Modern MS Codex

Doing Things With History

Although Who Murdered Chaucer? certainly tests the boundaries of academic scholarship, it is still recognizably what academics and their publishers call a “monograph.” Similarly, the work you have done thus far on the literary and historical analysis essays and even the recap blogs looks a lot like what goes on in more conventional medieval studies classrooms. Ours is not a conventional medieval studies classroom, however. For one thing, this course is offered by the School of Literature, Media, and Communication, which is part of the Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts at Georgia Tech. Unlike medieval studies courses offered in more traditional academic units, like history or English departments, this class is intended for students working in STEM fields or interdisciplinary majors such as STAC, CM, and management. For that reason, in addition to teaching you about literature and history, this course is designed to teach you about the media in which literature and history are transmitted and preserved, as well as where literature fits as a mode of communicating ideas and knowledge.

Understanding and truly appreciating the affordances of digital media involves understanding and truly appreciating the affordances of analog media, like the book. Knowing how media forms evolve and persist, even when forecasters have long predicted their obsolescence and demise, also adds to our comprehension of how knowledge and ideas circulate within contemporary society. In this project, rather than writing an essay about the history of the book, of manuscript production and handwriting, and the creation and dissemination of editions of Chaucer’s work, you will instead apply your knowledge about all of those things–which you have gained through your research, reading, and our discussions–to create your own manuscript edition of some of Chaucer’s shorter poems.

In addition to furthering your understanding of media and communication, this project is also designed to investigate how the study of literature and history can serve as a springboard for creativity. By presenting you with a “problem” for which you must design a “solution,” this project provides an opportunity to consider how the study of alternative methods, processes, and ways of knowing from history might help us in our efforts to “think outside the box.”

Robert Sabuda Pop Up Book

Finally, your collaborative work on this project will help you hone strategies for communication, cooperation, and evaluation that you can apply in the non-academic workplace.

Modern MS Codex Project Description

Quite simply, this project involves making a book. The class will be divided into four teams. The Design Team (designers) will have one week to come up with three alternative design concepts, which they will present to the class on Wednesday, October 10. The Editorial Team (editors) will select poems and essays to be included in the book and craft a relatively short introduction (1250-1500 words), and they will revise, annotate, and edit the material, preparing “final copy” by Wednesday, October 17. Once they have the final copy, the Transcription Team (scribes) will transcribe and illuminate it for delivery by Wednesday, October 24. The Fabrication Team (fabricators) will be responsible for binding and finishing the book by Friday, November 2. Group and individual reflections on the project will also be due and posted to the class blog by November 2.

Although each group will have primary responsibility for one key deliverable, the groups should coordinate their work. The designers and fabricators will probably work together closely during the fabrication stage, and the editors and scribes will need to work together during the transcription and illumination stage. All four groups should also, however, be in regular consultation with each other and with me to make sure the final result is something of which we can all be proud.

Sometime on October 22, 23, or 24, fabricators will have to attend a 3-hour workshop, most likely outside of class time, where they will receive instruction and assistance with the fabrication process from a graduate student at SCAD. Although we will do our best to accommodate the schedules of everyone on the fabrication team with one workshop, we will also have the option of an additional workshop, conducted by Alison Valk, the College of Computing subject and technology instruction librarian.

Project Stages

Remember all assignment stages must be completed in order to avoid receiving an unsatisfactory grade for an incomplete assignment.

The book will be completed in four stages, each with its own deliverable. Each group will have primary responsibility for one deliverable:

  • Stage 1: Designers’ presentation of 3 alternative design concepts (in-class Wednesday, October 10)
  • Stage 2: Editors’ submission of final copy (uploaded to Dropbox > Modern MS Codex > Final Copy by 11:59 pm Wednesday, October 10)
  • Stage 3: Scribes’ submission of transcribed and illuminated final copy (delivered to fabricators by class time on Wednesday, October 22)
  • Stage 4: Fabricators’ submission of final MS (delivered in class on Friday, November 2)

Stage 5: In addition to the book deliverables, each group will be responsible for posting a group reflection or design statement of 1250-1500 words to our class blog by Friday, November 2 at 11:59 pm. Editors will use a slightly revised version of their introduction as their reflection/design statement.

Stage 6: In addition to the group deliverables, each student will post a response (as a comment) to the individual reflection prompt by Friday, November 2 at 11:59 pm.


Points for each student will be awarded as follows:

  • Up to 75 points for individual contributions based in part on self- and peer-assessment
  • Up to 100 points for group contributions based on an evaluation of each group’s deliverable and reflection
  • Up to 75 points for class contributions based on an evaluation of the MS as a whole

I will use the following criteria in assessing individual, group, and class contributions:

  • Response to the rhetorical situation: Does the work creatively engage and apply disciplinary knowledge (i.e., of medieval history, Chaucer studies, textual studies), take into consideration the needs of a public audience, and contribute substantively to the creation of a unique and well-crafted literary artifact?
  • Effective use of medium/media: Does the work show an understanding and take advantage of the affordances of the book as a literary medium?
  • Careful presentation and design: Does the work either comply with, or strategically manipulate standard conventions of design/communication/fabrication as they were outlined and discussed in class, during the workshops, and in the texts? Does it exhibit careful attention to detail and craftsmanship?
Posted in Modern MS Codex, Projects, Uncategorized
2 comments on “Modern MS Codex
  1. Robin Wharton says:

    Questions and Answers:

    Design constraints? None really other than what 16 people working together can do over the course of a month.

    Materials and tools? Will be provided and made available. We will have experts able to help us find substitutions and alternatives if needed.

    What about digital media? Can integrate digital media into the text via scannable QR codes, for example.

    Ongoing involvement of design team? Execution of the concepts presented next week will obviously require ongoing negotiations about whether and how they can be realized.

    Preliminary ideas? images v. no images = images are a good idea, whether they are original or drawn from other sources will probably depend on their function and context, draw upon work already done in the essays, we have a large body to draw from | large ornate capitals? maybe, maybe use InDesign or digital means of production | integration of digital media? maybe using QR codes or abbreviated hyperlinks | how big? | what shape? | color and material of cover? | new materials or tradition?

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  1. [...] and codicology through an exploration of modern manuscript and artisan book culture. During the first phase of the project, students were introduced to Chaucerian textual studies and medieval and modern [...]