September 02, 2013, https://calenda.org/257678

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