Multimodal, multilingual calendars

The first peer-reviewed publication associated with EModGraL is out!

In ‘Multimodal and Multilingual Practices in Late Medieval English Calendars’, Matti Peikola and Mari-Liisa Varila examine a selection of late medieval (ca. 1300–1550) manuscript calendars.

Calendar of saints (June). A medieval manuscript fragment, ca. 1340–1360, National library of Finland, F.m.VII.1. This Latin calendar, dating from the same period as the calendars studied by Peikola and Varila, has been used by the Dominican convent of Turku, Finland. Image via Doria (public domain).

Calendars were a specific type of table that was perhaps the most familiar to late medieval readers. They provided information about saints’ days and other liturgical feasts but also contained a variety of other kinds of information, often in a highly condensed form.

In their study, Peikola & Varila found differences between the contents and presentation of calendars in religious manuscripts vs those in e.g. astro-medical manuscripts. They suggest that these may be viewed as distinct subgenres, although they also found hybrids. Language choices reflected genre conventions and specialised functions, and calendars produced in the latter half of the period studied were more likely to be multilingual. Finally, the authors note that the potential influences of print technology on the generic properties of calendars should be examined in the future. This study is currently under preparation.

Peikola Matti & Mari-Liisa Varila. “Multimodal and Multilingual Practices in Late Medieval English Calendars”. In Multilingualism from Manuscript to 3D: Intersections of modalities from medieval to modern times, edited by Matylda Włodarczyk, Jukka Tyrkkö & Elżbieta Adamczyk, 93-118. New York: Routledge, 2023. DOI: 10.4324/9781003166634-6. (Open access)

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Research in the UK

University of Birmingham, Edgbaston campus (Main Library)

Researcher mobility is an important part of academic life, although that “mobility” need not always be physical – as Mari wrote in her blog post in May, collaboration can take many forms.

This autumn term I was invited by our collaborator, Prof. Emer. Wendy Scase, to visit the University of Birmingham. She would mentor me during the 12-week visit and we would start working on a co-authored article. I would also spend a large part of my time in research libraries consulting early modern books for the project. Although travel restrictions have been lifted, the Covid-19 pandemic still has effects on daily life and some academic events are still being organised online. For these reasons, I followed my mentor’s advice and arranged to stay in London instead of Birmingham so that I would have easier access to research libraries.

Photo of Aino Liira, partial face view, with the University of Birmingham Main Library and Old Joe in the background.

I arrived in the UK on 1 September. In London, my weekly routine mainly consisted of days spent at the British Library. I typically reserved one or two days for working from home, which allowed me to participate in events and meetings via Zoom both in the UK and in Finland, as well as to take some time to organise my library notes and photos, to work on research articles, and so on. I also briefly visited the Wellcome Collection and the Cadbury Research Library at the University of Birmingham toward the end of my trip.

Some of the research seminars weren’t in full swing yet but I participated in both live and online meetings of the Centre for Reformation and Early Modern Studies (CREMS). I was invited to give a talk in mid-October. I’d like to thank my enthusiastic audience and the great questions and comments I received! The event took place via Zoom but the discussion was lively. In my talk, I gave a brief general introduction to the EModGraL project and then discussed some of my own research in more detail, including both solo articles and collaboration. The article project which was my main focus during this trip, in addition to my collaboration with Prof. Scase, revolves around handwritten annotation in books containing graphic devices. These were the kinds of books that I was looking for when working at the BL.

Riverside Heritage Trail, Stratford-upon-Avon
One of the CREMS seminar meetings was held at the Shakespeare Institute in Stratford-upon-Avon.

Not everything went as planned. The frequent rail strikes did not affect me as much as I’d feared, but I’m grateful that I decided to stay in London! However, I was meant to deliver another talk to a different seminar group, which had to be postponed to next year. It’s a pity as I was looking forward to an in-person event at Birmingham, but at least we can maintain the connections over Zoom. I did meet some colleagues over lunch or coffee in London and in Birmingham – many thanks to everyone involved! –  and got to attend all three wonderful Panizzi lectures on medieval diagrams by Prof. Jeffrey F. Hamburger at the British Library.


It was a curious time to be in the UK – to think that during my brief visit of just under 3 months the country had two monarchs and three Prime Ministers! And if the political climate was somewhat turbulent, the actual weather was slow to change; it was exceptionally warm throughout the autumn, with sunny days well into November. The temperatures of some 10°C didn’t stop me from getting into a festive spirit toward the end of my trip as I visited a Christmas market in Birmingham and enjoyed a cup of mulled wine in Covent Garden. In the meanwhile, Finland had turned into a snowy Winter Wonderland and after an intensive research period it was lovely to return home in time for December. I had a lot of catching up to do and I’m now ready to wrap up the year.

On behalf of the EModGraL team, I wish everyone Happy Holidays and a Joyous New Year!

A nighttime view of the Christmas tree in front of Turku Cathedral
Turku Cathedral, 2 December 2022

Text and photos: Aino Liira | Twitter: @penflourished

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Introducing Dr Ruokkeinen

We currently have two postdoctoral researchers working for the project. Sirkku Ruokkeinen started her research stint in July 2022. In this interview, she tells us more about her contribution to the project and her thoughts on graphic literacies.

Portrait of Sirkku Ruokkeinen.
Photo: Sirkku Ruokkeinen.

How did you first become interested in graphic literacies?

I have always been interested in liminal spaces, especially paratextuality. My interest lies in managing the reader, their expectations, interpretations, and the ways the text is used. The relationship between text and graphic elements is reminiscent of that between text and paratext. What is expected of the reader? What different ways of reading does the author prepare for? How are errors and subversive readings prepared for? How is the reader instructed?

What will be your main area of responsibility in EModGraL?

I will look into how graphic devices are used in paratextual material – whether they were used to promote the work, advance its sales, if the paratextual matter was used to instruct in their use. This analysis will contribute to an overview of the expectations book producers had relating to the graphic literacy levels of the English readership.

What is, in your opinion, the most challenging aspect of the project?

At this stage, given that I have only just worked at the project for a few months, choosing and refining topics of research seems most difficult. There is plenty that could be taken up for study.

Is there a specific domain or genre you look forward to investigating? Why?

I’m especially interested in seeing how the Playfair graphs1 (late 1700’s) and other new graphic elements were framed on title pages and other paratexts, how they were discussed and presented to the audiences. I’m curious to see if there was an expectation of understanding, especially if any of these graphs made it to texts which were intended for non-expert audiences.

Why is studying early graphic literacies important?

It informs us on the ways in which our thinking may have differed from that of late medieval and early modern readers. Models for representing information influence our thinking and understanding of the world.

Sirkku Ruokkeinen & Aino Liira | Twitter: @proemium, @penflourished

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1. William Playfair (1759–1823) is considered the inventor of several types of statistical graphs, the pie chart among others. Playfair’s 'The Commercial and Political Atlas' (3rd ed. 1801), with references for further reading, is available at: https://archive.org/details/PLAYFAIRWilliam1801TheCommercialandPoliticalAtlas/page/n75/mode/2up

A look into the 1st year of EModGraL

September marks the beginning of the second year of our Early Modern Graphic Literacies project. During the first year of EModGraL, our major research tasks were to develop a classification system for the early graphic devices we examine and to proceed with data collection for our sample years.

Thanks to a wonderfully collective and co-operative process that included weekly data sessions and daily interaction between project members on chat, we established a threefold classification (with subcategories) that is applicable to our dataset. The system and some preliminary results were presented by project members and key collaborators in several conferences during spring/summer, most recently at the 12th International Conference on Middle English  in Glasgow in August.

Jacobus de Voragine, The Golden Legend (Westminster: William Caxton, ca. 14831484). University of Glasgow Archives & Special Collections, Hunterian Bg.1.1. Photo: MLV

Our data collection has progressed very well: the fifteenth- and sixteenth-century datasets are already complete, and we are expecting to complete our sampling for the seventeenth century this autumn. A major question we are trying to find a solution for at the moment has to do with the ‘harmonisation’ of the text category classifications between EEBO and ECCO. This is important to enable us to map the distribution of the graphic devices in different kinds of texts from the late fifteenth to the late eighteenth century.

We already have several publications underway, including a team-authored article in which we introduce our classification model and an edited volume for Brepols, provisionally entitled Graphic Practices and Literacies in the History of English.

We are looking forward to a stimulating, thought-provoking and productive second year of the project!

Matti Peikola & Aino Liira | Photos: Mari-Liisa Varila

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Interview with the Vice-PI

Decorative image: A large number of books stacked on top of each other.
Photo: Martin Vorel – https://martinvorel.com, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The first-year mark of EModGraL is fast approaching. Dr Mari-Liisa Varila, the Vice-PI of the project, has recently completed her postdoctoral research stint. We interviewed her about her past and future work for the EModGraL project.

A portrait of Dr Mari-Liisa Varila
Photo: Mari-Liisa Varila

Dr Varila, your research stint in the project has recently come to an end. What have been some of your main tasks or responsibilities in EModGraL?

I participated in designing the EModGraL data collection procedure, and I collected data from incunabula and 16th-century books. Much of my time was spent on research and writing, but I also taught a three-session MA module on the project theme. I’m also the vice-PI of EModGraL and lead the work package focusing specifically on medical texts.

Your work as the vice-PI of the project continues and a part of your working hours as lecturer will be devoted to the project. What are some of the things that you will continue to work on?

I’ll continue to work on the medical texts work package. This autumn I’ll be focusing on an article on graphic devices in printed medical texts in 1500–1700, co-authored with our collaborators Jukka Tyrkkö and Carla Suhr. I’ll also continue to work on some other aspects of the project, as well as publications, including an edited volume and an article on our project methodology.

What has been most exciting about the project?

I’d say the most exciting part thus far has been getting to go through thousands of facsimile images of early printed books (including e.g. all incunabula on Early English Books Online) in search of graphic devices. It’s always exciting to consult primary sources, be it in situ or via a digital surrogate. I’m also very much looking forward to the results of our diachronic survey of graphic devices up to 1800 and to finding out more about the discursive strategies of book producers in presenting graphic devices and instructing the reader in using them.

Did anything unexpected or surprising come up? Did the project provide you with new research ideas regarding graphic devices or graphic literacies?

I’m not sure I would use the word ‘unexpected’, but it has definitely been interesting to see the distribution of different types of graphic devices in our data thus far, and I’m looking forward to finding out more about the relationship between graphic devices and genre / target audience. It’s also been fascinating to see some examples of devices that do not quite fit in with present-day conventions and definitions of graphic devices, and I’m hoping to take a closer look at some of these in the future.

Do you have any reading recommendations related to early graphic literacies and/or graphic devices?

This is such a multidisciplinary field that it is difficult to give just a few recommendations – it would have to be a lengthy reading list. But I would say one benefits from reading widely and being open-minded. One article I enjoyed reading last year was Elizabeth Rowley-Jolivet’s study on ‘The emergence of text-graphics conventions in a medical research journal: The Lancet 1823–2015’ (ASp, 73). Although both the medium and date of Rowley-Jolivet’s primary materials are outside the scope of EModGraL, I found that the analysis was very relevant for our interests. Since I usually focus on late medieval and early modern materials in my own work, I might not even have spotted this paper were it not for the project.

Mari-Liisa Varila & Aino Liira | Twitter: @mlvarila, @penflourished

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Visiting Växjö

Arguably, there is no better time to visit a Nordic country than late May. It’s starting to get lush and green again after the long winter, and people seem to have more spring in their step. After two years of isolation due to the pandemic, it definitely felt exciting and fun to be able to travel again.

Linnaeus University campus, Växjö

I had the pleasure of visiting the Department of Languages at the Linnaeus University, Växjö, Sweden for a week to collaborate with Prof. Jukka Tyrkkö on EModGraL research. Originally, I was supposed to be in Sweden for several months, but the pandemic turned my mobility period into a mostly virtual one. Prof. Tyrkkö and I have been meeting on Zoom throughout this spring, so it was nice to be able to actually visit Växjö at least once.

Prof. Tyrkkö and I have mostly collaborated on two topics: the quantitative methods used in the EModGraL project and the case studies related to graphic devices in early medical writing (work packages 1 and 2 of the project). During my stay in Växjö, we gave a joint seminar paper on the EModGraL project in the Higher Seminar for Languages. I met several colleagues from the department, many of them working on topics related to translation studies or teaching/learning English. I also learnt the basics of JMP (statistical software).

Evening walk from campus to town centre. Photo: MLV.

Although it would have been nice to stay in Växjö longer, this experience proved that a mainly virtual mobility period can still be very useful. My previous long stays abroad have mainly consisted of working in libraries holding special collections, and in those cases, it would have been impossible to replace an actual visit with Zoom calls. This time, Prof. Tyrkkö and I mostly collaborated on methods and joint publications, which could be done reasonably well on Zoom. We also talked about the university and how things are run there, so when I was finally able to visit, I already knew a lot about the department.

I would definitely recommend this kind of virtual mobility for those situations where it makes sense. By virtual mobility I don’t just mean a random Zoom call but rather sustained collaboration over a specific period, for example three months or a year, focusing on a specific topic or research project. Virtual mobility is also sustainable and affordable, and may sometimes be more feasible for researchers with family.

Having said all that, there are obviously many things that cannot be done via Zoom. Chatting with colleagues over coffee or bakad potatis med skagenröra, spontaneous lakeside walks, campus tours, quick visits to local tourist attractions, and other such experiences are not easily replaced by virtual substitutes. I’m very glad to have been able to visit Växjö this month, and I’m grateful to Prof. Tyrkkö for all his help and hospitality before and during my stay.

Mari-Liisa Varila | Twitter: @mlvarila

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Introducing Dr Liira

A cat on the desk inspecting an open notebook.

Dr Aino Liira’s two-year stint as a postdoctoral researcher begun in January 2022. In this interview, she tells us more about her research interests and work for EModGraL.

How did you first become interested in graphic literacies?

The combination of visual and linguistic aspects of texts is what got me interested in academic research in the first place. I have previously mainly worked with paratexts, that is, elements such as titles or indices which surround or even overlap with the “main text” but are not quite part of it. I’m likewise interested in other phenomena regarding textuality, such as the intersection of the physical and the abstract, and the different roles played by the producers and the readers of texts in shaping the book. When working with paratexts, practical tools like tables (of contents) and indices grabbed my attention. I find it particularly fascinating when text producers modify these elements for new editions (or manuscript copies), and/or give instructions to readers on how to use them.

It’s early April and we have almost as much snow as back in January when I started working for the project! (Photo & caption: Aino Liira.)

What is your main area of responsibility in EModGraL?

I’m currently working together with the rest of the team, collecting data and immersing myself in the complexities of analysing and classifying the various types of graphic devices we come across! Later on, I will be in charge of one of the “work packages” focusing on graphic devices in their material context of the page. In practice this means that we will, for example, study the metadiscourse surrounding the elements (how the devices are referred to in the text) and the technological aspects of producing graphic devices, such as choices made by printers. I’m also interested in handwritten additions or notes left by readers, and hoping to find evidence of this by looking at physical copies of books.

What are you most excited about regarding the project?

The chance to familiarise myself with new research material and to encounter new, exciting types of graphic devices. This is also my first time in participating in a larger research project – working as part of a team is exciting and rewarding in itself! The first workshop we had with our collaborators in November was extremely stimulating, and I enjoy our weekly meetings with the team members where we often take a look at problematic cases and interesting findings together.

Working from home during the pandemic: eager assistants always around, ready to inspect my notes or to interrupt my Zoom calls… (Photo & caption: Aino Liira.)

Is there a specific domain or genre you look forward to investigating? Why?

I’m more excited about the chance to see a variety of domains and genres, and potentially discover differences between them. My PhD revolved around a single work, a universal chronicle titled the Polychronicon, and I admit I’m curious to see what kind of graphic devices can be found in other books of history. I’m currently working together with PI Matti Peikola and Prof. Marjo Kaartinen to examine visual representations of time or chronological events in late medieval and early modern English books.

Why is studying early graphic literacies important?

Research on graphic devices gives us insight into various aspects of early modern book culture: print technology, textual practices (for example, how the structure of information is made visible through the use of certain graphic conventions such as braces), variation and patterns of change within genres, and so forth. Prose text is not always the most effective way of conveying information. It’s interesting to see what kind of solutions authors and book producers have come up with to transmit complex information that requires visualisation, for example when the reader is expected to identify relationships between concepts. Studying the distribution and variation of graphic devices increases our understanding of early modern reading culture and how a vernacular like English gained ground as a language suitable for transmitting specialist knowledge.

Aino Liira & Mari-Liisa Varila | Twitter: @penflourished, @mlvarila

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A word from our research assistant

I started working as a research assistant in Early Modern Graphic Literacies in November 2021. Almost four months have gone by since then – surprisingly fast – so it is high time for me to introduce myself.

I am currently finishing my master’s degree in Finnish Language at the University of Turku. The Department of Finnish and Finno-Ugric Languages in Turku has a long tradition of historical linguistics, so I got acquainted with the early forms and development of literary Finnish already during my bachelor’s studies. I ended up writing my BA thesis on the language of Mikael Agricola, often called “the father of literary Finnish”, using data from the Morpho-Syntactic Database of Mikael Agricola’s Works created at our department.

Last summer, I did an internship at the Institute for the Languages of Finland, working on the digitisation of the Postilla of Ericus Erici Sorolainen, a book of sermons published in the 1620s. The digitisation project is based on AI-powered text recognition and it is part of the work of the Dictionary of Old Literary Finnish and its related corpus, the Corpus of Old Literary Finnish. You can read more about the project in a blog post (in Finnish only) I wrote at the end of my internship and find a short English introduction to Old Literary Finnish at the Institute’s website.

With a background in Finnish instead of English studies, it has been fascinating, at times challenging, but ultimately very rewarding to jump into a project in a neighbouring field. My previous experience being mostly language-focused, working in the EModGraL project has also drawn my attention more to the material aspects of books. It has been a delight to see the range of genres in the project data as well – Finnish texts published before the 19th century tend to be either religious works or legal translations.

One of my favourite aspects of working with early modern texts is the perspective you gain into the historical and cultural context of the time period along the way. So far, I have completed classifying the data from the year 1596. The ongoing Long Reformation in England can be seen in anti-Catholic works, e.g. in the ex-Catholic priest Thomas Bell’s The suruey of popery, in which poperie is turned vp-side downe. The European exploration and colonisation of the Americas is evident in books such as Sir Walter Raleigh’s famous The discouerie of the large, rich and bevvtiful empire of Guiana, an account of his El Dorado expedition in 1595.

“A priuie in perfection” from John Harington’s The Metamorphosis of Ajax. Source: The Metamorphosis of Ajax, a Cloacinean satire: with the Anatomy and Apology … To which is added Ulysses upon Ajax / [Sir John Harington]. Wellcome Collection. Public Domain Mark.

Perhaps the most interesting work in the 1596 data is Sir John Harington’s A nevv discourse of a stale subiect, called the metamorphosis of Aiax. In this work, Harington describes his brand-new invention, the flush toilet. It is a bit of a wild ride, with plenty of biblical and classical references, and it caused quite a stir after its publication due to its coded political messages. The book can be conveniently found and read on the Ex-Classics website for anyone willing to take a look.

I’m now working on data from year 1696. In a hundred years, the number of works in the data has exploded: from about 250 (excluding duplicates and reprints) in year 1596 to over 1400 in year 1696. I look forward to seeing what surprises the project data still holds!

Otso Norblad

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Come work with us!

The Early Modern Graphic Literacies team is looking for a researcher interested in collaborating with us through the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions programme (host institution: University of Turku, supervisor: project PI Matti Peikola). The candidates are evaluated by the supervisor in collaboration with the University’s Research Funding unit, and help is available for the MSCA application process for the selected candidate.

The University Hill (photo: Mari-Liisa Varila).

We are looking for an MSCA Postdoctoral Fellow in English studies with a specialisation in historical linguistics, book studies or textual scholarship to join EModGraL for two years to investigate early modern English graphic literacies and practices with us. The research to be undertaken by the MSCA Fellow may address any of the three main research objectives of EModGraL (or combine them in a meaningful way):

1) to map the distribution of different types of graphic devices in different kinds of books and to develop a new framework for their classification

2) to determine how target audience and topic influence the use of graphic devices; and

3) to establish how linguistic information and graphic devices work together in the context of the page and the whole book, for example through captions and reader instruction.

We particularly encourage postdoctoral projects that address texts in the domains of early modern science or mathematics and projects that focus on practical guidebooks or manuals in any field or domain. The dataset collected by the EModGraL project will be made available to the MSCA Fellow for the duration of the fellowship. The applicant’s precise research topic will be formulated in collaboration with the supervisor.

The deadline for expressions of interest is 23 March 2022. Please see the University website for the eligibility criteria and instructions on how to apply. Details concerning the EModGraL project specifically can be found on the same website under Social Sciences and Humanities > Early Modern Graphic Literacies (pdf). More information on the project can also be found in this project blog.

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Data workshop 26 November

On Friday 26 November, the EModGraL research team and our key collaborators gathered together in wintry Turku (in person and via Zoom) to discuss the tentative typology of graphic devices we are developing for our materials.

There are several modern typologies used for graphic devices that offer a helpful starting point for us, but we have not yet found a classification that would be directly applicable to our early printed materials. We are therefore working on developing a typology for the purposes of the project. In the first stage, the typology will be rather simple, consisting of a few main categories that enable us, for example, to distinguish between diagrams, tables, and pictures. In the first stage of data collection, our research assistant will categorise graphic devices in our dataset according to this typology. In the next stage, we will develop a more nuanced categorisation of the data based on what we find in our materials.  

The image shows participants of the data workshop in a classroom, with two participants on the screen.
The workshop begins. Photo: Outi Merisalo

Workshop sessions

Our workshop was organised as a one-day intensive event with three sessions focused on different aspects of the tentative typology. In the first session, we introduced the project and our data collection procedure. We also discussed the various categories we intend to exclude from our dataset. The second session focused on the categories of figures and tables, while the third session was concerned with ‘general images’ or pictures.

The discussion was lively throughout the day, and we received plenty of useful comments and feedback on our tentative typology. After the workshop, we had dinner together in the 17th-century cellars of a local restaurant.

Tricky cases

Our discussion was mainly based on samples of material from 1596 and 1696. The books from these years form the core of our pilot dataset, and we expect them to contain enough material to provide us with a workable initial categorisation.

While it has thus far been relatively easy to categorise most of the graphic devices in our data from the first pilot year, 1596, some cases have proved tricky. For example, while we exclude tables of contents from our quantitative dataset, what should we do with a table of contents that is organised as a horizontal tree diagram?1 In other words, when collecting data, should we prioritise function (a table of contents should be excluded) or form (a horizontal tree diagram should be included)? This question is at the core of many of the problematic cases we discussed in the workshop. There are no easy solutions, so we will have to find compromises that are good enough for the purposes of our project.

The data workshop took place at exactly the right time considering the timeline of the whole project. We expect that our tentative typology will change and develop during the project, but it was very useful to compare notes at this early stage to ensure that our data collection procedure is feasible and that the tentative categories are helpful in terms of the later stages of the project. We are grateful for the expert advice and insightful comments provided by our collaborators!

Mari-Liisa Varila | Twitter: @mlvarila

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1. See Ayelet Even-Ezra 2020, Lines of Thought: Branching Diagrams and the Medieval Mind. Chicago: U of Chicago Press.