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Prospects for Collaborative Research between Latin Palaeography, Cognitive Psychology and the Neurosciences

October/11/2019 @ 12:00 - 14:00

Prospects for Collaborative Research between Latin Palaeography, Cognitive Psychology and the Neurosciences

Twenty years ago, Brian Stock, the distinguished Canadian historian of medieval literature and philosophy, published Augustine the Reader, a seminal resource for examining the patristic vocabulary for reading in the fifth century C.E.  The Latin verbs videre and inspicere came to be closely associated with, and in some instances synonyms for the act of reading.  A survey of surviving manuscripts of the fifth and sixth century reveals remarkable dissimilarities between them and the papyri of the classical age of Cicero and Quintilian.  Codices, not scrolls, they incorporated patterns of space, signs (notae), ink color (red and eventually blue, green and yellow) and numerical annotations that facilitated the disambiguation of text and the extraction of meaning.  Changes in the patterns of inserted intra-textual space, beginning with the cola et commata format perfected by Jerome for the Vulgate Bible, are especially worthy of note.  These spatial innovations led to the aerated text format, normal in the ninth century, that I have described in Space Between Words. Speaking as a humanist who admires the “hard sciences”, it appears to me that innovations in the neurosciences over the past two decades, notably the ready availability of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), offers the possibility of developing experiments for scientifically analyzing in precise terms the impact of the evolving graphic innovations that from the fifth to the twefth centuries came to support the modern practice of silent reading.  My question today is: Is it now possible to formulate laboratory experiments capable of casting light on the psychological and neurological implications of the evolution of the Latin page that transpired between Antiquity and the central Middle Ages?  And if so, what are the implications for analyzing the text format of Western European vernacular languages such as Irish and Old English?


Paul Saenger

Curator of Rare Books emeritus, The Newberry Library, Chicago


12:00 - 14:00
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Salle de conférences
5 avenue Pasteur
Aix-en-Provence, 13100 France
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