The objects at the heart of my research are illuminated manuscripts produced by and for monastic communities, and particularly those in the Iberian Peninsula. I investigate questions of materiality and creativity and what the convergences of scribes, artists, makers, and users reveal about medieval monastic practices. I am also interested in the effects of translating word and image from one book or medium to another, not only historically but also in the contexts of Digital Humanities initiatives. Although I am fully invested in the potentially democratizing effects of new technologies in the domains of research and pedagogy, I am concerned that we may lose touch, so to speak, with what we learn from handling material artifacts.
The term “cinema,” from the French “cinématographe,” is fundamentally a reference to movement-inscription (kínēma, “movement” + gráphein, “to write,” or more literally “to scratch, to scrape, or to graze”). The cinematic qualities of the medieval manuscript have been an ongoing part of my research: motion, time, and animation (the movement-inscription aspects of books in the Middle Ages); montage and materiality; light and immateriality; collective making; and collective viewing.
Many of the qualities that attract me to medieval manuscripts are precisely those that are difficult to capture through traditional digitization, a process that tends to represent books statically, head-on, and with uniform lighting. Understanding medieval creation and reception also requires that we experience the textures of the page at different angles (Figure 1), and even witness the bleed-through of images from one side of the parchment to the other (Figure 2). To complement my focus on materiality, I seek new ways to capture and present transient features.
My various projects on the cinematic qualities of books arise from my rather unconventional pre-doctoral training. Before developing an interest in the Middle Ages, I obtained a BFA in Film Studies and two Master’s degrees with strong emphases on modern and contemporary art. One of my early attempts to think filmically about medieval art is Illuminated Text (2012), a 16mm film in which the processes of bookmaking and filmmaking are united in a film-riddle inspired by the late tenth-century Exeter Book and its alliterative Anglo-Saxon riddles. The film combines landscape footage, abstract color, rotoscoped animation, and recreations of eighth-century manuscript decoration.