Margins and marginality: marginalia and colophons in south Slavic manuscripts during the Ottoman period, 1393-1878



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This study examined marginalia and colophons in South Slavic manuscripts to establish their value as primary historical source documents. The evidence of a "history from below" was compared with other primary sources to provide an understanding about the lives of Bulgarian Christian Slavs during the Ottoman period and a history of their language, scripts, and book production. The Ottoman Empire invaded Bulgaria in 1393, to remain in power there until 1878. During that time, scribes preserved Bulgarian literary heritage by copying manuscripts. They also recorded in the margins of the manuscripts their thoughts and perceptions, formal transactions of the church, and interactions between the church and its community. While the first marginalia were prayers for forgiveness, later marginalia became a somewhat hidden repository of the marginalized voices of the Ottoman Empire: clergy, readers, students, teachers, poets, and artists who repeatedly started with "Da se znae" (Let it be known). This study analyzed the 146 manuscripts in the Historical and Archival Church Institute in Sofia, Bulgaria (HACI) that contain marginalia and colophons. Content analysis of the corpus yielded 20 categories that clustered into six thematic groups: religious texts; marginalia related to book history and production; interactions between the readers and the book; interaction between the Church and the religious community; to historical events; the cosmos and natural history. This study employed a triangulation of methods, including traditional historical and the New History "grass-roots" methods, deconstruction, critical theory, codicology, diplomatics and linguistic analysis to understand the deeper meanings of marginalia and colophons. This inter-disciplinary study can be considered the first comprehensive, systematic study of South Slavic marginalia and colophons of any magnitude to be made available to Western scholars, and the first substantiated "history from below" of the Ottoman Empire.