Posts Tagged ‘Lindisfarne Gospels’

Vox Political on the Government’s Plan to Waste Money Writing on Vellum

February 15, 2016

Earlier today Mike posted up on his website a piece from the Guardian, reporting that the government had blocked proposals from the House of Lords, which would hav seen the official copies of acts of parliament switched from being written on vellum, to printed on archival paper. The change would save about £80,000 a year. However, Matt Hancock, a spokesman for the Cabinet Office, stated that some traditions were too important to change.

Now I actually do believe in tradition, always depending, of course, on what the tradition is. But this is just nonsensical. I’ve used vellum myself – it’s a very tough, very durable material. There are documents written on vellum that have survived for more than a thousand years, like the Domesday Book, the Lindisfarne Gospels and the Book of Kells. But the archival paper they wish to use to replace vellum sounds almost as tough, if not as. This will last 500 hundred years. I can believe it, because as an historian and archaeologist, I’ve examined documents written on early paper. By and large, the paper used in Britain from the 16th to the mid-19th century is extremely tough and durable. Of course it depends on how it’s treated, but it doesn’t degrade easily and some of the documents from the 19th century are better preserved than modern printed material.

And if we’re talking about the long-term survival of paper documents, just think about the Oxyrhinchus Papyri. These are Graeco-Roman and ancient Egyptian documents on papyrus from ancient Egypt, which date from the 3-4th centuries AD. Scholars are still going through them and discovering new, and often previously lost texts illuminating the life of people in Egypt and generally in the Roman Empire from well over a millennium and a half ago. And this is despite the fact that the stuff was thrown out on the fields and used as fertiliser.

Really, when ordinary citizens are suffering serious cuts to their benefits, cuts that threaten their very lives, it’s ridiculous for parliament to waste such amounts of money on tradition. This just shows the Cabinet to be obstinate, bloody-minded and indifferent to the suffering of ordinary people, but indulgent when it comes to their own petty tastes. Traditions change and evolve. So must this.

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