Periodic Reporting for period 2 - NOTAE (NOT A writtEn word but graphic symbols. NOTAE: An evidence-based reconstruction of another written world in pragmatic literacy from Late Antiquity to early medieval Europe.)
Reporting period: 2020-01-01 to 2021-06-30
The project NOTAE – NOT A writtEn word but graphic symbols. An evidence-based reconstruction of another written world in pragmatic literacy from Late Antiquity to early medieval Europe – aims to answer to these and other similar questions: it represents the first attempt to investigate the presence of graphic symbols in documentary records as a historical phenomenon from Late Antiquity to early medieval Europe.
Graphic symbols are meant as graphic entities, composed by graphic signs, including alphabetical ones, drawn as a visual unit whithin a written text, but communicating something other, or something more, than a word of that text. We say symbol and not sign, because there is no intrinsic prior relationship between the message-bearing graphic entity and the informations conveyed by it. Even when it seems to us – men and women of the 21th century – simply and clear (as in Fig. 1), the message is in any case to discover, because that graphic entity is an object of historical investigation.
Our sources are texts generated for pragmatic purposes: petitions, official and private letters, lists, receipts, authentics from relics, contracts and so on written on papyrus, wooden tablets, slates, parchment. In particular, legal documents enable to relate graphic symbols to illiterate people: the gradual introduction of signatures in the legal documentary practice meant an increasing use of graphic symbols not only by literate people writing their subscriptions in their own hands but also by illiterate contract partners or witnesses, who performed graphic symbols by their own hands in the empty space left for it in the line of their subscription written by the scribe or by a delegated third-party literate person.
In conclusion, NOTAE aims to investigate the graphic symbols in order to capture all the possible historical implications by studying their graphic execution as well as their models and cross influences, their context and transmission, with the purpose to frame also the category of illiterates in terms of gender and social status, for each significant period and region involved in the research, with the particular challenge represented by problematic evidences preserved in a problematic documentary transmission.