We, the project PeopleAndWriting, and the COVID

The project “The Secret Life of Writing: People, Script and Ideas in the Iberian Peninsula (c. 900-1200)” restarts, we fight back!

Last September I wrote a post to share the news I had been awarded an ERC StG grant. The project was due to start last February. That was a February from a different world than the one we all live in now. Our lives have changed in ways no one could have predicted; we are not the same people we were before, and our work has also changed, taking the place it deserves: if you are reading this you are an enthusiast of Manuscript Studies, like me, but more than ever that goes to a second place, far behind ourselves, our families and loved ones, and our colleagues. At the beginning of the pandemic I wrote many emails to people just to be reassured they were alive, not well and working as usual, just alive. The human component of our professional relationships changed, at least to me. I have met many colleagues from all over the world in the last ten years, and I came to realise I admire them from a professional point of view, but also care for them as they were a family member. I am that kind of person. I am happy to say that all my people are doing fine; all my mentors and colleagues from whom I learned and learn so many new and exciting things are doing well.

But things have changed. Last February I began an exciting new step in my career thanks to an ERC project that would allow me to do cutting-edge research, build a team, stress the importance of having Manuscript Studies at my university and, if things had worked out as planned, establish the pillars of a research institute that should already be operating. However, the agenda has been postposed without further notice; we are still a long way from getting rid of the pandemic and other problems come first. I do not know about you. To me, the first few months were hectic but productive, then came a depression of some sort, grief, then apathy, disbelief, anger, sadness, hope, productivity again, and more rage. All that said, I am not writing this post to share negativity but positivity:


As I suppose many of you, I have attended many more conferences, seminars, talks, workshops and courses in the last six months than in some of the previous years. There were no problems with mobility and costs. Thank you to all institutions, associations, and individual colleagues who had seized upon the pandemic and held wonderful meetings. It is not the same as having you around, but a good enough substitute. In fact, without Zoom or Google Meet, it would have taken some time to see many of you. I guess it is worse for those who are starting in the field and need to establish social relationships, but just realise these scholars, however eminent as many of them are, are opening their homes to all of us. The good things in people excel in bad situations. Send emails, send tweets, send thank you notes.


The European Commission has been and is extremely conscious and considerate of the situation and has acknowledged all the problems we, researchers, are facing even before we needed to rise our voice (or even realise about). My project is still underway, but with a six-month delay. PeopleAndWriting began, again, in September.

New discoveries

When the pandemic broke out, I was supposed to be in Portugal gathering the corpus of documents for the project. Needless to say, I could not do that, at least not in the traditional way. And it came with a pleasant surprise. Archivists are extraordinary people. They worked through the pandemic with such an efficiency I am still astonished. I ordered images, I got images. In fact, since I was not in the archive and could not select what I wanted to see, I got many more images (whole folders instead of just one or two documents). And I found things I had not expected to find: hundreds of documents written in a script I had not seen before – Yes, it is Visigothic script. I have been looking at Visigothic for some thirteen years now. I found a new kind of Visigothic. A different way to write it –, many with a structure that was odd, to say the least. This has been a great discovery that would not have been possible without the pandemic. My research project has slightly changed to accommodate these findings and the results will be more meaningful that I thought.

New opportunities

I had time to build a site for the project: http://peopleandwriting.wordpress.com/ I was not going to create one for I thought it was unnecessary, but now we need to emphasise communication and make all possible data available to everyone. In a way, we have become a great hub of people, more fluently interconnected. I have not been able to put together a team, it is not a good moment to move to Spain, and will not so until next September. But all the changes in schedule, the new discoveries, and the new chores on teaching I had to accept made me hire some help: I have a research technician working on the project who is doing wonders in setting the corpus up for the next stage. So, say hi to Javier, you will read from him soon.

Now more than ever, be safe, be happy, stay in touch. Best wishes to all.

By Ainoa Castro

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