The purpose of the Jean-Mabillon Centre’s research is to cover all the processes behind mainly written output from the Middle Ages to the present day, including its relationship with orality and iconography, through the various stages ranging from the production conditions (Track 1), then the mechanisms of cultural heritage transmission (Track 2) and ending with the conditions for making this historical documentation available to the scientific community (Track 3).
Track 1: The culture of writing from the Middle Ages to the 21st century
This track provides the foundation for the others. The study of the social, material and cultural conditions of written production over the long term is essential preparation for a better understanding of the phenomena of heritagisation (Track 2) as well as an improved utilisation and restitution of these documentary sources (Track 3). Research circumscribed to spaces that are already well known (Saint-Denis, Paris) is combined with comparative investigations linked to phenomena of urbanisation or addressing rationales of attraction/repulsion between the centre and the periphery, in an essentially French space, but also open to influences at the European (German, English, Spanish, Italian, Russian or Swiss spaces) or American (Canada, Louisiana) levels.
The long-term study of the effects of literacy, above and beyond the essential medieval period, must become more chronologically inclusive, alongside questions regarding how people learned to write and the production/management of documentary writings, as well as issues relating to the challenges of linguistic transfers and the history of books. In this regard, this track focuses on research examining the forms assumed by similar phenomena at different eras by trying to escape from a system of values based on an irrelevant teleology. Thus, the importance of the image in texts and, paradoxically, of orality in writing, represents an interesting field of study, mobilising the combined contributions of cartography, numismatics or sigillography, as well as delving more deeply into shared work on the iconography of medieval manuscripts, photography or oral investigations. Lastly, particular attention will be paid to the material aspects of this history (paper, parchment, inks), driven by the presence of many curators within the Jean-Mabillon Centre and through its participation in the PATRIMA LabEx.
Track 2: The genesis and tradition of written heritage and media: authors, relays and institutions
Opposing yet eminently related phenomena of aggregation and dispersion, selection and abandonment, and shifts in meaning when the singular (manuscripts, books, autographs, engravings, films, archaeological objects) merges into structured and structural compilations of aesthetic, scholarly, documentary or administrative works (libraries, archives, museums), are addressed in their exemplary dimensions. The individuals or legal entities that are behind these complicated historical heritagisation processes (patrons, producers and printers, researchers, collectors, critics, curators, cultural or non-cultural institutions, etc.) are as necessary as the documentary heritage itself (in every sense) that historians now have at their disposal when conducting their research.
This prudent retrospective approach leads to a new understanding of what might be called the manufacturing of heritage. Specific examples, such as operatic and theatrical institutions, will continue to serve as material for experimentation and reflection on an original process which consists in moving away from the question of creative intention in order to concentrate on the social and material processes through which the works were produced. The history of books through the ages to the present, the history of the law, addressed via the textual tradition and the doctrinal aspect, the history of archaeology and archaeological digs, and the history of contemporary media, from the press to the film industry, represent the key fields of investigation.
Track 3: Epistemology and normativity of text and image in the digital age
The Centre Jean-Mabillon deliberately builds its scientific approach around the ambition of being a (deliberative rather than normative) forum for debates and encounters around the question of the critical publication of documents. By its history, its output and the diversity of its members, it is well positioned to address the question of the epistemology and normativity of text and image publications in the digital age.
This is of interest not only to disciplinary specialists (historians, philologists, literature historians, etc.), computer engineers and specialists in new technologies, but also the public authorities in general and, more specifically, professionals in heritage conservation faced with first-order issues, from the re-use of public data to returning cultural heritage entrusted to their care back to the public.
Electronic archiving brings up multiple issues, some of them scientific, in which the contribution of the Jean-Mabillon Centre’s specific research is all the more precious, inasmuch as it is the essential precondition for an ecdotics of quality. It involves nothing less than rethinking the conditions required for evaluating and maintaining the authenticity of documents in electronic archives and creating tools, systems and standards to attempt to take up this challenge.