19 September 2008

Grosseteste's del.icio.us page

The proliferation of writings of all sorts, in government as much as in the schools, made reliance on identifying material solely by mental indexing less effective. The psalms might be learned by heart, but the accumulating mass of glosses on them could not. Similarly no archivist could find his way through the hundreds of membranes in the royal pipe rolls, plea rolls or memoranda rolls. To help him in his philosophical reading at Oxford around 1230, Robert Grosseteste devised a system of about 400 symbols, which he placed in the margins of texts to indicate different subject matter. An upturned 'V', for example, indicated references to 'God's wisdom' and a crescent moon pointing to the left indicates 'the dignity of man'. Unlike the croziers, mitres, and other illustrative symbols used by Ralf de Diceto and Matthew Paris, Grosseteste's signa are abstract in form: intersecting lines, patterns of dots, and the like. They are comparable in appearance with masons' marks and other tradesmen's signs. In terms of Ciceronian memorizing techniques, however, Grosseteste's signa are 'images' as much as those of Ralf and Matthew: Grosseteste located them on the pages he read in order to map his path through the thicket of scholastic texts.
From Memory to Written Record, England 1066-1307, M. T. Clanchy, pg. 179

This is fascinating. I'm surprised Grosseteste doesn't pop up more in articles on hypertext or social tagging, since this is such a clear historical example. Does anyone know where I might find a scan that shows Grosseteste's symbols in action?


Anonymous said...

have you come across the Electronic Grosseteste?

Whitney said...

yeah, it has his writings -- what I'm really interested in is his *library*, the books he read and then marked up. thanks tho!

Anonymous said...

Not sure if this is very helpful, but there's a b/w plate in the essay collection Robert Grosseteste: Scholar and Bishop, ed. D. Callus (1955). It's a page from a MS Grosseteste owned and it was copiously marked up.

The master index to this system was edited about 10 years ago by Philipp Roseman and he has three plates of that MS in the book.

There's an image of another page of that MS on the dust cover of Master of the Sacred Page (Aldershot, 2004).

Grosseteste was a big fan of new textual technologies. In one of his most read works (Templum Dei -- it was a manual to help priests educate their parishioners), he used schematic diagrams to draw connections between some complex ideas. I've been trying to map it using XML, but have had a helluva time since the schematics are non-hierarchical and XML lives and dies on hierarchy. He was by nature a hypertextual reader and writer, as most medieval thinkers were.

Whitney said...

Very interesting, thanks Professor Ginther!! I bet I'm not the only one who'd love to see a scan of one of these schematic maps you mention. Keep me posted.