Professionalization and information management in Reval, 1257-1460

Tapio Salminen
University of Tampere

Management of information is essentially a modern concept meaning the organisation and control over the structure, processing and delivering of information for different uses in decision making. In my PhD thesis, I explore and discuss the possibilities of its use in the context of the administration and communication of the council of Reval (today Tallinn, capital of Estonia) from the earliest known use of the seal of the city in 1257 to the retirement of city scribe and notary public Joachim Muter from his office in 1456/60. My focus is on both the formation of the agency (office) of the city scribes as hired professionals in the written management of information of the civic authority and the process of textualization: that is, the application of the technology of writing in the management of information, communication, administration and textual manifestations of authority in the activity of the council. The study is based on the vast corpus of original material from the council activity still available in the Tallinn City Archives of with supplements from other archives and source editions.

The theoretical background of my study is set in the field of organisational, institutional and communicative studies, but firmly anchored to the nature and composition of the medieval textual products as manifested in the archives and researched in Medieval studies. The nature of different ‘actors’, such as the city scribes and councillors, and their ‘agencies’ (i.e. offices) in the administration of the civic authority, is seen through actor-network theories, where individual ‘actors’ not only brought substance, views and methods of conduct of their own to the issues they dealt with in the organisation, but also took part in the continuous reproduction of the organisation itself in the everyday manifestations of their ‘agencies’. Here, the of the agency of the city scribes was of special importance, not just because of its development into an office taking control of the production and surveillance of the various textual products in the administration and communication of the council, but also because of the schooling and professional qualifications of the scribes. As in our modern society, in late medieval Reval the dialectic process of the emergence of recognisable ‘professions’ in organisations was a self-feeding system based on qualifications and attributes required for the ‘task’ or ‘profession’ and the attributes and ethos created through it. As my study shows, permanently hired city scribes emerged as practical and intellectual carriers of the textualization of the written management of information of civic authority and introduced views and conventions of their own particular to their time, their various professional networks and themselves, all still identifiable from the sources.

In the study the typology of the produced texts and textual artefacts is grounded in the role of text types and text permanences characteristic to the textual rendition of acts of authority, the observed chain of events, or the particular type of information required for contemporary recording, managing, controlling and securing them. Based on cognitive and pragmatic models of thinking, I have understood the medieval text types and permanences, as conceptual categories of experienced reality rendered by means of textual technologies arising from the material itself. As my analysis of the civic memoranda of Reval shows, the employed text types and permanences corresponded to contemporary cognitional modes of thinking, and were deeply rooted in a chronological, cyclic and seasonal perception of time. Because of this, most of the surviving Revalian books of memoranda manifest themselves as ‘textual chronicles’ of past events designed for memorizing and documenting the chronological flow of transactions, administrative decisions and corroborations in the particular sphere of activity and administration. As my study shows, this makes them fundamentally different from cognitional models based on the concept of ‘available resources’ or ‘planning’ characteristic of their modern equivalents, a distinction that provides further tools for understanding the nature of written management of information in the administration of medieval civic authorities such as those of Reval.

In the study, the process of textualization of the management of information and written manifestations of authority in the Baltic Sea area from the 12th century to the mid-15th is divided into three phases, all three being evident in the 13th- to 14th-century Revalian civic administration. Here the study throws light especially on the development of the use of the seal and the secretum as the sign of civic authority, as well as the introduction of paper and vernacular into the management of information and communication of the city in the third quarter of the 14th century. Especially the two last phenomena tell us of an early willingness of the city scribes to experiment with new innovations in their field of expertise: a willingness also exhibited in the early use of indoarabic numerals by some of the city scribes in the first third of the 15th century. With the help of palaeographic analysis of hands and codicological-diplomatic evaluation of the material I have been able to establish not only a secure lineage of Revalian city scribes and their most important substitutes active before 1456/60, but also an understanding of the various lines of civic memoranda and production of documents in the management of information of the council.

In the area of civic memoranda my most important findings establish the category of ’red books’ as a special line of prestige among the memoranda of the city, the crucial role of the books of resignations/recognitions and annuities for establishing the main hands active in the written management of the civic administration, and the developments in the size and portability of the codices as an indication of a shift from an itinerant office of the city scribes to permanent storing of codices, a process parallel to the stabilisation of the management of information of the council to the City Scriptorium and Town Hall in the 1370’s. From the second quarter of the 14th century, the central task of the scribes was the control of the registers of basic information about the walled area of the city, whence this pattern of control spread to areas of fiscal administration previously in the custody of the councillor-wardens. In these fields the work of the scribe varied in scale from full production of finished accounts and text artefacts to annual checking, controlling and/or partial management and archiving of the material produced by the councilors.

As regards the identification, identity and professionalisation of the city scribes, my study clearly shows that no assumptions about the identity or status of the scribes engaged in writing for medieval civic authority should ever be made on the basis of supposed organisation of the civic administration and the suggested structure of agencies in it. Instead, any analysis of an individual piece of memoranda or document should always be grounded on a wider knowledge of contemporary hands active in the main corpus of the memoranda of the time. From as early as the 1280’s the hands responsible for the production of sealed charters for the joint corroboration of multiple agents of the area were officials and clergy of the church of Reval, and contacts between the scribes active in the diocesan management of information appear to have continued to the beginning of the second quarter of the 14th century. Since all the textual artefacts produced in the name of the council or in its management of information before the 1350’s were written in Latin, it is natural that the hands active in the office of the city scribes were people with ecclesiastical schooling, even if most of the city scribes invested with the vicaries and rents of the altar foundations under the patronage of the council appear not to have been priests, but possibly clerics of minor orders. In Canon Law a legal way for the placing of altar vicaries under the supervision of the scribes without the duty of performing the liturgical ministries involved in them was provided by the constitution of ‘Cum ex eo’ of 1298, where an episcopal dispensation from the duty lasting seven years could be given for ‘projected’ university studies. In the case of Reval, there is evidence that arrangements based on such a dispensation may have been made in the context of the salary and upkeep of city scribes through vicaries as early as the 1310’s or 1320’s.

Despite the early connections to the diocesan clergy, all the known city scribes and their most important substitutes were hired professionals at the service of the council from the beginning of the 14th century onwards. Since none of them can be identified beyond doubt in the extant registers of the universities, I have evaluated their schooling and intellectual status with the help of the material they have left behind. Of special interest are their pen trials in Latin, which, together with the medieval florilegia they contain, hint at a university schooling for some of the hands active before 1460. Considering the professional capacities of the scribes, the only person securely invested with the status of a notary public was Joachim Muter active in 1429–1456/60. Before him, there is no evidence of notaries public as city scribes, and his introduction to the office of the city scribein 1429 presents a clear recognition of a need of a person of legal credibility at the service of the council after their dispute with the diocesan church in the 1420’s.

As the salary and position of Joachim Muter shows, the 15th-century role and status of the city scribes was comparable to that of a master artisan in the service of the council. Not only was the city scribe the head of a ‘shop’ responsible for the production of special artifacts for the council, but he received a similar salary: a combination of monetary payment and provisions in kind, including clothing appropriate to his status as a servant of the city. Unlike the master artisans, the salary of the city scribes was often built on several sources and forms, among which the earliest one was the rent from altar foundations under the patronage of the council. Later the basic remuneration in money was comprised a fixed annual fee paid in four or more installments supplemented by other annual or more casual forms of salary, including the rent from altar foundations. Like the master artisans, the city scribes also conducted business of their own. Employed to take care of the written management of information and communication of the civic authority, the range of activities in the agency of the city scribes extended far beyond the City Scriptorium and Town Hall; to delegations and negotiations of the council and its representatives with other agents of power, a practice seemingly established when the agency of the city scribes was first stabilised in the second quarter of the 14th century.

Tapio Salminen defended his dissertation “Obscure Hands, Trusted Men. Textualization, the Office of the City Scribe and the Written Management of Information and Communication of the Council of Reval (Tallinn) before 1460” on 8. January 2016.