Wish lists, to-do lists, top-ten/forty/one hundred lists, guest lists, honor rolls, welfare rolls, lists that could go on … this short list of lists reflects some of the many ways in which lists structure our desires, tastes and aspirations and tell us who we are and where we stand in relation to others. Lists even give us a way of attempting to do justice to all the big things in life: our love or admiration for another, our wish to memorialize, our desire to communicate wonder—attempts we make in using lists that end with the words “to name just a few.” In all these ways, lists are not only practical but also alluring and fun.
Despite the pervasiveness of lists, not only in our current moment but across millennia as well, the list form itself has attracted little formal study with only a handful of books devoted to the form (see this site’s bibliography page). The three scholars behind this blog aim to bring attention to the list as a verbal (and visual and sometimes thing-like) form worthy of study in its own right. In doing so, our goal is to promote the academic study of lists, which we propose to call “listology”—hence the blog’s title.
We approach the study of lists primarily from a medieval perspective because we are medievalists; for this reason, our posts on this blog will mostly concern the practice of listing in the Middle Ages though we invite posts on lists from any period (for details, Invitation to Participate page at this site). Some of the overarching questions that guide our investigations are the following: Why are lists scattered throughout medieval texts? What purposes do they serve in texts or manuscripts? Why have writers since the Middle Ages considered lists essential for presenting all types of information? Why do lists often use numbers in their titles? In answering these and other questions, we explore alternative versions of intellectual history, focusing especially on multi-modal literacies that afford insights into both diachronic and synchronic notions of organization. The contents of medieval lists may be different from those of contemporary lists, but our studies of medieval listing practices also show that in the Middle Ages, as now, lists informed people’s lives, contained and disseminated information, and structured texts.
The Listology team: Eva von Contzen, Amanda Gerber, Martha Rust