Da Rold 2020

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Da Rold, Orietta. Paper in Medieval England: From Pulp to Fictions." Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2020.

opening line from Chaucer describing a horse as "paper-whit"

“Chaucer reads paper as a precious, beautiful and luxurious material, rather than a utilitarian, cheap and worthless surface, creating a surprising contrast for a modern reader who often expects medieval paper to be a serviceable writing tool.” (1)

"Chaucer evokes majesty with the glittering of the gold, the preciousness of stones and the brightness of light. Paper sharpens this effect, impressing upon the reader the idea that Dido is enveloped by light rather than by people. Chaucer uses paper as a reflective surface which enhances the beauty of the queen. He demonstrates that he had a good sense of the optical properties of paper and its ability to reflect light, as well as being aware of the effect. Of course, parchment reflects light too. It is intriguing to note, however, that Chaucer’s choice of comparison is white paper, a rough material. Physics explains that an uneven surface has the effect of a diffuse reflection; that is, the light hits the object and shines back in lots of different directions. A diffuse reflection would create the impression that Chaucer is evoking in these lines." (3)

"The way in which Chaucer imagines and uses paper is very different from the current scholarly understanding of what paper meant in the medieval period; indeed, this episode defies modern expectations of what paper ought to represent. Chaucer invites us to read paper as a sophisticated object, used here for skilful rhetorical effect, rather than a poor tool for writing." (4)

Interested in Latour, actor-network theory, but instead of agency interested in AFFORDANCE

"Modern readings of medieval sources often argue that medieval society was sceptical of paper and perceived it as a problematic material." (7)

"In the late medieval period, paper was a new material to which society needed to adjust. Sometimes it is accepted with scepticism; on other occasions it is embraced with enthusiasm. Nevertheless, its stable growth shows that what seem to be two opposite, almost polar, positions are often united and should invite modern scholars to think differently about paper. These positions also stress the need to reconsider the role of those countries, in this case England, which do not invest in papermaking until the late fifteenth century, but clearly have a role in the consumption of medieval paper." (7-8)

"Analysing the process by which paper became a cultural touchstone in the late medieval period requires scholars to shift the focus of their enquiry from paper as a writing or printing tool to paper as a commodity." (9)

"It is also important that any inquiry into the technology of paper is decoupled from post-medieval printing economies." (9)

can't distinguish print and manuscript to understand paper

"It is often argued that the use of paper in the late medieval period contributed to reducing the cost of books and thus enables the spread of literacy. But the extent to which this is true requires further analysis. Does paper fulfil a need or create one?" (10)

"It is, however, a fact that well before the craft of papermaking was established in these countries, regions and towns, the use of paper itself paved the way for its manufacture. In France, Italy and the Spanish peninsula, the importation of paper in response to demand preceded the foundation of the first paper mill by several years and even after the establishment of mills the two practices coexisted. It is the demand that interests me in my investigation." (11)

watermark albums of W. Y. Ottley, keeper of prints and drawings at British Museum -- tracings have never been published and are very little known

"I map out the uses of paper as a web of interrelated factors and pieces of evidence that explain the success of this technology in medieval culture. My own approach to this web of interrelated nodes defines paper as a cultural product with its own associations and, at the same time, as an instrumental material in defining that culture." (19)

1 Paper stories

two paper registers, one 1307, one 1309

early paper is rough, lumpy; quality improves closer to 15c with better stamper heads and water powere

"It took almost a thousand years for paper to reach the West. Its story has been rehearsed on several occasions. It travelled across the Eurasian geopolitical axis from China to the Arab world via Samarkand, Baghdad, Damascus and Fez, arriving in the Iberian Peninsula in the eleventh century and then Italy during the thirteenth century. Making paper was mastered by the Arabs and further developed when it reached European countries such as Spain, Italy, France and Germany." (27)

almost all 13c paper, no watermark, probably made on wooden flexible mold; wide laid lines running horizontally

wire mesh got finer as pulp became thinner; becomes possible with fixed wire mould; "Indeed, it is the invention of the fixed mould which, in turn, enabled another key innovation in papermaking: the attachment of profiles and/or designs drawn in wire to the mesh of the mould." (31)

watermarked paper probably started in Italy

"As papermaking developed, letters of the alphabet started to appear as watermarks on paper from the last two decades of the thirteenth century, followed by papermakers’ names at the turn of the fourteenth century. The technique was further developed when the representation of objects and animal and human figures made an appearance in the course of the fourteenth century." (34)

"The technique of watermarking was never adopted by Arabic papermakers – whether for technological or other reasons – but in similar manner the absence of watermarks in Arabic paper came to be used as a means of enforcing a fifteenth-century fatwa against the importation ofWestern paper." (34)

starch-based sizing attracted insects, so gelatine from animals used

"These advances indicate that thirteenth-century papermakers strove to manufacture better-quality paper, not only in response to an increased demand for paper, but also in response to a need to supply good paper. Local, national and international consumption of paper grew in this period because of an expansion in international communication and the need to validate acts in writing." (35)

Paper used on official / state documents and administrations, spreading from China to Islamic East to Europe

“The Arabic invasion of the Iberian peninsula had brought paper and established an important papermaking tradition before the thirteenth century. Thus, the subsequent use of paper in the chancery of the Christian rulers of those regions to communicate with other European royal courts is not surprising, because it was already known locally.” (37)

“The slow spread of paper through diplomatic correspondence is key to the way in which medieval people encountered paper and this technology got to be known. Epistolary culture during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, however, grew for both public and private correspondence, bringing a renewed emphasis on writing and a need for more writing material.” (39)

“In the thirteenth century, then, it is significant that, despite the probable absence of an organized paper trade import, paper was brought into England to aid record-keeping in business.” (42)

“The books of customs which record the transactions of the port of Bordeaux clearly demonstrate that by the end of the thirteenth century and the very beginning of the fourteenth century paper was not difficult to find across Europe and it came in large volumes and in two different sizes.” (42)

“According to Bearman, this practice of binding sheets of paper together for record-keeping purposes is a direct influence of thirteenth-century Italian accounting practices.” (46-7)

Paper as an important item to purchase before travel (47)

“At this juncture, paper has become an accepted and sought-after medium to fulfil the demands of maintaining accurate information and effectively building long-lasting archives, essential for future consultation and reporting purposes. This is the material context in which fourteenthcentury paper book production flourished. By the middle of the fourteenth century, contemporary paper is found in copies of romances and religious and pedagogical texts in English and Latin. The paper in these books is characterized by the thick chainlines I described above, and its watermarks, when visible, confirm an Italian origin.” (49)

Example of a medieval romance copied on paper and covered in parchment with draft of same romance written on it — “The material story of the media which make up this book disrupts modern expectations which understand paper to be for drafting, whilst parchment is for the permanent copy.” (50)

“This spread of paper across Europe correlates sharply with its technological development, which enabled the production of better-quality paper, and the speed of its commercialization.” (52)

“Papermaking in France and Germany also began in this century, although the commercialization of this paper seems to have been fairly local. Italian paper mills were able to take advantage of developed routes along which spices, wool and textiles were traded to bring paper to Europe. Capitalizing on the technological cluster with leathermaking and textileweaving, papermakers, especially from the Marche region, almost took over the paper market.” (52)

Using charms as medical remedies; from 15, “such practices include specific instructions to incorporate paper into the performance of the ritual.” — consume paper like a pill

“It is intriguing to wonder whether paper in itself might have been thought to have special restorative properties; the specificity of the instruction suggests so.” (54)

“These examples show a keen interest in using paper in traditional medical practices as an alternative to textiles to treat injuries. It seems that some medical customs, which traditionally employed linen cloth and wool to medicate and wrap wounds, but also to make potions, could be adapted to use paper as a convenient substitute.” (55)

Used for making escutcheons

Recommended in recipe for making confections

Showing how paper is becoming a household object

The Economics of Paper

“the adoption of paper is dependent on the commercialization, availability and distribution of this product. This adoption relies on how people connect in a wide network of relationships, and it is part of well-established trading routes associated with spices. Cost in this discussion is intentionally relegated to secondary considerations.” (58)

Often said that using paper was for inexpensive books, since it reduced a book’s price — true but not necessarily most important factor in success of paper

Many varieties of parchment available, including cheaper parchment

Accounts from 1360s showing paper widely used for a variety of purposes at that time

  • Parchment - 3 shillings per dozen
  • Paper - sold in quires, various prices

Merchants and spicers buying wrapping papers for sachets

Diffusion of Italian paper in England (64)

Paper folded into quires, quinterni (groups of 25 sheets each), then 20 of those making a ream, each bale is 10 reams, or 5k sheets per barrel (67)

Sizes of papers 71-2; some standardization in 14c

Data in paper imported into England, 78

Painted paper, in demand since end of 14c, popular throughout 15c (79)

Paper and parchment not really competitors — so not just that paper was turned to because it was cheaper (89-90)

“The early accounts of paper use in England do not, then, speak of a cheap material: they speak of a complex relation between two writing materials which do not compete with each other but rather fulfil a variety of uses. With time, however, a change in the value and perception of paper as a writing material is witnessed when the arrival of the printing press suddenly creates an unstable commercial market.” (91)