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Research & Collections Programme

Growing research through the convening power of Cambridge’s collections

Thinking Paper
Dr Orietta Da Rold, English & Dr Suzanne Paul, Cambridge University Library

Paper has now become invisible, and yet it is everywhere. It is so common in our everyday life that we sometimes fail to notice it. Paper is available in all sort of shapes, quality and colour. We rely on paper for the quotidian and the extraordinary. We think with paper, we write with paper, we create with paper, we imagine with paper and we feel through paper. The digital revolution, heralding the demise of paper, turned out to be a technological evolution, and we have discovered, or perhaps are still discovering, that these two technologies can accommodate one another, rather than competing against each other. Paper is a success story, ubiquitously present in post-modern times.

In the premodern period, paper was equally hailed as the medium which saw off parchment. Recent work has, however, demonstrated, that the acceptance and adoption of media require further analysis, and the mechanisms surrounding the reception, understanding and, more importantly, its signification requires a broader approach across disciplines and approaches. ‘Thinking Paper’ aims to bring together colleagues working on paper in multiple disciplines (Arts, Humanities, Social Sciences and Technology) and across different settings, including the GLAM and heritage sectors. If we were to ask literary scholars, historians of the book, economists, archivists, conservators, curators, artists, material scientists, surface chemists, bioarchaeologists, machine learning experts what ‘thinking paper’ means to them, what productive discussions would ensue? What research themes and questions about paper might emerge and what means of engaging the public with this fascinating multivalent material? 

Dr Orietta Da Rold is a University Lecturer, Fellow at St John’s College and a member of the Center for Material Texts. Before coming to Cambridge, she was at Leicester and before that she covered research positions at Oxford, Birmingham and Leeds. She is an Affiliate of Stanford Text Technologies.

Dr Da Rold’s research interests are in medieval literature and texts c. 1100-1500, Chaucer and the digital humanities. In particular, she works on the social and cultural context of the circulation and transmission of medieval texts and books, and research the codicology and palaeography of medieval manuscripts. She is the author of Paper in Medieval England: From Pulp to Fictions  and co-editor, with Elaine Treharne, of The Cambridge Companion of Medieval Manuscripts

Dr Suzanne Paul is the Keeper of Rare Books and Early Manuscripts at CUL. She is a medievalist with a longstanding interest in material and digital approaches to medieval books. She is passionate about finding ways to connect people with manuscripts.