Time, Materiality, and the Book: Producing Boccaccio from Manuscript to the Digital

  • Paul Clarke

Student thesis: Phd


Recent years have witnessed a deliberate effort in literary studies to expand temporal possibilities beyond traditional narratives of linear and continuous time. The thesis is positioned alongside such studies by exploring how the inherent queerness of time is revealed in the material forms of books. Although notions of queer temporalities have often been problematized through the human body, rarely have these same questions been extended in explicit terms to the body of the book. Yet as objects that repeatedly travel through space and time, at fluctuating speeds and rhythms, books are ideal carriers of such nonmodern temporalities. The thesis takes a discrete selection of editions of the medieval author Giovanni Boccaccio (1313-75) as the subject of inquiry, in different media formats. His texts were copied, edited, and re-made very extensively in the early modern period, and in this way, he emerges as a paradigmatic case study for material approaches to literary studies. The thesis develops a model that deliberately fuses together the literary and the material by framing each chapter through an analysis of time and materiality in the works of Boccaccio. In this way, it is possible to consider some of his lesser-studied, Latin works (De montibus; De Canaria; and Testamentum) alongside his more widely studied, vernacular corpus (Elegia di madonna Fiammetta and Filocolo). The discrete analysis of the material artefacts of Boccaccio is framed as a story of increasing scale. In practice, this means that the thesis begins with the composition of two of his works in manuscript and moves in the subsequent chapters to look at progressively larger collections and subsets of objects. A range of material forms is analyzed, including his autograph manuscripts, examples of fifteenth- and sixteenth-century print production, and instances of photographic reproduction. By interrogating literary systems at scale, beginning with the medieval author working at his desk and culminating with a digital, bibliographic universe, the thesis aims to provide a model for the ways in which a single, iconic author can be read in different materially-inflected ways. In what remains a conservative and often under-theorized field, this approach not only increases our knowledge and understanding of a major world author, but also develops a new paradigm for the study of early modern book production.
Date of Award1 Aug 2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorStephen Milner (Supervisor) & Guyda Armstrong (Supervisor)


  • Filocolo
  • Queer Temporalitiies
  • Materiality
  • Testamentum
  • Giovanni Boccaccio
  • Elegia di madonna Fiammetta
  • De Canaria
  • De montibus
  • Decameron

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