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Old books are all the rage right now. Exhibitions of medieval manuscripts and examples of early modern printing have recently made the rounds at some of the nation’s most prominent museums and libraries including the Getty, Folger, and Smithsonian. One of the reasons for the recent upsurge in interest in premodern books has to do with the advent of the e-reader. As print culture gradually goes the way of the dinosaur, we cannot help but cast a nostalgic gaze backward, not so much in an attempt to resuscitate old literary practices as to congratulate ourselves on how far we have advanced beyond them.

This digital exhibition offers a fresh and innovative perspective on the history of the book by illuminating how the culture of reading and learning promoted by ebooks, social media, and the Internet is not a “magical” and “revolutionary” invention of the Digital Age, but a longstanding cultural practice that flourished in the Middle Ages. By putting selected premodern manuscripts housed in Olin Library’s Special Collections and Archives Department at Rollins College in conversation with contemporary texts and literary technologies, this exhibition fuses the gap between past and present literary culture in unexpected and surprising ways. In the process of collapsing some of the distinctions between medieval and modern literary culture and practice Medieval U opens up a new way to see medieval manuscripts and early books: not as bloodless artifacts of a distant era, but active participants in the ongoing debate about the definition, function, role and relevance of the book to contemporary life.

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Medieval U: Intersections of Past and Present Literary Culture was made possible through the generosity of Olin Library, the Rollins College Student-Faculty Collaborative Grant program and generous gifts by Michael and Michelle Fannon and the Office of the Dean of Arts and Sciences. We are grateful to Rollins College’s Olin Library and Winter Park Public Library for housing the physical exhibition in August-October 2014. We also wish to express our sincerest thanks to Rollins’ senior David Matteson (graphic design and logo artwork) and Jessica Vargas (web design).

McRae_MathewsPhoto Credit: Scott Cook


Curator Bios

Amanda McRae is a four-year Dean’s Scholar and will earn a B.A. from Rollins College in May 2015 with majors in Art History and English. Currently, she holds the Wolfgang Domain Endowment Scholarship for Art History. In 2013-2014, she was the Fred Hicks III fellow at Cornell Fine Arts Museum at Rollins in which she curated an exhibition titled Glimpses into the Golden Age. In addition, also has led museum tours and review sessions on relevant art historical time periods.

Jana Mathews is Assistant Professor of Medieval Literature at Rollins College. Relevant academic writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Fragments: Interdisciplinary Approaches to the Study of Ancient and Medieval Pasts; Imagining Legal Personhood in the Middle Ages (Brill); The Letter of the Law: Legal Practice and Literary Production in Medieval England (Cornell UP); and The Journal of Religion and Popular Culture. Popular undergraduate courses taught include “Dungeons & Dragons,” “Olde Schole Literature” and “Medieval Pawnstars.”