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The project ‘The Art of Reasoning: Techniques of Scientific Argumentation in the Medieval Latin West (400-1400)’ by Mariken Teeuwen and Irene van Renswoude for which they succesfully applied a grant in the 2015 scheme ‘Vrije Competitie’ of the Netherlands Organisation of Scientific Research, was launched on 1 June 2016.

The project discusses the practices of argumentation and reasoning from the early Middle Ages up to the period of the medieval universities. Mariken Teeuwen is principal investigator, Irene van Renswoude is PostDoc for the first subproject and Irene O’Daly is PostDoc for the second subproject.

In the current grand narrative of the intellectual history of the Middle Ages, scholars only started to question received knowledge and think critically in the twelfth century, when the age of scholasticism created a new intellectual climate and universities were born. Yet the tools for thinking critically and challenging authorities have always been part of the intellectual world of the Middle Ages (and before). The misunderstanding is, we argue, not only caused by lingering prejudices about the ‘Dark Ages’, but also by the hidden nature of the evidence. Whereas the tools of scientific argumentation of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries manifested themselves in the production of texts and new textual genres (sententiae, disputationes), in earlier ages they often took the shape of paratexts: commentaries, marginal annotations, diagrams.


Plate 1: Paris, BnF, Latin 11127, f. 49v (detail): diagrams added to a commentary of Boethius on Aristotle, 10th century, manuscript from the circle of Gerbert of Aurillac. Source:

It is only in the last years that these paratexts have become visible to a larger audience of researchers. Before 2000, they were largely hidden in manuscript margins, now many of them are on free display in hundreds of online collections of digitized manuscripts, ready, for the first time, to be explored. From late Antiquity to the late Middle Ages, these voices in the margin are testimonies to a critical and scientific way of dealing with texts: versions are compared, passages that seem to be corrupt are marked, contrasting opinions are highlighted, confronted and discussed. In other words: the annotations offer a perspective on the intellectual culture of the Middle Ages that is much richer than previously assumed.


Plate 2: Some edges of the leaves of Leiden, UB, BPL 144, Boethius and Martianus Capella. Netherlands, 12th century. Source: UB Leiden

In our project these new sources will be explored from the perspective of the history of scholarly thinking. By studying both the period before the birth of the first universities and thereafter, we will be able to offer a new view on the evolution of scientific thinking in the medieval Latin West. The annotations of both well-known medieval scholars and anonymous ones, of monks, masters, students and readers, will be our guide.

For a complete description of the project click here.