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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