Making a Medieval Book

Graduate students, dressed in costumes from medieval western Europe and northern Africa, discuss the silk road with a class of elementary students seated in desks. There is a depiction of the silk road projected on the front board.

The Medieval Book in the K-12 Classroom

This program takes advantage of children’s fascination with the popular trappings of medievalism (knights, princesses, sorcerers, dragons) by using it as a gateway to stimulate an appreciation of books in general and history and literature in particular.

The program was initiated by CMS Director Susan Noakes in 2005-06 in partnership with Twin Cities schools and organizations. CMS doctoral candidate Elizabeth Bowser, a certified and experienced middle school teacher, helped develop lesson plans.

Pairs of graduate and advanced undergraduate students, when possible in period costume (rented from the Guthrie Theater at a reduced rate, the costumes greatly enhanced K-12 students' interest in the program), visit schools and demonstrate making medieval books with authentic material (parchment, lapis lazuli, inks).

The program presents the book (by contrast with the ancient roll) as a medieval invention with remarkably useful features: pages which can easily be turned, forward and back, to quickly compare content of different pages; title page; table of contents; running heads; rubrics; footnotes, glossary, and index.

The teams demonstrate writing with a quill on parchment, using black as well as red (rubrication) ink; ruling and laying out features on a page, including text, marginal notes, illuminated capital letters to mark divisions in the text; gilding of important capital letters; consulting running heads, index, glossary, etc. The teams bring with them a parchment page from an actual medieval book which the children are allowed to examine and touch.

Teacher feedback has indicated that students are drawn into a more intimate relationship with books if they have the chance to participate in making them by hand. Through visual, auditory, and tactile contact with real historic books, students will begin to notice and understand how the book—a medium many know less well than, for example, the computer—is organized to provide many kinds of useful information and deserves careful examination. According to classroom teachers, students' new knowledge about the process of book production may well stimulate a new appreciation for books themselves and for reading.

Now accepting applications for Spring 2020 presentations!

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