From the first of June 2016, we have got funding from the Netherlands Organisation of Scientific Research (NWO) for a new project: ‘The Art of Reasoning: Techniques of Scientific Argumentation in the Medieval Latin West (400-1400)’. The application was put together by Mariken Teeuwen and Irene van Renswoude in the 2015 scheme ‘Free Competition’.
The project discusses practices of argumentation and reasoning from the early Middle Ages up to the period of the medieval universities. Mariken Teeuwen is principal investigator, Irene van Renswoude is PostDoc for a first project and for a second project, a PostDoc position has bee advertised. It is now filled by Irene O’Daly, previously a researcher at the John Rylands Research Institute of the University of Manchester. In the project we want to use voices from the edge, marginal annotations and practices of guiding the reader from the blank spaces around the text to throw a new light on the dynamics of medieval intellectual life.
In the current grand narrative of the intellectual history of the Middle Ages, scholars only started to question received knowledge and think critically in the twelfth century, when the age of scholasticism created a new intellectual climate and universities were born. Yet the tools for thinking critically and challenging authorities have always been part of the intellectual world of the Middle Ages (and before). The misunderstanding is, we argue, not only caused by lingering prejudices about the ‘Dark Ages’, but also by the hidden nature of the evidence. Whereas the tools of scientific argumentation of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries manifested themselves in the production of texts and new textual genres (sententiae, disputationes), in earlier ages they often took the shape of paratexts: commentaries, marginal annotations, diagrams.
It is only in the last years that these paratexts have become visible to a larger audience of researchers. Before 2000, they were largely hidden in manuscript margins, now many of them are on free display in hundreds of online collections of digitized manuscripts, ready, for the first time, to be explored. From late Antiquity to the late Middle Ages, these voices in the margin are testimonies to a critical and scientific way of dealing with texts: versions are compared, passages that seem to be corrupt are marked, contrasting opinions are highlighted, confronted and discussed. In other words: the annotations offer a perspective on the intellectual culture of the Middle Ages that is much richer than previously assumed.
In our project these new sources will be explored from the perspective of the history of scholarly thinking. By studying both the period before the birth of the first universities and thereafter, we will be able to offer a new view on the evolution of scientific thinking in the medieval Latin West. The annotations of both well-known medieval scholars and anonymous ones, of monks, masters, students and readers, will be our guide.
For a complete description of the project click here.