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FRIHUMSAM-Fri hum og sam

ERC-Garipzanov: Graphicacy and Authority in Early Europe: Graphic Signs of Power and Faith in the Early Middle Ages (c. 300- 1000)

Awarded: NOK 7.2 mill.

Project Number:


Application Type:

Project Period:

2012 - 2017


Subject Fields:

The project's major publications have developed the concept of graphicacy, defined in the principal investigator's programmatic article (2015) as a mode of communication of abstract information by means of non-figural graphic devices that can be traced back to the pre-modern age--a communicative mode that relies on the visuospatial ability of human cognition to interpret certain visual graphic forms as proxies for concepts. The project-related research has corroborated that early graphicacy utilized principles of graphic visualization identical with those employed by modern graphic designers and relying on the same cognitive mechanisms. At the same time, this research has demonstrated that concrete forms of early medieval graphicacy were shaped, so to speak, by culturally specific systems of visual representation and media of communication available and accessible in the early Middle Ages. The project's four international conferences have propagated the concept of early graphicacy among specialists in various disciplines within humanities and have made 'graphicacy' a recognizable term among cultural historians, art historians, and specialists in visual culture dealing with the interactions between Text and Image and related graphic phenomena in late antiquity and the Middle Ages. The project has been focused on graphic signs of authority, and have shown that they became the main forms of early medieval graphicacy actively employed by members of different social and religious groups in various media of communication. The first collective volume of the project (2017), which was based on selected papers from the project's first two international conferences (in 2013 and 2014), exemplified this point with reference to late Roman and early medieval graphic signs of social power, political authority, and religious faith, primarily employed in various material media, i.e. material contexts of particular interest to archaeologists, art historians, and cultural historians. The second collective volume (2017), which was derived from the project's third international conference, has provided the first up-to-date detailed discussion of various graphic devices appearing in the early medieval decorated book both in the Latin West and Byzantine East, a topic of special interest to art historians and palaeographers. The principal investigator's forthcoming monograph on graphic signs of authority in late antiquity and the early Middle Ages (2018) summarizes the project-related research by formulating a comprehensive taxonomy of such signs within the wide variety of media, an extensive graphic corpus that can be divided in a simplified manner into magical signs, different forms of cross and cruciform devices, christograms, monograms, monogrammatic initials, and more complicated monogrammatic devices. By setting such a diverse corpus of graphic signs within their specific historical and material contexts and against a backdrop of related written discourses, this monograph will become a standard reference book on its topic long overdue in the fields of classical and medieval studies. Furthermore, the monograph and the project's other publications have shown that, in the early Middle Ages, the developments of the aforesaid graphic forms were intertwined and intrinsically connected to the profound religious, cultural, and political transformation of the late Roman and post-Roman worlds, a societal transformation that affected widely held popular and educated beliefs and assumptions regarding the nature of transcendent and mundane authorities. In short, new signs and symbols encapsulated those changing beliefs and assumptions in a graphic form.

Graphicacy as the fourth Rs (received speech) has attracted a growing interest among specialists in educational psychology and visual literacy in past decades, and it has commonly been studied as a phenomenon typical of the modern age with its increasing importance of visual media. In contrast to this assumption, the proposed project aims to demonstrate that graphicacy became a significant means of communication in early medieval Europe and that its growing role was closely related to socio-cultural trans formation during late antiquity and the early Middle Ages, and especially to the evolving perceptions of authority (both political and religious) in that period. Modern medieval studies have never comprehensively addressed this increasing role of non-fig ural graphic representational signs (such as monograms, graphic symbols like the sign of the cross or triquetra, and monogrammatic initials in religious manuscripts) across a wide range of media in the early Middle Ages. The study of these graphic signs h as been until now fragmented among different disciplines within humanities according to the type of a graphic sign and/or media in which such signs can be encountered. Meanwhile, the increasing use of such signs were expressions of the same trend, namely, an increasing role of non-figural graphic means to communicate religious and political authority in early medieval Europe, and this project aims at decoding such signs with reference to the concepts of graphicacy and visual-written continuum, related ear ly medieval textual and socio-cultural contexts, and concurrent political culture.

Publications from Cristin

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Funding scheme:

FRIHUMSAM-Fri hum og sam