Medieval Doodles Found in Unexpected Places

Whoever thought that doodling was just a modern day class distraction probably hasn’t seen these doodles yet! Book historian Erik Kwakkel discovered small sketches and doodles made by scribes in books that dates back almost 800 years ago. 

Kwakkel is a medieval book historian who was interested in the “pen trials” found on the sides of the pages because it leads us to ask questions about the situation—which Kwakkel believes to be a way for the scribes to show a part of themselves in a different way. The scribes who made copies of books would sometimes make marks on the sides of pages just to test their pens while copying, or would sometimes become bored and therefore draw little doodles. The sketches are similar to “fingerprints” or clues given to us about some of the interests that these scribes had.

The sketches are related to universal topics such as love, morals, and religion, but what possibly drives these scribes to draw these sketches may be true boredom, or simply the love of art. Kwakkel was also interested by the additions of sketches and drawings made long after the book was copied; this means that even readers would take their pen to the margins. The drawings could almost be comic relief, or just a break from the monotony of textbook readings or lectures. Though it is important to pay attention in school, we can see that it has always been a struggle to maintain focus for long periods of time, as the creativity and expression of self must flow at some point!

Kwakkel has taken many photos of the medieval books he has found with special pen trials in them and placed a good deal of these on his Twitter account, Tumblr, and his recently established blog called Medievalbooks

--Jessalyn Kieta



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