Tag Archives: birkbeck

Leverhulme Artist in residence at the Material Texts Network

Animation artist Shay Hamias and Birkbeck academic Professor Anthony Bale have been awarded funding by the Leverhulme Trust for a ten-month residency by the artist, to be based in Birkbeck’s School of Arts. Their project will explore medieval manuscripts as a source, inspiration, and critical intertext for contemporary animation.

Birkbeck hours; King David at Prayer (fol. 85r)
Birkbeck hours; King David at Prayer (fol. 85r)

The project takes as its cue the idea that illustrated manuscripts sought to ‘animate the letter’ – that is, to bring the word to life through visual and media effects. Working with the medieval manuscript holdings of Birkbeck’s library and of other London institutions, Hamias will explore what animation can bring to the vibrant, lively world of the medieval page.

Hamias and Bale are both interested in questions relating to design, ways of reading, and the status of media. Can animation help us see what we can no longer see in medieval books? Can we activate the emotions of a contemporary viewer in similar ways to how our medieval predecessors responded to the illuminated manuscript? What techniques did medieval artists use to animate the mind and communicate via the eyes? What techniques and illusions were used to evoke visual or intellectual ‘movement’? Might animation offer a translation of a medieval mode of viewing, one which is more comprehensible to the modern viewer but based on medieval imagery?

The main outcomes will be

  • the development of an entirely new interface between contemporary animation and medieval studies
  • a mutually-creative encounter, with impacts through Birkbeck including its Library, including public and scholarly symposia and new animated films by Hamias. Hamias is particularly interested in animating a contemporary counterpart to the medieval book that would expand on the visual language of the Middle Ages to address a present-day issue or narrative.
  • resources for further work on animation and medieval manuscripts, which will include Hamias’ films as creative responses to a range of medieval manuscripts, including those held by Birkbeck.

Shay Hamias will take up his residency at Birkbeck in January 2017. For examples of his work click here.

London-based animation artist Shay Hamias
London-based animation artist Shay Hamias


For more details about the Leverhulme Artist-in-Residence scheme click here




If you enjoyed this article, you may also enjoy our previous posts about the Birkbeck manuscript and rare books collection here and here.

Book Groups Beware

It will, of course, be no surprise to textual scholars and members of the Material Texts Network that textual variance is rife in works of contemporary fiction. However, for a number of reasons – pertaining to copyright, digitisation, and an assumption among many hermeneutic/theoretical critics that texts published around the world are self-identical – textual variance remains an under-studied phenomenon for those working on novels that are fresh off the (digital) press.

When I was recently working on David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas [2004], however, I found a range of variants that exceeded my usual expectations of accidentals by quite some range. One of the chapters (‘An Orison of Sonmi ~451’) was almost totally rewritten in US and electronic editions of the text. I decided to investigate this further, even wondering whether the author had deliberately submitted different manuscripts to different publishers in an attempt to play a trans-textual game (the chapter in question does, after all, focus on storing the words of a death-penalty convict within a state archive for preservation and stability).

It turns out, as ever, that the differences are due to a social flaw in the editing process and not due to any technological aspect. Indeed, in 2003, David Mitchell’s editorial contact at the US branch of Random House moved from the publisher, leaving the American edition of Cloud Atlas without an editor for approximately three months. Meanwhile, the UK edition of the manuscript was undergoing a series of editorial changes and rewrites that were never synchronised back into the US edition of the text. When the process was resumed at Random House under the editorial guidance of David Ebershoff, changes from New York were likewise not imported back into the UK edition. In the section entitled ‘An Orison of Sonmi~451’ these desynchronised rewritings are nearly total at the level of linguistic expression between UK and US paperbacks/electronic editions and there are a range of sub-episodes that only feature in one or other of the published editions.

What I really wanted to know here, though, was what these edits actually did to the text. How would close reading be affected by these changes? What was actually different, and where? Since the extent of linguistic changes would be drastic, I compared functional questions and responses in this chapter (which takes the form of an interview). In other words, if, in terms of plot development, a Q&A was doing the same job in both editions, then I marked the sections as identical. I then modified the D3.js Sankey chart software to allow unlinked nodes and… hey presto, we can roughly visualize the changes to the syuzhet introduced through the editorial process.


Reading from top to bottom of this diagram on both sides allows us to see clearly reorderings and omissions between editions.

But… so what? “We” know that texts vary and that this is likely to be the case in the contemporary as much as in medieval studies. But that’s not the case for everyone. Indeed, as James F. English has noted, the canon of contemporary fiction in the academy is broadly determined by the literary prize culture circuit. Yet, with such variance, who can even be sure that all members of an international jury are reading the same text? What about online international book groups? What about local book groups where some readers are using a digital edition? What about the mass of academic criticism that has conducted close reading of one or other versions but never noticed these differences?




So much for close reading…






The full version of the article is available to read at: Eve, Martin Paul, ‘“You Have to Keep Track of Your Changes”: The Version Variants and Publishing History of David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas’, Open Library of Humanities, 2 (2016) <http://dx.doi.org/http://dx.doi.org/10.16995/olh.82>


Medieval Material Texts

Birkbeck College is running evening tuition in masters-level modules which will be open to all students with a good undergraduate subject in a related discipline.

In October 2014 we will be offering a 9 week module (one evening a week) on ‘Medieval Text and Intertext’ and in October 2015, a module on ‘Medieval Material Texts’.

Medieval Text and Intertext will consider medieval texts in their interdisciplinary contexts. Students will look at issues of genre, form and literary theory in the texts of a manuscript age. The course will be taught through case studies, investigating some of the most spectacular works of the English Middle Ages. Medieval Material Texts considers medieval manuscripts in their literary contexts. Focusing particularly on English medieval texts, this course considers the relationships between the physical format of manuscripts and their curious contents.

At the end of each course students will have the opportunity to write an independent research essay under academic supervision.

Birkbeck is a great place to come and try out material text or medieval studies. We are located in the midst of some of the best research libraries and resources in the world. We have research-active staff with leading publication profiles. There are lots of other optional interesting events in which to take part.

For more information about this course contact: Dr Isabel Davis (i.davis@bbk.ac.uk).