Studying for exams in Medieval Studies has made me aware of two things:
1.) When we are coming up with our study methods we are standing on the shoulders of giants. People have been coming up with memory aids before universities as we know them existed!
2.) The techniques medieval teachers and students used are still useful and a great way to mix up endless hours of exam prep!
Writing this post I am taking a break from Latin – an exam I have prepared for with a combination of flash cards and the making of an illuminated encyclopedia. I am inspired to keep studying by looking at the journey these methods took before winding up on my desk next to a tall cup of tea. I look back and forth between the marginalia on my desktop and the doodles I’ve done to mark corrections; I look at the purple crowns I have done around irregular verbs in my Latin notes, and think about the Rhetorica ad Herinnium suggesting ornamenting images with purple cloaks and crowns to make them memorable(Parshall, 460).
Cloistered in the reading room, browsing Twitter once in awhile as an imaginary pilgrimage into the external world, I am glad to know centuries of students have come before me. Personally, this is one of my favourite parts about being a medievalist. I find it both reassuring and fascinating to know that, as much as we have changed, we are backed up by a rich past that has given us the tools we use to move forwards. As you proceed with your exam studying I hope you will complain in the margins of your textbooks and think of the scribes who did it before, and I hope you will feel confident in drawing bizarre creatures next to academic articles to help you remember what goes where!
MS., Czechoslavakia, 12th Century. De civitate Dei of Augustinus of Hippo. Detail: Hildebertus and his assistant Everwinus at work in the scriptorium, circa 1140: “Wretched mouse, provoking me so often to anger.”
Parshall, Peter. The Art of Memory and the Passion. The Art Bulletin 81 (3). College Art Association: 456-72. 1999. Web.