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Finally, History Endorses Tagging!

Image via Bodleian Library

History has gained a new celebrity. Her name is Eadberg. She is very mysterious, and she is (maybe) 1288 years old.

Yesterday, The Guardian reported that Jessica Hodgkinson, a PhD student at the University of Leicester, was doing research in the Bodleian Library in Oxford when she found, in the corner of a page, a very subtle, almost imperceptible indent. The book was a Latin copy of the Acts of the Apostles, which was made somewhere between AD 700 and AD 750. The inscription was a woman's name, Eadberg, carved into the upper part of the pages probably with a dry point stylus.

Eadberg is recently famous because she tagged her own name five times, and her own initials 10 times, inside an important manuscript! Sometimes, she even put a box around her name! Here, look!

A rendering made of p. 18 of the manuscript showing the indented inscription. {Bodleian Library)

The "carvings" are barely there at all. They are less than 1/5th of a human hair's width in depth. Scratches, really. It looks like when you write on a piece of paper that is on top of an open book, and then the pressure from the pen indents the page beneath. Why would Eadberg tag an old manuscript? What else did she tag? Has anyone inspected Stonehenge? Quick! Someone check the Book of Durrow! And why did she draw pictures in it?!

“Maybe it was to do with the resources that person had access to. Or maybe it was to do with wanting to leave a mark that put that woman’s name in this book, without making it really obvious,” Hodgkinson told The Guardian. “There could have been some reverence for the text, which meant the person who wrote her name was trying not to detract from the scripture or compete with the word of God.”

Once Hodgkinson found the inscription, the library used some "photometric stereo workflow" adapted to "state of the art technology" called ARCHiOx in order to make pictures of the surface indentations of the pages of the manuscript.

This discovery is important, apparently, because it is proof that Eadberg (or someone very close to her) interacted with this manuscript. There are very few remaining medieval manuscripts that contain evidence that women interacted with them. Even fewer exist in England. Eadberg interacted so much. She wrote her name. She made some inscription no one has deciphered yet, and she drew a little drawing.

ARCHiOx recording of the lower margin of Bodleian MS. Selden Supra 30, p. 9. (Image via Bodleian Library.)

Terrifying drawing. Very spooky. It looks like the character in the back is running toward the character in the front with an arm outstreched. To slap her? The front character is holding a hand backward. To stop them? Eadberg, are you okay?

Eadberg is now a famous celebrity because she interacted with a religious text and left her name all over it to prove her access, not to mention her existence. And she did so very, very faintly, so that no one noticed her graffiti on the surviving manuscript. But we've noticed, and now we have no choice but to give Eadberg her well-deserved 15 minutes of fame.

Historians have not connected "Eadberg" the name to "Eadberg," an actual historical woman, yet, but they have at least nine contenders for the role. I hope that they let the contenders battle it out on primetime TV, sending home one a week every week like on America's Next Top Model. I hope Eadberg lives forever, and I hope her penmanship got better over time, because these letters are very hard to read.

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