Francesco Marco Aresu Receives Competitive M.C. Lang Fellowship

Francesco Marco Aresu, Assistant Professor of Italian and Medieval Studies at Wesleyan, is the recipient of the M.C. Lang Fellowship in Book History, Bibliography, and Humanities Teaching with Historical Sources. This fellowship is designed to teach educators how to guide student’s understanding of human presence and impact on original textual artifacts. Continue reading to learn more about how this opportunity and how it will further Marco’s scholarly goals!

Lipit-Eshtar-cone (foundation cone in Akkadian cuneiform characters, 2nd millennium BCE), Courtesy of Special Collections & Archives, Wesleyan University.

The Lang Fellowship is designed to equip educators with the resources necessary to teach students how to examine human impact and relationships with textural artifacts. How will this opportunity benefit your work and studies?

I have studied the materiality of literature since I was in college. But I believe that every text and every book object present unique problems that accordingly require unique approaches and solutions. As a Lang fellow, I will be exposed to new materials and techniques of analysis. I will get the chance to conduct hands-on research under the guidance of eminent scholars in the various fields of the history of the book. I will be able to model my teaching and create assignments based on what I learn from the Rare Book Schools faculty. I hope to become an advocate for the creation of a certificate, concentration, minor, or cluster in manuscript, digital, and print cultures — let a philologist dream — here at Wesleyan. Such a degree could be the first step towards the institution of a text technologies lab at Wesleyan, where students and scholars — faculty, curators, and librarians — could further research, valorize, and give visibility to our Special Collections and contribute to digital initiatives like the interlinkage depository of Aldines at Simon Fraser University.

I hope I myself will become better equipped to research and curate some understudied materials we have in our Special Collections & Archives. I recently wrote an article on Wesleyan’s copy of the 1481 incunable of Dante’s Comedy and was able to provide remarkable and exciting insight on the identity of its illustrious owners.

What is typically the first noteworthy feature when analyzing an ancient manuscript or text?

The first noteworthy thing — before even opening a book — is its size: any decision that was made about the material dimensions of the container implies an interpretation of its contents. When I open a codex, it is the overall visual appearance of the two folio façades before my eyes — their figura, to use a Medieval Latin term — that catches my attention. The layout, the relative distribution of the verbal and the visual, the ratio between blank space and written space, the choice of a script (or of various scripts), and even the tones of the inks are all part of an aesthetic project. They can provide plenty of information about the conditions of production, transmission, circulation, and reception of books; and they witness the plurality of agencies — authorial intentions, readers’ expectations, scribal conventions, compilers’ agendas, patrons’ commissions, scholars’ interpretations — that come together to produce books and negotiate their meanings.

The “material turn” in literary studies has taught us that the material forms in which texts are embodied impact how texts are produced, transmitted, and interpreted. It has taught us that looking at how and where words appear on the manuscript folio can better inform our understanding of what those words mean, or could have meant, for their author and audience.

Dante Alighieri, Comedia (Florence: Nicolaus Laurentii, 1481; detail of the front flyleaf recto with Vittorio Alfieri’s and Lord Vernon’s ex libris). Courtesy of Special Collections & Archives, Wesleyan University.

With the rise of the Digital Age, electronic books and tablets have become extremely popular; still, many prefer traditional print. Why do you think this is the case?

The book form to which we are most accustomed to — the codex — has been around for about two millennia because of its practicality, durability, and usability. I believe books and ebooks are destined to coexist for a long time. They will probably coexist longer than similarly competing text technologies and materials — scroll and codex, manuscript and print, parchment and paper — did in the past. I would twist your question and point toward the notions of sedimentation (as defined by Elaine Treharne and Claude Willan) and skeuomorphism.

Sedimentation describes the users’ response and adaptation process to new mediums. Skeuomorphism is a concept used to describe how new technologies are often designed to look like their real-world counterparts. Our ebooks and reading apps still tend to reproduce the layout of the codex and reenact the reading practices that we are most familiar with.

Why is it important to develop a historical understanding of mediums?

We are living in an age in which digital and printed texts coexist; and in which the last strongholds of manuscript culture are still in the picture for the purpose of authenticity (think of your own signature). But we are also witnessing how the transmigration of texts from print form to digital form is often undertaken by for-profit (and monopolistic) enterprises. A historical understanding of mediums gives us agency on — or at least the ability to monitor — these intermedial and intersemiotic “translations.” A historical understanding of mediums, in other words, invite us to challenge the assumption of technological neutrality, as well as the interfaces to which we are most accustomed.



Wesleyan University Arts and Humanities Division
Wesleyan University Arts and Humanities

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