The Secret Life of Writing

People, Script and Ideas in the Iberian Peninsula (c. 900-1200)

PeopleAndWriting – ERC StG Research Project 2020-2025

… we’ve studied what has been preserved, it’s time to delve into what has not…

PeopleAndWriting: a new method for exploring Medieval Written Communication based on people.

Before 1200, the common thought is that the vast majority of the population was not able to write or read. Yet, even with these limitations, evidence shows that lay individuals were not excluded from written communication. They hired scribes to keep records of their transactions, acted as witnesses to the documents that were read to them, and were exposed to ecclesiastic books filled with narrative illuminations. By exploring this trilogy scribes-signers-readers, the role played by the common people and the implications of writing in modelling a given society has been explored bar one significant case: the Iberian Peninsula’s.


In comparison with other European areas, Iberian sources are fewer, scarcer in personal data, and the resulting product of institutions and elites that had full control over written production – deciding not only what was produced but also what was to be preserved. The method applied to study other corpora results, therefore, not viable for Iberia. But that does not mean that medieval written communication cannot be studied or that there is no sign of the relationship lay individuals had with writing, just that the approach used so far needs to be different.

With that objective in mind, PeopleAndWriting focuses on approaching rural communities from the north-western Iberia, for they were a consistent group theoretically integrated within the central government but in practice independent, developing and testing a new methodology to add the middle class and the peasants’ own voice to the discussion on writing. Instead of relying on the historical information conveyed in the manuscripts to know about the people and their context, as has been done so far, PeopleAndWriting proposes to go the other way round, focusing on the individuals, their social interactions, and their link to writing to better understand written production.

PeopleAndWriting is hosted by the Departamento de Historia Medieval, Moderna y Contemporánea at the Universidad de Salamanca.

This project has received funding from the European Union’s EU Framework Programme for Research and Innovation Horizon 2020 under Grant Agreement No. 850604. The European Research Agency is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information it contains.