Penn Arts & Sciences Logo

Taxonomies of Knowledge

Informations and Order in Medieval Manuscripts

University of Pennsylvania Press


The period from the late twelfth through fifteenth centuries was an age of information in western Europe, and like today's electronic databases, medieval manuscripts helped readers access, process, and analyze information. Taxonomies of Knowledge: Information and Order in Medieval Manuscripts considers the role of the manuscript book in organizing and classifying knowledge. The collection's six essays demonstrate how the technologies of the book, including the types of material used, choices of textual arrangement, format, script, layout, decoration, and overall design, make it possible to determine what medieval readers and writers thought information was, what they determined was useful to know, and through which categories they decided it could be transmitted effectively to others.

The essays in Taxonomies of Knowledge examine how medieval manuscripts functioned taxonomically, as systems through which knowledge was organized, classified, and used. From the place of the medieval library in manuscript culture to the rise and fall of the twelfth-century commentary tradition, from the employment of maps and diagrams to the complexities of devotional practice, and from the role of poetics in manuscript design to the organization and use of encyclopedias and lexicons, the contributors argue that how information was presented was nearly as important as the information itself. By exploring the relationship between medieval knowledge and its transmission, the volume sheds lights on how the past shapes our understanding of information culture today.

Contributors: Katherine Breen, Charles Burnett, Mary Franklin-Brown, Alfred Hiatt, Sara S. Poor, Lynn Ransom, Emily Steiner, Elizaveta Strakhov.