Book Series Utrecht Studies in Medieval Literacy, vol. 20

Along the Oral-Written Continuum

Types of Texts, Relations and their Implications

Slavica Rankovic, Leidulf Melve, Else Mundal (eds)

  • Pages: vi + 484 p.
  • Size:156 x 234 mm
  • Illustrations:34 b/w, 17 tables b/w.
  • Language(s):English
  • Publication Year:2010

  • ISBN: 978-2-503-53407-7
  • Hardback
  • Available
  • ISBN: 978-2-503-53935-5
  • E-book
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Twenty essays on the continuing and renewed relevance to medieval studies of Ruth Finnegan's concept of the orality-literacy continuum.


"[...] the excellence of the individual contributions as examples of interdisciplinary scholarship is beyond question."    (Jonathan Herold, in The Medieval Review 11.10.25, URL

"There genuinely is something to interest every medieval scholar, whether histo­rian, archaeologist, or literary specialist, in this collection. Although the book deals with northern Europe as a test-bed for new conceptualizations of the oral-literary continuum, the conclusions drawn from these investigations will inform study in many other parts of the field. (...) The collection strikes a healthy balance between broad theorization and close case-study, between local investigation and wider extrapolations, which suggests that the increased interest in the new formulations and models of the oral-literary continuum is fruitful indeed." (C. Larrington, in: Journal of English and Germanic Philology, Vol. 111, N° 2, April 2012, p. 264-266)



Ever since its introduction in the 1970s, Ruth Finnegan’s notion of the oral-written, or the oral-literate, continuum has served as one of the most effective means of dispelling the dichotomous understanding of the two principal media of communication in the Middle Ages. However, while often casually invoked, the concept has never been made a focus of study in its own right. The present volume is an attempt to place the oral-written continuum at the heart of discussion as an object of a head-on theoretical investigation, as a backdrop to distinct processes of acquisition of literacy in different European regions, and, indeed, as a tool for navigating the rugged landscape of verbal forms, exploring the complexity of oral-literary interrelationships that they manifest. The articles probe the concept with a variety of theoretical and methodological approaches, span diverse texts and genres, and involve a range of European cultural contexts, with special emphasis on Scandinavia and Northern Europe, but also reaching out to various other corners of the continent: from France, the Netherlands and England in the West, over Germany, Bohemia and Poland in the central region, to Serbia and Bosnia in the Southeast.



 Part I: Conceptualising the Continuum

 Verbal Marketplaces and the Oral-Literate Continuum - JOHN MILES FOLEY

 The Oral-Literate Continuum as a Space - SLAVICA RANKOVIĆ

 Mapping Public Debates along the Oral-Literate Continuum (1000-1300) - LEIDULF MELVE

 Part II: Oral Texts and Textual Performances: Verbal Art along the Continuum

 The Once and Future King: History and Memory in Sigvatr’s Poetry on Óláfr Haraldsson - JUDITH JESCH

 Old Norse Memorial Discourse between Orality and Literacy - JOSEPH HARRIS

 Viking Age Rune Stones in Scandinavia: The Interplay between Oral Monumentality and Commemorative Literacy - KRISTEL ZILMER

 How Did the Arrival of Writing Influence Old Norse Oral Culture? - ELSE MUNDAL

 Liquid Knowledge: Traditional Conceptualisations of Learning in Eddic Poetry - JUDY QUINN

 The Poetic Edda: Literature or Folklore? - VÉSTEINN ÓLASON

 The Poetic Curse and Its Relatives - BERNT ØYVIND THORVALDSEN

 A Text in Flux: St. Hallvard’s Legend and its Redactions - ÅSLAUG OMMUNDSEN

 The Charm and Difficulty of a Fragment: Tracing Orality in Cena Cypriani and Summarium Biblie - LUCIE DOLEŽALOVÁ

 Staging the Text: On the Development of a Consciousness of Writing in the Norwegian and Icelandic Literature of the Middle Ages - JÜRG GLAUSER

 Part III: Of Kings and Peasants: The Orality-Literacy Continuum and the Advent of Administrative Writing

 “Audire, intelligere, memorie commendare”: Attitudes of the Rulers of Medieval Central Europe towards Written Texts - ANNA ADAMSKA

 A Carolingian Pun and Charlemagne’s Languages - THEODORE M. ANDERSSON

 Administrative Literacy in Norway - SVERRE BAGGE

 On Evaluating “the Growth of a Literate Mentality” in Late Medieval Norway - JAN RAGNAR HAGLAND

 The Role of the Swedish Lawman in the Spread of Lay Literacy - INGER LARSSON

 Using the Written Word in a Late Medieval Rural Society: The Case of Denmark - BJØRN POULSEN

 The Early History of Written Culture in the Northern Netherlands - MARCO MOSTERT