Insular Books Conference Report

This three-day event at the British Academy on 21–23 June 2012, organized by Raluca Radulescu (Bangor University: r.radulescu@bangor.ac.uk) and Margaret Connolly (University of St Andrews; mc29@st-andrews.ac.uk), brought together medievalists from different linguistic areas including Middle English, Middle Welsh, Anglo-Norman, Middle Scots and Medieval Irish with the purpose of investigating vernacular manuscript miscellanies from the period 1300–1550. There were three plenary sessions, twenty-one papers and a round-table discussion. Between them these addressed four key concerns: terminology; accessibility; editing; reception and use. Attention was also given to tracing interactions between literary and non-literary texts in miscellanies, and to evidence of exchange between different communities, including dialogue across various political borders. In the first plenary session Wendy Scase (University of Birmingham) spoke about the dangers of labelling volumes as ‘miscellanies’ using as a particular example British Library Additional 37787; she argued that the term ‘miscellany’ which has commonly been applied to this manuscript has misled scholars into making assumptions about its provenance and circumstances of production. In the second plenary session Ad Putter (University of Bristol) discussed multilingual miscellanies, focusing on those which combine a mixture of English and French texts, particularly of the romance and lyric genres. In the third plenary session Ceridwen Lloyd Morgan (Bangor University and Cardiff University) discussed Welsh miscellanies, arguing that from the later medieval period multi-text codices were far more common than single-text manuscripts, and showing that multilingualism was common in surviving volumes from Wales and the Marches. These plenaries and the seven paper sessions between them provoked much vibrant discussion, particularly on the vexed topic of definitions: a request for a more accurate use of terms such as ‘commonplace book’ was voiced by Andrew Taylor. Another topic which provoked much debate was how to make miscellany volumes available to a wider readership (including students and non-specialists): the merits and feasibility of editing the ‘whole book’ rather than individual texts, and the benefits of producing digitized facsimiles or editions, were issues that arose several times during discussion.