Mind Mapping in Canon Law of the High Middle Ages

July 07, 2017

The latest Legal History Evening Lecture, a regular event organised alternately by the Max Planck Institute for European Legal History and the Goethe University of Frankfurt, featured Professor Stephan Dusil of the KU Leuven speaking on ‘Kanonistische Marginalien? Beobachtungen zur visuellen Wissensermittlung im hochmittelalterlichen Kirchenrecht’ (‘Canonical Marginalia? Observations on the visual acquisition of knowledge in canon law of the High Middle Ages’). With a host of examples, the lecture treated a particularity of the gloss in a medieval manuscript of the Decretum Gratiani produced in the milieu of the Colognian school (Cologne, manuscript 128). Starting from the modern mnemonic devices of mind maps and visual cards, Dusil explained how distinction was used for semantic analysis in the graphical glosses that appear on every second page of the manuscript. Complex information was presented logically and digestibly to the manuscript’s readers by means of references to related passages (allusions) as well as annotated explanations in graphic diagrams.

Of the two forms used, vertical graphics predominated, though 19 of the 150 diagrams were depicted on a horizontal plane. There are only a few, understudied precursors for this art form (Bologna, Lincoln, Arles), but they are important sources for the epistemic culture of the 12th century.

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