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Assistant Professor of Medieval French
University of California, Berkeley

Tactile Communities: Emotion and the Experience of Medieval French Literature

funded by a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellowship, 2021–23


What does touch have to do with literary history? How did readers of medieval French experience the book sensorially, and how did these practices change over time and space? At the intersection of the ‘material’, ‘emotional’, and ‘sensory’ turns in twenty-first-century Medieval Studies, Tactile Communities asks how the pervasive signs of haptic engagement with the medieval manuscript should inform our analyses of the texts that they transmit. Scholars often remark on the rubbing, scratching, and even kissing of image on parchment. Yet what happens if we take this material reality not as secondary to the meaning of the text (thus configured as an immutable object fixed in literary history), but rather as constitutive of the meaning-making process itself? Presenting the first comprehensive investigation of this phenomenon for medieval French literature, Tactile Communities re-reads five widely disseminated texts of medieval France through the physical marks located at the interface between reading subject and tangible object.

See my write-up of a practice-based codicology experiment for ‘Manuscripts Lab’ at Cambridge: ‘Experimenting with the Touch of Medieval Books’

Royal 19 B XIII  f. 7v  Vielesce.jpg

London, BL, Royal 19 B XIII, 7v 
‘Vielesce’ from the Roman de la Rose

BnF fr_edited.jpg

Paris, BnF, fr. 60, 59r 

The abduction of Helen of Troy in the Roman de Troie.

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