Our Philosophy: The Digital Scriptorium
In 782 CE King Charlemagne of the Franks had a problem. He and his family had rapidly gained rulership over a wide expanse of lands in the previous hundred years, but he lacked both the education personally and the access to literate peoples to effectively rule this territory. To solve this he drafted a retiring monk named Alciun of York from his cloisters with a single idea: that he, his children, and the people who helped him rule had to be properly educated.
Alciunʼs first task when he arrived at court might surprise the listener: he set up a technology lab. At this time there was no real way the average student could get writing utensils, paper, and a suitable surface to write on, all these items had to be made by hand. Part of being educated was knowing how to make and use these utensils to communicate with. The Muslim world and the lands of the Romans (which we call the Byzantine Empire) had this technology commonly available and many markets were dedicated to the art of writing. In the lands of the Franks it was nearly unknown outside of monasteries.
Later evidence shows that Alciun decided that the lab would consist of cubicles, each with lighting, a desk, proper ventilation (to dry the paper but not allow bursts of wind to ruin work in progress), storage for finished copy, a holder for books being referenced, a place to store quills, sharpeners, and ink. These labs were expensive, but would be the main centers of creative and scholarly thought until Europe developed an industry to support writing in the 12th century. Modern writers refer to these spaces as scriptoriums, although there is no evidence Alciun or later instructors of the Abby schools called them by this name. We just know from illustrations in manuscripts and in the archeology of the buildings of the era that they existed; for the users of these places they were so basic they hardly mention them in their writings.
The space itself served many purposes. Students of writing learned their craft here. Accomplished writers including professors used special parts of the scriptorium to produce advanced works of writing and illumination. The king and local officials could call on people working in the scriptorium to reproduce or originate texts. Finally, the art and science of writing itself was advanced in them. Technologies like rules of grammar, special characters sets of punctuation, more uniform spelling systems, and even new ways of binding and organizing texts were researched by the denizens of scriptoriums, to the benefit of all of civil society.
Scriptoriums were often supported by merchants guilds, local governments, colleges, and other organizations not only as centers of writing, but also for their general utility. Gerbert, who would become Pope Sylvester II, used scriptoriums to introduce the astrolabe, decimal numbers, rational discourse (and the difference between it and mere nominal discussions) and to advance many areas of discourse. From scriptoriums the papal schism, the rights of man, and even further developments of the technology of writing such Lily’s grammar, written at Oxford, were published and considered.
The Communication Research Institute is merely a scriptorium where the pens are digital, and the books endless and held in cyberspace. Dedicated to exploring the convergence of art, technology, and storytelling, its role starts in the most local levelL serving the college campus as a learning center and production facility.