Material Culture and Writing Practice from Antiquity to the Early Modern period: an interdisciplinary workshop

Event Date: 
25 May 2017 to 26 May 2017

University of Kent

Organised by the Centre for Late Antique Archaeology, and Centre for Early Medieval and Modern Studies, University of Kent, and the Department of Archaeology, University of Reading,


Supported by the School of European Culture and Languages and School of English, University of Kent, the Roman Society, and the Department of Archaeology, University of Reading.


Literacy is a central aspect of society from antiquity to the present day, but there is often a disconnect between the study of written texts and the attention paid to the materiality of their production and consumption. This workshop aims to address the particular qualities of the materiality of writing in the pre-modern period, an era in which the technologies of writing by hand were paramount.
Scholars researching material aspects of writing exist within diverse disciplines (Archaeology, Art-history, Calligraphy, Classics, English, History, Papyrology and Palaeography). Methods and approaches are diverse, ranging from studies of writing form and style, to technologies of writing and the wider social context of literacy and cultural transmission. Within individual disciplines, there are established traditions of scholarship that tend to constrain how the material is approached, and there is little cross-fertilization between scholars working either in different periods, or from different disciplinary perspectives. The workshop brings together scholars and experts across a wide range of periods and disciplines to foster new perspectives and to explore future directions that encourage interdisciplinary collaboration. This will include a consideration of writing as a material practice, the subsequent treatment and curation of writing documents, and the relationship between writing equipment and written documents. We will provide a fresh exploration of writing practices from Antiquity to the Early Modern period and consider the interplay between practices of literacy and diverse aspects of social and cultural identities and experience. A practical calligraphy session and a trip to Canterbury Cathedral Archive are included in order to foster an awareness of the material processes and equipment of writing, enabling scholars to gain new perspectives on the historical material culture that they study.

The conference is the inaugural event of Kent’s ‘Material Web’ Research Group.



Thursday 25 May from 11 a.m. – 5.30 p.m. (Sibson Building, Seminar Room 6, University of Kent)

Coffee and registration

Session: Economy of Manuscripts

  • Elizabeth Solopova:  ‘Pure in heart need no help from texts’: written medium in debates about translation of the Bible in English, c. 1400’
  • Alison Wiggins: Material meanings and Tudor bookkeeping: the case of the production and reception of Bess of Hardwick's household financial accounts (c.1548-1608)
  • Julia Crick: Calligraphy and cursivity in Insular writing before 1050.
  • Ryan Perry: Utility Grade Scripts and Manuals of Religious Instruction


Lunch (Foyer of Sibson Building)


Session: Writing Equipment and Writing Practice

  • Peter Kruschwitz: Thinking about writing
  • Ellen Swift: Investigating the relationship between writing equipment and writing practice: book hands and Roman and late antique reed pens
  • Hella Eckardt: Writing in ink – the archaeology of Roman inkwells
  • Susan Moor:  Framing the Page: measurement and freedom in medieval manuscripts
  • Ewan Clayton:  A craftsman's perspective on scribal workplaces: ancient and modern (keynote)



Friday 26 May from 10 a.m. – 4.00 p.m. (Woolf College, Seminar Room 6, University of Kent)

Session: Transmission of writing/circulation of texts

  • Daniel Smith, Unfolding action: letters as props in the early modern theatre
  • Matthew Nicholls: Libraries and writing in the Roman world
  • Simon Horobin:  "Go litel bok": The Manuscript Circulation of Chaucer's Works


Lunch (Foyer of Woolf College)


Calligraphy Drop-in session:  Cherrell Avery


Calligraphy Workshop: Cherrell Avery (Uncial Script) / Cathedral Archive Tour (Cathedral staff)

Conference fee £40 full price, £20 reduced rate (student/low income/Roman Society member)
Registration fee includes lunch, tea and coffee on both days and participation in either the calligraphy drop-in session and cathedral tour, or the calligraphy workshop.

Please note parking space on campus is very limited, we suggest that if at all possible you use alternative means of transport (there are regular buses from the city centre to campus). If you need to park on campus please let us know in advance.
Please book by clicking here [

For Further Enquiries contact:
or please visit the Material Web [ ]

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