Manuscript Illustrations and Social Media

I found our reading in the OUMEM for today particularly interesting, and in the midst of all things Middle English (which to me is very new!) I was able to relate to the aspect of images in manuscripts. After reading our assigned pages, I looked to the blog to see what others had to say. Kaleb’s post was especially resonate; text (such as a Cracker Barrel menu) can be completely overwhelming if there isn’t an interesting image to help represent said text. When reading this I immediately thought of social media today. The most popular social media outlets involve picture and video (Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat). And I think we can all agree that when scrolling through your Facebook feed you’re less likely to stop and read that post that is paragraphs long unless there’s an intriguing picture associated with it. Initially I thought that modern culture’s move towards images, quick videos and minimal text was a new development. However, when I think back to the reading in the OUMEM, it makes sense that even in medieval manuscripts illustrations and design were a vital part of the manuscript experience. For those who were illiterate, images helped them understand and connect with the text, much like picture books help kids understand a story. I myself can remember being a kid and not knowing how to read, but I could identify a story and explain the plot because the images were familiar to me, and in my head I had a connection between those illustrations and the appropriate text. The text goes on to explain how to “read” illustrations in manuscripts. The best advice we get is to approach illustrations “with an open mind” and the “pious attitude that might have been expected of a person in the Middle Ages” (154).

Another interesting piece of the reading was how early Christians had anxiety about illustrations in manuscripts breaking the Second Commandment. This commandment argues against the making of graven images or idols. So scribes had to refrain from images that were too beautiful or too realistic for fear that Christian minds would “cling only to earthly things”. Hmm much like we “cling” to our smart phones and social media today. I wonder what early Christians would have to say about that . . .

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