Thursday, 5 April 2012

Manicules: post-publication discussion

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I want to use the opening sentence from the ArchBook entry on Manicules by Voytek Bialkowski, Christine DeLuca, and Kalina Lafreniere as a starting point for some post-publication discussion.

“While a manicule (fig. 1) may vary in size, shape, and quality, ranging from the simple outline of a hand (fig. 2) to a more detailed sketch featuring ornate sleeves and cuffs (fig. 3), the unifying characteristic is that of an extended index finger pointing towards a specific selection of text.”

What is striking about images two and three referenced in the opening sentence above is how much they differ (see the entry for comparison). While ms. manicules were widely used for notetaking in books and manuscripts of the medieval and early modern periods, no two readers’ manicules ever look the same. Indeed, the manicule image shown below is particularly interesting in this regard.

Gualterus Burlaeus, Burleus super octo libros Phisicorum Venetijs, Impressa p[er] S. de Luere, iussu A. Torresani de Asula, 1501. sig. B4r. Image Courtesy of the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library.

While at first glance it would appear we are looking at the standard pointing finger, what we are actually looking at is a quill (and an active quill) that is indexing and underlining at once. This reminds me of how personalized handwritten annotation is as an activity, and it makes me wonder if we can say the same about annotation in digital environments? I can choose a bullet, a star and any number of symbols from Microsoft Word for annotating, listing and classifying material, but the key difference is that I didn’t actually design the symbol. Does it matter that we choose a symbol rather than design it when we annotate online? Another question: How global is the history of the manicule?


  1. Although the pointing hand seems an intuitive sign for tactile interaction with the text, it had a rather nonintuitive association with orality in the Middle Ages. "This, one of the most pervasive of all twelfth-century schemata, has its roots in the classical tradition of picturing the rhetorical declamatio, which Early Christian artists had adapted from images of the pagan philosopher for God's gestures of Benediction and Creation. In Old Testament illustration the 'voice' of the Lord is often represented in this form as a pointing hand emerging from the clouds. The pointing index finger was a universal sign of acoustical performance, the speaking subject, . . . a neat way of expressing the oral witness within the written text." Michael Camille, "Seeing and Reading: Some Visual Implications of Medieval Literacy and Illiteracy," Art History 8.1 (1985): 26-49, at 27-28.

  2. First example of a hypertext link...