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Philology in a Manuscript Culture Essay (Critical Writing)

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Updated: Oct 9th, 2020


The article entitled “Introduction: Philology in a Manuscript Culture” by Stephen G. Nicols deals with the subject of philology as an independent science and postulates its connection to other disciplines. Nicols describes medieval philology as rather isolated from other disciplines since it is often considered outdated. The central claim presented in the article regards the underlying assumptions of philological disciplines. Nicols claims that while there might be a desire to renew the discipline of medieval philology in its historical state, there is a strong need to determine the connection between medieval studies and other cognitive methodological disciplines.

Main Arguments

The article is written for a scholarly audience and is aimed at convincing fellow scholars about the role that medieval philology plays in a modern world of philology. Nicols uses several arguments about medieval studies and their significance. The author pinpoints a conflict between the modernists and medievalists. According to the former, philology is too broad a discipline while opposing theory and philology. Meanwhile, medievalists claim that medieval philology needs no theoretical framework (Nicols 1).

Based on what certain distinguished scholars postulate, Nicols concludes that the rapid development of philology was a direct consequence of the advent of the printing press, thereby indicating the significance of the manuscript culture.

The author indicates that while the printing technology spurred the development of philological disciplines, it also shifted the direction of its development. The practice of manual rewriting of texts was substituted by printed texts that are transparent and of a fixed nature. Nicols provides an example by describing the work of Leo Spitzer, who compares various editions of the text, rather than their manuscript versions that could provide a different context (Nicols 3).

The author describes Gaston Paris’ approach to medieval manuscript editing as a way to find a version that is closest to the original. Nicols links this approach to Bedier’s position, which pertains to the need of finding a single authentic medieval manuscript that would best reflect the original ideas. Thus, the author concludes that a relationship between a single medieval manuscript highly valued by Paris and Bédier and the printed version bears similarities to a relationship between a modern printed book and its manuscript version. This analogy indicates that a manuscript allows us to look closely at the author’s point of view.

Nicols maintains that the philological significance of the manuscript culture is substantial, especially in a modern take on the discipline. Thus, medieval manuscripts should become a study focus of modern philology. Additional dimensions of manuscripts should be explored, including the work of illustrators, scribes, and commentators, as they provide a sociological perspective on the origin of the book. Nicols lists various aspects of manuscripts that should become a research focus of many various disciplines and indicates how such supplemental work could interfere with the text and even change its original meaning.

Therefore, Nicols postulates that illuminated medieval manuscript demand both the reading and visual perception, which reveal certain “pulsations of the unconscious” that are yet to be studied via the medieval manuscripts. Nicols concludes that medieval philology should be seen as a diverse discipline. Modern methodologies should be developed while taking into account that fact.

Sources, Methods, and Theories

Nicols employs exemplar and deductive reasoning, as he starts with an assumption and provides examples to support his claim. Many concepts are employed to shed light on the subject, such as philology, medieval studies, modernism, manuscript culture, a medieval artifact, and a manuscript matrix. The evidence provided comes from the primary sources of historical and literary character. The sources are historical and literary critique works that deal with philology and manuscript culture.


The discussed article aimed at convincing a scholarly audience that medieval studies and philology should not be isolated. The diversity of research is a crucial aspect of these disciplines. Nicols concludes that the multi-dimensional character of medieval manuscripts leads to the necessity of employing methods about many sciences alongside philology.

Work Cited

Nicols, Stephen G. “Introduction: Philology in a Manuscript Culture.” Speculum 65.1 (1990): 1-10. Print.

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IvyPanda. 2020. "Philology in a Manuscript Culture." October 9, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/philology-in-a-manuscript-culture/.


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