A History of Writing: From Medieval Script to Digital Screen

Picture of Bologna Scripture (Photo Credit: Renata Tutko)

Offered by the Department of English, in collaboration with the College of Advancing and Professional Studies.

Itinerary - Courses and Credit - Schedule & Fees - Faculty - Request More Information

Program Highlights:

Program Overview

The University of Bologna is the oldest continuously operating university in the world; it is also the birthplace of writing conventions that persist to the present day. From abbreviations to annotations to salutations, Bolognese scholars developed efficient and effective modes for addressing a rapidly expanding audience of readers and writers. Two of the University of Bologna’s illustrious alumni and avid writers, Dante and Petrarch, will provide the point of departure for our study of the fascinating history of the rules that govern written production - a history that can be traced from the earliest handwritten letters to today’s Facebook status update.

Led by Alex Mueller, Associate Professor of English at UMass Boston, in collaboration with faculty and staff of the RAM (Research and Analysis of Manuscripts) Center at the University of Bologna, program participants will attend morning seminars at the University of Bologna and spend the afternoon exploring medieval archives throughout the city engaging in hands-on activities, including manuscript study, document digitization, and social networking projects.

In this course, students will examine the conventions of writing that became established over time within writing spaces, from ancient scrolls to medieval manuscripts to blogging platforms. Considering carefully the structure and placement of text within these environments, students will learn the basic principles of paleography – the study of handwriting – as well as movable type – one of the earliest methods for printing books. In addition to this hands-on work, students will critically analyze the relationship between the physical environments for texts and the content of the texts themselves – from the vast importance of annotation in medieval law books to abbreviations in mobile-texts and tweets of today. This work will help students to identify the rhetorical principles that shape interactions between writers and their audiences over time, and to assess the implications for our understanding of the past, present, and future of text technologies. Much of the course, therefore, will be devoted to handling and describing ancient manuscripts that contain early examples of writing and page design.

Drawing on the innovative methods of the digital humanities, scholars, and practitioners, students will contextualize their archival research within read-write platforms, such as blogs, wikis, Facebook status updates, and Twitter feeds, in order to identify the shifting character of writing conventions today.

Course assignments will include blogging about course readings and field experiences, descriptions of manuscripts in Bolognese collections, and a final digital project.

The class will meet for four hours each morning for directed instruction in rare book and manuscript study, discussions of course readings, and guest lectures by the RAM faculty. In the afternoon students will engage in hands-on projects in various archives throughout the city. Excursions will include afternoon visits to the State Archive of Bologna, the Archiginnasio, the Biblioteca Universitaria, the Museo Civico Medievale, and the Museo della Città di Bologna. Students will also enjoy a tour of medieval Bologna and a day trip to the important Renaissance city of Ferrara.


Date Event
June 26 Arrival in Bologna and program orientation
June 27 Tour of medieval Bologna
July 2 Day trip to Ferrara, city of the Renaissance
July 9 Depart for the United States

Courses and Credit

Participants register for one 3-credit course:

For English majors and minors: ENGL 379 can count toward your major or minor.

There are no prerequisites for this course. Previous knowledge of Italian or Latin is desirable, but not required; workshops and projects will be adapted to the research experience and desires of the students.

There is also a non-credit option for this course, for those who wish to partake in this wonderful experience but do not need academic credit. For details please contact KarolVictoria.Ca001@umb.edu .

Schedule & Fee

This program is not being offered at this time. Please contact KarolVictoria.Ca001@umb.edu with any questions.


Alex Mueller is an associate professor of English in the College of Liberal Arts. He received his PhD from the University of Minnesota and specializes in medieval studies and digital pedagogy.

Request More Information

Karol Victoria Guzman
e: KarolVictoria.Ca001@umb.edu

For further academic information, please contact:

Alex Mueller, PhD
College of Liberal Arts
p: 617.287.6723
e: alex.mueller@umb.edu


Please be advised that international programs are subject to change, slight or major, at any time due to circumstances beyond our control; this includes any and all fees, dates, itinerary, and program activities. We will do our best to inform all applicants of any changes in as timely a manner as possible.