Revisionary Histories: Interpolation and Ellipsis in Narratives of the Past, 1080–1338
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Weaver, Hannah M.
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CitationWeaver, Hannah M. 2019. Revisionary Histories: Interpolation and Ellipsis in Narratives of the Past, 1080–1338. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.
AbstractAs narrative constructions, human histories are subject to revision and vary according to the source. This instability plays out today in the conflicting stories presented by embattled news outlets; in the medieval period, when documents were written by hand, variations happened in manual alterations to the text. Revisionary Histories: Interpolation and Ellipsis in Narratives of the Past, 1080–1338, focuses on two categories of textual variation in medieval manuscripts: interpolation, in which an extraneous text is inserted into an existing one, and ellipsis, the deletion of material from a pre-existing text. By changing history through addition and deletion, later revisers sought to bolster the authority of the new amalgamated text. There is something counterintuitive about this strategy: it is not immediately apparent why altering the shape of a history would enhance its claim to accuracy. But the practices of interpolation and ellipsis helped medieval historians navigate between the human and the divine, between different conceptions of time, and between factual details and larger movements of history. While in contemporary society, the term “revisionist history” often carries a sinister resonance, this project demonstrates that the medieval practice of revising history was largely constructive, rather than destructive. Overlooking interpolation and ellipsis means missing out on their potential to revise the truth while simultaneously making a claim for the continued importance of historical writing in the creation of medieval worldviews.
The vernacular tradition stemming from Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of the Kings of Britain (ca. 1138) forms the backbone to the project. The extant medieval manuscript versions of translations of this text illuminate the participation of various groups of readers in the process of revising history. The project is structured around three constituencies, with chapters devoted to scribal interpolation, audience (or “mental”) interpolation, and interpolation in translation. Each chapter moves through case studies of specific manuscripts and artifacts to discern how interpolation and ellipsis change the record of the British past and the pattern of historical narrative. By recuperating the potential of interpolation and ellipsis as executed by these actors in the network of people surrounding the text, the project captures the ambivalent power of these direct historical revisions, which facilitate the transmission of the host text even as they refashion it from within.
I found these textual practices to be expressive barometers of medieval attitudes toward history and temporality. By analyzing these related forms of revision, I have been able to see how history on the granular level (i.e., in specific manuscripts and artifacts) followed larger societal movements toward documentary culture and encyclopedism, even as specific revisions negotiated among different ideas about the aims of history and the rapport between historical narrative and “the real.” In other words, these textual practices reflect a desire to keep histories “up-to-date” for an audience whose tastes change over the period of the inquiry, from ca. 1080 to 1338. Paradoxically situated at the intersection of historiographical stability and revisionary energy, interpolation and ellipsis trace the vicissitudes of the medieval reception of England’s past both in England and on the Continent.
Citable link to this pagehttp://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:42106932
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