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Early Medieval English literature was a sordid swamp of wanton plagiarism!

Jonny Diamond

May 11, 2021, 10:10am

It turns out 12th-century British scholars (monks, really, we’re mainly talking monks, here) had absolutely no problem borrowing “long passages” from whatever manuscripts they could get their hands on, and would freely plagiarize the writings of continental scholars.

Of course, plagiarism then was not the mortal (venal?) sin it is today, and these “borrowings” have allowed modern-day scholars to trace the reading habits of English authors in the early 1100s. Of particular help in this field of study has been the recent rebuilding of an early digital database known as the Fontes Anglo-Saxonici project, which give up the cyber-ghost in 2007. Thanks to scholars and computer scientists working under the aegis of St. Andrew’s University in Scotland, the database is back, so researchers can once again marvel at how writers in 12th-century England relentlessly plagiarized with no fear of getting called out on Twitter.

Said one monk to the other: “That’s not writing, that’s copying.”

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