J.A. (Julie) Somers

  • PhD student
  • Women Scribes, Manuscripts, Twelfth Century

Fields of interest

Women scribes in Western Europe during the twelfth century.


Julie is a graduate of the Book and Digital Media masters program at Leiden University. Her current research focuses on women scribes in Western Europe during the twelfth century.

Women and the Written Word:  Gender and Textual Culture in the Twelfth-Century Renaissance

This study aims to identify women’s participation in the manuscript culture of the “Twelfth-Century Renaissance” (c.1075 – c.1225). Historically considered to be a period dominated by men, this study will argue that women actively participated in book culture. By paying particular attention to the books that women owned, commissioned and copied, this study will assess the female experience as reader, scribe and patron. Unique to this proposal is the examination of gender in relation to manuscript studies, specifically codicology (the study of books as physical objects) and paleography (the study and deciphering of ancient forms of writing). Can we discern the influences of a distinctly female reading culture through a close examination of their books?

The twelfth century is often referred to as a ‘renaissance’, a period of cultural and intellectual change that witnessed an increase in literacy and thus, an information revolution (Haskins 1927, Swanson 1999). This flourishing of knowledge and culture occurred over most of Western Europe. This proposal will focus on Germany, France and England in the twelfth century with the aim of mapping a network of women’s participation in textual culture. First, this study examines the types of books owned by both religious and secular women (prayer books, books of hours, poetry) and the types of books they produced (liturgical books, theological works, correspondence). Here, the study will consider questions related to women’s education and literacy, social status and reading patterns. Are there variations in book production due to differences in education or social status of men and women in the twelfth century? Second, it aims to identify specific physical characteristics that are unique to the appearance of medieval manuscripts produced by women and for women, such as reading aids, page layouts and script. How do these physical traits compare to manuscripts produced by men? Most importantly, can these features illustrate the explicit and implicit demands of women for various types and styles of books?

Curriculum vitae

Master of Arts Book and Digital Media Studies ~2008 Universiteit Leiden

Master of Arts Women's Studies in Religion ~2006 Claremont Graduate University

Last Modified: 10-12-2015