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Medieval Pen Trials In the News

Interview for National Public Radio sparks media frenzy.

Members of the Turning Over a New Leaf consult medieval manuscripts all the time. During their in situ studies in libraries across Europe they frequently encounter a phenomenon that is both highly entertaining and important for understanding scribal culture: pen trials. While most pen trials concern words or short lines (including “I am trying out my pen!”) there are also occasions where scribes were doodling or trying out decorated letters. These doodles are often found on flyleaves (which tended to be blank) but also in the margins or in between the text columns.

These medieval pen trials have caught some significant media attention in the wake of an interview Erik Kwakkel gave on 26 September, 2014 for National Public Radio (listen to it  here). On 2 October, 2014 the art and design blog Colossal devoted an article to some of the doodles Erik posted on Twitter and Tumblr ( here, here, and here). This article was subsequently picked up by various other news agencies, including  People Magazine ( online edition, 3 October, 2014); La Stampa ( online edition, 3 October, 2014); Daily Mail ( online edition, 5 October, 2014); The Times (printed edition, 6 October, 2014; online edition, 5 October, 2014); and The Independent on Sunday (printed edition, 5 October, 2014; as well the  online edition), which includes an interview.

Want to know more?

Various posts on our (now closed) project blog are devoted to the topic of medieval manuscript doodles. Jenny Weston provides an overview of common types of doodles ( here); Jenneka Janzen zooms in on doodles in one particular Leiden manuscript ( here); Irene O’Daly analyzes the humour of doodles ( here); and  Julie Somers has built a Flickr feed with images of Leiden manuscripts with doodles ( here).

Erik Kwakkel has also devoted a book chapter to twelfth-century pen trials from Rochester Abbey, showing how they provide information about the location where scribes were trained: Erik Kwakkel “Hidden in Plain Sight: Continental Scribes in Rochester Cathedral Priory, 1075-1150,” in Erik Kwakkel (ed.), Writing in Context: Insular Manuscript Culture, 500-1200, Studies in Medieval and Renaissance Book Culture (Leiden: Leiden University Press, 2013), 231-61. You can order the book here.

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