Review of ‘Machaut in the Book’ Symposium

This review is also published on the Medieval Song Network site here.

Review of the Mellon Research Symposium ‘Machaut in the Book’, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, 11-12th April 2013

This symposium marks one of the culmination points in the Mellon-funded project ‘Machaut in the Book’ led by Deborah McGrady and Benjamin Albritton. (For a list of participants and abstracts, see here) It was an intimate gathering of some eighteen invited participants, and consisted of twelve extended research papers, one round table, and much discussion over the course of two days. The project participants had enjoyed access to those digitised manuscripts containing works by Guillaume de Machaut which they required for their research. (For a full list see the Stanford portal) In addition, access had been provided to two digital tools for research: TPen, for transcription, and DM, which facilitates annotation, linking, and more. Both tools allow collaboration between scholars, and both are in advanced stages of development. It was thus no secret that the participants were in some ways ‘Guinea pigs’, testing the adaptability of the tools to their individual research. Perhaps the principal outcome of the symposium was to alter the focus of Machaut studies to the whole manuscript corpus, rather than to focus virtually exclusively on the single-author codices. Most papers addressed one or more anthology manuscripts, some exclusively, thus showing that valuable scholarship is being undertaken with regards to these sources. The research was helped – if not inspired by – the ever-increasing availability of these sources in digital form, together with the collaboration and transcription tools.

Rising manuscript stars which are starting to reveal their secrets include the Pennsylvania chansonnier (University of Pennsylvania ms 902 (formerly French 15)) and Paris, BnF naf 6221 (papers by Maureen Boulton, Liza Strakhov). Two papers discussed the presentation of a Machaut work nestled in a single anthology (Mark Cruse, Rachel Greer), and two more traced the cross-manuscript transmission of individual lyrics (Benjamin Albritton, Kate Maxwell). All three principal disciplines in Machaut studies were well represented, with Helen Swift discussing the mutability of Machaut’s ‘je’, Anna Zayaruznaya tracing the complications surrounding the use of the musical ‘introitus’, Elizabeth Voss discussing the miniature to the Prise d’Alixandrie in BnF fr. 1584, and Domenic Leo correcting some of the work of François Avril pertaining to BnF fr. 1586. Two papers brought new light to individual single-author manuscripts: that of Jennifer Bain on the ordering of BnF fr. 9221; and that of Lawrence Earp, whose work on the likely commissioner of the Ferrell manuscript (currently housed in the Parker Library, Cambridge, without shelfmark) and BnF fr. 1585 means that a plausible picture of the patrons for the magnificent single-author codices is now almost complete. The closing round-table and group discussion centred around the effects and uses of digitisation and technology, and of thoughts for future work – a future which promises more exciting developments in the field.

At the closing dinner, I proposed a toast to what I personally considered to be three of the project’s greatest witnesses: to the faith that the principal investigators showed the participants throughout; the fun that we had working with the sources and tools and above all with each other; and to the fellowship that the project had engendered among Machaut scholars. If you have a glass to hand, I hereby invite you to raise it too.

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