Today we constantly switch from one text to another: news, blogs, email, workplace documents and more. But a new book by an MIT professor reveals that this is not a new practice: In the 14th century, for instance, many people maintained eclectic reading habits, consuming diverse texts in daily life.
Consider Andrew Horn, the chamberlain for the city of London in the 1320s — meaning he was essentially the lawyer representing London’s interests in court against the king, who was Edward II for most of that time. The bound manuscripts in Horn’s possession, handed down to the city and preserved today, reveal a rich mixture of shorter texts: legal treatises, French-language poetry, descriptions of London and more.
Perusing such diverse texts, within bound volumes, was all in a day’s reading for a well-educated person, asserts Arthur Bahr, a professor of literature at MIT. Now in his book “Fragments and Assemblages,” published by the University of Chicago Press, Bahr says we must reconstruct how medieval people compiled these bound volumes in order to best grasp how they thought and wrote.