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Writing Women. Was There a Specific Type of Female Manuscript Culture?

In my habilitation thesis, I examined urban chronicles written by craftsmen from 15th- and 16th-century Europe using a cultural-historical approach that involves detailed analysis of the manuscripts. While researching these chronicles and analyzing their manuscripts, I also explored the interrelations of writing and gender. One of the questions at the center of my thesis was whether manuscripts written by craftsmen differed from manuscripts written by merchants, patricians, scholars, monks, etc. The results emerging from my research show that the social group which the scribe came from was an important factor, but only one factor that influenced the form of the manuscripts. In addition to the scribe’s social group, there were other decisive aspects that were partly related to social context, such as vernacular and Latin education, access to writing and books, bookkeeping routines, causa scribendi, and intended readership.

In this context, I have already considered women scribes and their design of manuscripts as well as their position in the respective manuscript culture. For reasons of time economy, however, this question had to be removed from the habilitation thesis. Hence, I would like to continue to survey manuscripts written by women and explore how they differ from manuscripts written by men: Was there a specifically female manuscript culture?

I have worked on a female brewer and analyzed her chronicle according to historical and literary-historical methods. My findings indicate that women’s urban chronicles are structured differently than those written by men both on the textual and on the content level. The most striking difference is that the female writer does not commemorate the patrilineal family, but shifts the matrilineal family into the foreground. The next research step would be to find out whether these differences in content and text also become visible on the level of the manuscripts (layout, binding, material, ink etc.). Using a larger sample consisting of manuscripts written by women from different social contexts in medieval cities (artisans, merchants, patricians, nuns), I will explore whether women designed their manuscripts differently and whether there was a female manuscript culture or whether women and men shared a manuscript culture within their social group. In addition, the results of my previous research on (male) manuscript cultures can be applied as a comparative framework. Therefore, I not only use chronicles as an expression of female manuscript cultures, but expand my field of research to other text genres in order to exclude misinterpreting rather genre-inherent techniques as typically female. The question that follows is whether the insights gained this way might help us to better identify the scribes of anonymous manuscripts, which are almost reflexively assigned to men, as male or female.

I will work on this project as visiting scholar for “Women in Manuscript Cultures” at the Centre for the Studies of Manuscript Cultures and Cluster of Excellence „Understanding Written Artefacts” in Hamburg.


Die Darstellung genealogischen Wissens in von Handwerker:innen geschriebenen Chroniken des 16. und 17. Jahrhunderts, in: Cusa, Giuseppe und Thomas Dorfner (Hgg.): Genealogisches Wissen in Mittelalter und Früher Neuzeit Konstruktion – Darstellung – Rezeption 2023 (Cultures and Practices of Knowledge in History 16), S. 61–86.


12/2023           „Writing women. Gender and Class in 16th-Century German-Language Songs, Chronicles and Convents Books”, auf Einladung des Cluster of Excellence “Understanding Written Artefacts” (Hamburg)