Revealing Words: Biography of a Scribe

December 5, 12:00pm - 1:15pm
Mānoa Campus, Henke 325 Add to Calendar

by Karen Jolly, Department of History

How can we reconstruct the life of someone we only know through their handwriting, copying and translating texts? Evidence for viking-era Northumbria is pretty scanty, so any scrap is valuable. One messy tenth-century manuscript, Durham Cathedral Library A.IV.19, contains a hodgepodge of texts copied by a variety of scribes sometimes competing with each other for space on the precious parchment. It also has the handiwork of one scribe who identifies himself, Aldred, and who boldly translates everything from Latin into his native Northumbrian Old English. I want to write his biography.

Dr. Karen Jolly’s research interests began with popular religion in medical remedies and extended into interdisciplinary approaches to magic, science, and religion. More recently, she has focused on liturgical rituals, bilinguality, and manuscript studies. Her most recent book publication is The Community of St. Cuthbert in the Late Tenth Century: The Chester-le-Street Additions to Durham Cathedral Library A.IV.19 (The Ohio State University Press, 2012), a cultural study of a viking-era religious community and their bilingual service book. She is now working on a historical fiction project exploring the life of Aldred and the other scribes at Chester-le-Street, which you can follow on her blog, at

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Center for Biographical Research, Mānoa Campus

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