Scientific method II

On the other hand, there are things like this.

An article in that Bibliothèque de l’École des Chartes volume I just mentioned,1 as well as asking so many of the questions that need asking about who sets the text of medieval charters—the scribe, or the person who orders it made?—contains the following about signatures (on p. 187):

Il est remarquable que cette expansion du champ de l’écriture coïncide avec le contrition ostentatoire de ceux qui avouent ne pas savoir écrire bien qu’ils aient appris à lire : « qui scit litteras, sed nescit scribere ». J’ai relevé soixante-dix de ces aveux en des documents généralement peu enclins au narssicisme. Si des témoignages isolés s’étendent de 923 à 1211, une concentration particulièrement important est visible entre 950 et 1050 : vingt-huit entre 950 et 1000, vingt entre 1001 et 1050.

(“It is remarkable that this growth in the extent of writing coincides with ostentatious regret on the part of those who profess not to know how to write even though they have learnt to read: `who knows letters, but does not know how to write’. I have found seventy of these professions in these documents, which are not in general inclined to narcissism. Although isolated examples stretch from 923 to 1211, a particularly important concentration is visible between 950 and 1050: twenty-eight between 950 and 1000, twenty between 1001 and 1050.”)

Now if I tell you that between 950 and 1000 Catalan documentary production (or at least, the preservation of that production in today’s archives) booms, and then goes into overdrive after 1000, to borrow this article’s markers, you’ll realise that the sample size is important.2 The 950-1000 concentration may well be important, and I suspect that in their context the 1001-1050 examples are actually showing something close to a disappearance, but without the numbers of which these figures should have been given as percentages, the actual significance of this evidence is completely obscure.

I wish, I really do wish I had as many brilliant ideas and interpretations as Michel Zimmermann (for it is he) but it’s things like this that, for me, make his work very hard to use. Also, if he’s interested, I can tell him where to find at least two instances of nuns signing documents autograph, Sant Pere de les Puelles de Barcelona’s freshly-recruited novices in 986 (who make such a profession as he mentions in the extract above) not withstanding.3 But that’s not the point, really, the point again is scientific method.

I have lots to write about, and I will add more tomorrow therefore, and I promise that both entries will be positive and contain genuine historiographical content.

1. M. Zimmermann, “Langue et lexicographie : l’apport des actes catalans” in O. Guyotjeannin, L. Morelle & M. Parisse (eds), “Pratiques de l’écrit documentaire au XIe siècle” in Bibliothèque de l’École des Chartes Vol. 155 (Paris 1997), pp. 185-205.

2. Some account for English-speakers in A. J. Kosto, “The Liber feodorum maior of the counts of Barcelona: the cartulary as an expression of power” in Journal of Medieval History Vol. 27 (Amsterdam 2001), pp. 1-22.

3. F. Udina Martorell (ed.), El Archivo Condal de Barcelona en los Siglos IX-X: estudio crítico de sus fondos, Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas: Escuela de Estudios Medievales, Textos XVIII, Publicaciones de la Sección de Barcelona no. 15 (Madrid 1951), doc. nos 10 & 128; the same nun as in the former, Abbess Emma of Sant Joan de Ripoll, also to be seen in the document presented in N. L. Taylor, “An Early Catalonian Charter in the Houghton Library from the Joan Gili Collection of Medieval Catalonian Manuscripts” in Harvard Library Bulletin, New Series Vol. 7 (Cambridge MA 1997), pp. 37-44, where the signature in question can be seen. Sant Pere’s ignorant nuns in Udina, Archivo Condal, doc. no. 212.

One response to “Scientific method II

  1. Pingback: Name in Print XXIV: women writing in tenth-century Catalonia | A Corner of Tenth-Century Europe

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