restricted access Introduction
In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

T o write is to create something, to invent something, to bring meaning into being through words in a way that did not exist before. Yet writing is also mechanical—the physical act of putting pencil or pen to paper, tracing letters so impossibly familiar that we tend not to register their shapes or how we execute them. The divide between creation and realization has, if anything, become still more precarious in the digital age. Writingasaprocessofinventionhastakenonadifferentmateriality.Thephysical work of fingers on a keyboard generates words that may never be anything other than pixels on screens. Though the two senses of writing are intimately connected, they remain distinct. The advent of the web has rendered the creation of text such a ubiquitous phenomenon that the currently-preferred term for those who create it, “content creator,” works to accommodate the heterogeneity of multimedia content, but also serves to retain a distinct space for authorship as a primarily textual endeavor. The gap between composition and inscription was, in some ways, narrower in the Middle Ages. Before the advent of printing, few men and women were engaged in the physical work of writing, and still fewer created those texts. The distinction between the two acts would seem to be clear: medieval authors wrote and medieval scribes copied. Scribes, according to this logic, are not authors. This book rejects the axiomatic division of scribes and authors by assessing the evidence from history writing in later medieval England. Historiography requires a strange form of composition, in which literary invention is 1 I ntroduction 2 • Introduction mediated by a reliance upon sources in order to narrate what happened in the past. Such sources were originally oral, but by the end of the twelfth century were more typically textual. History writing, then, relies upon intertextual transfer, upon generations of texts and narratives being copied, altered, and situated in new texts. Copying, of course, is the province of scribes rather than authors, yet history writing, even derived and assembled from previous texts, is authored. This book will explore that doubling, and the ways in which the work of medieval scribes and the work of the authors of history writing mutually inform each other. Beyond the conceptual overlap between copying texts and composing history, medieval English manuscripts preserve historiographical texts that scribes wrote, in both senses of the term. Some scribes are, in fact, authors. Authorship is a discourse, not merely a function. As such, it was articulated and framed by medieval thinkers and writers even as it is today by an ever-shifting cast of experts and amateurs. A striking reminder of the ways in which the discourses of authorship tend to erase the work of scribes can be seen in an unexecuted drawing found in the midst of an otherwise fully finished historiated initial on f. 2v of London, BL, MS Arundel 74. Arundel 74 was written between c. 1375 and 1406, most likely in East Anglia, for Henry Despenser, bishop of Norwich (d. 1406).1 The book contains a number of texts by Bede, including the Historia Ecclesiastica. Suiting its patron, it is an expensive and richly decorated volume, featuring illuminated foliate borders and large initials in gold, pink, blue, and green. The opening folios present to the reader two historiated initials. The first initial, on the opening folio of the codex, is a large “R” in which Despenser’s arms are embedded, a straightforward assertion of the book’s owner and an indication of the luxury of the leaves that will follow. The second initial is rather more problematic. (See figure 1.) The illuminated initial “N” is itself complete: the pink, blue, and white flourishes of the letter sit on a gold ground, and the decorations spiral off the corners to form the foliate border that fills the outer margin of the folio. The initial has been fully and painstakingly executed by an illuminator, and integrated into the composition of the page and its decorative program. In contrast to the elaborately decorated page, the center of the initial is unfinished. It contains only a sketch of a man seated at a desk, writing a book. Where the reader should encounter the rich colors of a fully illumi1 . Quite a bit is known about Despenser’s manuscripts, and the atelier he employed in Norwich. See Christopher Baswell, “Aeneas in 1381,” New Medieval Literatures 5 (2002): 7–58; the landmark work of Lucy Freeman Sandler, Gothic Manuscripts, 1285–1385 (London and Oxford: Harvey Miller and Oxford University Press...