Digital Diplomatics 2020 will bring together selected leading and upcoming experts in the study of Digital Diplomatics and related fields, to facilitate a productive exchange on the state and the future of the field. The conference will include expert panels, lightning talks, and a poster session, which is currently open for submissions. We are soliciting posters on any subject related to the study of charters and computing, including:
Machine Learning for Digital Diplomatics
Linguistic Corpora for Digital Diplomatics
Digitally Mediated Archives for Diplomatics
The Future of Diplomatics
If you recall, a couple of years ago, we ran a community survey to better understand our constituency, and its interests and expectations. We have used the survey results to guide our decisions and better represent the DM community. A significant issue that was highlighted by the survey was a certain lack of participation by part of (post-)graduate students and early career researchers.
We have decided to tackle the problem by instituting a new subcommittee of students and early career scholars to work in parallel to the Executive Board, aiming at engaging with their peers and help the board in its activities.
We have invited 8 outstanding and enthusiastic candidates to be part of this first instalment of the subcommittee. I will work as a liaison between the two boards to guarantee active communication and collaboration between the two boards.
If the experiment will be successful—and I am confident it will!—we would like to call on the community once more to update the bylaws and make the subcommittee an official branch of DM, with regular calls for nominations and elections, as it is for the Executive Board.
Allow me, therefore, to introduce the members of the subcommittee (in alphabetical order):
Hannah Busch: PhD candidate studying the application of Artificial Intelligence for the study of medieval Latin palaeography, at Huygens ING, Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences.
Nathan Daniels: PhD candidate in History at Johns Hopkins University, studying Parisian guilds, urban space and topography, with related interests in digital editions of historical texts, linked open data, and mapping.
Selina Galka: currently finishing the Joint-Masters-Degree in German Medieval Philology and studying the MA “Digital Humanities” at the Karl-Franzens-University Graz.
Tessa Gengnagel: PhD candidate at the University of Cologne, with a background in History and Latin Philology of the Middle Ages and an interest in digital scholarly editions of non-textual materials.
James Harr, III: PhD student focusing on medieval media studies, petitionary networks, and material semiotics in the Communication, Rhetoric, and Digital Media program at North Carolina State University.
Aylin Malcolm: PhD candidate studying medieval literature and science, including digital editions of scientific manuscripts, at the University of Pennsylvania.
Caitlin Postal: PhD student caught between medieval literature, material culture, temporality, and digitality at the University of Washington.
Daniela Schulz studied History and English in Cologne, with a focus on medieval history, and also received some training in what’s now commonly called “Digital Humanities”. She is writing a doctoral thesis focusing on the digital edition of an early medieval Roman law text.
Much of my work in digital manuscript studies has been informed by a simple question: is this something I can show to my parents? I am the only person among my family and childhood friends to pursue graduate studies in the humanities, and when others take an interest in my work, I try to provide resources that do not depend on specialized knowledge or institutional subscriptions. This question can also be framed in broader terms for scholars interested in public engagement: how can we make our research accessible and engaging for nonspecialists? How can scholars working on the material culture of previous periods demonstrate the relevance of such studies now? And how can digital resources enable us to learn from communities outside the traditional bounds of academia?
I recently confronted these questions while examining a late-fifteenth-century astronomical anthology, written in German and Latin close to the city of Nuremberg, and now identified as Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania, Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts, LJS 445. This codex, which you can see in my video orientation below, is remarkable for its inclusion of material from three incunables, making it a clear example of the transmission of knowledge from print to manuscript.
My own fascination with LJS 445 began when I opened it for the first time and saw a charming sketch of a man on the first page. Turning to the second folio, I was struck by its whimsical doodles of gardens and doors. What were these doing in a book dealing mostly with astronomical calculations and predictions about the Church?
Detail of fol. 2r of LJS 445.
My non-medievalist mother knew the answer immediately. “They’re children’s drawings,” she observed, pointing out the uneven writing and repetition of common motifs, such as trees. And turning to the 1997 catalogue description by Regina Cermann, I found that she was right: this book can be traced to two of the sons of a Nuremberg patrician, Georg Veit (1573-1606) and Veit Engelhard (1581-1656) Holtzschuher. Veit Engelhard left numerous marks in it, including the year “1589” (fols. 95v, 192r, and 222v), suggesting that he inscribed this book when he was around eight years old. Thus began my efforts to find out more about the contents and uses of this book, from its faithful copies of print editions to its battered and often mutilated constellation images. Perhaps my favourite discovery occurred as I was reading German genealogical records, when I came across an engraving of Veit Engelhard as an adult.
This digitized portrait of Holtzschuher is from the Herzog August Bibliothek Wolfenbüttel. It was also printed in Die Porträtsammlung der Herzog August Bibliothek Wolfenbüttel, vol. 11, ed. Peter Mortzfeld (Münich: K.G. Saur, 1989), no. A 100058, p. 266.
To make this remarkable manuscript more accessible to the public, I created a digital edition of it using Manicule, a web application built by Whitney Trettien and Liza Daly. Manicule, which is available on GitHub at https://github.com/wtrettien/manicule, allows scholars and students to create accessible, dynamic web editions of manuscripts and other rare books. It offers three modes of entry into a digitized text: a “Browse” function, whereby the viewer scrolls through pages of the facsimile alongside marginal notes written by the editor; a series of editor-curated “Tour Stops,” which provide commentaries on pages of particular note; and a “Structure” view, which draws on Dot Porter’s VisColl data model to depict the physical makeup of the manuscript, including missing, inserted, and conjoint leaves. Manicule can be downloaded and deployed on Mac OS systems using the instructions on the GitHub repository; Whitney is also available to provide advice and resolve issues.
The finished edition of LJS 445, available at aylinmalcolm.com/ljs445 under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, is a true collaboration. In writing the text and creating the digital resource, I have built on the labours of many other researchers, including Regina Cermann; Whitney Trettien and Liza Daly; Dot Porter, whose tools for generating a collation model and image list are also available on the VisColl GitHub repository; and an entire digitization team at the University of Pennsylvania, from photographers to data managers and programmers. The result is also an evolving resource that can be adapted and augmented as new information about this manuscript emerges. Please feel free to contact me at malcolma[at]sas.upenn.edu if you have suggestions or queries, and I hope that you’ll enjoy exploring this unique manuscript.
At this year’s International Medieval Congress (IMC), which took place from 1-4 July, the Digital Medievalist sponsored two sessions and a round table focusing on “Digital Materiality”. The IMC has become the world largest annual conference dedicated to medieval studies. This time “materialities” was chosen as a special thematic focus, which proved to be an interesting topic to be tackled from different perspectives, various angles and with regard to a wide range of material objects.
The first of the DM sessions, organised by Georg Vogeler (Graz), and chaired by Franz Fischer (Venice) was dedicated to “The Digital Edition and Materiality” (#s224). After a brief introduction to the digital medievalists’ community, their focus and work (such as the “gold standard” open access journal), it started with a paper by Vera Isabell Schwarz-Ricci (co-authored by Antonella Ambrosio, both Naples) entitled “A Dimorphic Edition of Medieval Charters: The Documents of the Abbey Santa Maria della Grotta (near Benevento)”. In her talk, Schwarz-Ricci presented the hybrid approach taken in their project to account for both print and online edition. Aiming at to different outputs and trying to accommodate them in the best possible way, enforces the development of a very sophisticated and integrated workflow. The encoding is based on CEI-XML, a TEI derivate especially for charters. The XML-data also works as the base for the printed edition. Both outputs serve different needs and have their strength. While a printed edition that applies to the common standards for editing charters, offers usability and also stability besides acceptance in the field, the digital version has got its benefits when it comes to availability, data integration and analyses.
In the second paper entitled “Artificial Intelligence, Handwritten Text Recognition (HTR), Distant Reading, and Distant Editing”, Dominique Stutzman (Paris) provided insights into some recently finished or ongoing projects, which are concerned with various developments in the fields of handwritten text recognition, natural language processing (NLP), machine learning, distant reading of manuscripts or script identification. The increasing number of interdisciplinary approaches and projects has also led to the inclusion of computer scientists, so that the opportunities for further research are opening up. In recent years, computer-aided approaches have made great progress in these domains. HTR has become more accurate and can now be applied to different scripts and hands. The majority of medieval texts that have been handed down to us via handwritten tradition is still not edited, and it might also not be possible to do so in the (near) future just by manual work, because of the vast amount of material. Hence, artificial intelligence can become a game-changer for medievalists’ research. Inspired by the term “distant reading”, coined by Franco Moretti for the quantitative analysis of textual data, Stutzman suggested “distant editing” as a complementary approach, based on databases and search engines to query the source texts.
The final paper of this session was given by Daniela Schulz (Wuppertal), who focused on the potentials and limitations of modelling material features of medieval manuscripts by using the CIDOC Conceptual Reference Model (CRM), which is an event-centric modelling tool. She started with a brief introduction to the issues connected with the term “materiality” in the domain of textual scholarship. Although, since many years, “materiality” features very prominently, apparently, still no commonly accepted definition exists. To narrow down, which material features of a manuscript can be modelled and why it is useful to do so, she referred to Jerome McGann’s definition of “bibliographic codes”. By focusing on one specific manuscript (Cod. Guelf. 97 Weiss.), Schulz demonstrated the application of the CRM and some of the CRM extensions to model its material features also in connection with the history of the codex. The suggested approach seems promising, although Schulz also drew attention to the fact, that an additional effort for the proper modelling and encoding is needed, which makes the application of this approach problematic for editorial projects with limited resources (time, money etc.).
The second DM session was organised by Roman Bleier and chaired by Sean Winslow (both Graz). It was dedicated to the question “How to Represent Materiality Digitally in Palaeography and Codicology?” (#324). It started with a paper by Peter A. Stokes (Paris) entitled “Towards a Conceptual Reference Model for Palaeography”. Stokes briefly introduced the idea of a conceptual reference model and outlined the necessity to define what writing is. When taking a closer look, the answer to the question, what a grapheme (commonly defined as the smallest significant graphic units that differentiate meaning) is, is not so straightforward. It becomes more problematic, when we consider the level of shapes. Since a sign has multiple functions and can be represented by different shapes, modelling multigraphism can help us clarifying the fundamental concepts palaeographic research is based on. Whereas linguistics and palaeography have up to now neglected the meaning conveyed in using different letter shapes, the development of a conceptual model for palaeography seems a promising approach, to account for these problems.
The second paper was given by Caroline Schreiber (Munich). In her talk “Book Covers as Material Objects: Possibilities and Challenges in the Brave New Digital World” Schreiberreported on her experiences in the digitization of book covers at the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek. In the course of the digitization projects, a modular standard for the description of elaborate book covers like treasure bindings has been developed. Besides the advance of a multilingual thesaurus for iconographical and also general features, also Linked Open Data approaches have been applied in this context. LIDO as well as the semantic wiki for documentation was used. She also provided deeper insights into analytical methods used and technical advancements made during the digitization and described their different potentials and limitations.
In his talk “On the Epistemological Limits of Automatic Classification of Scripts” Marc H. Smith (Paris) discussed the consequences and limits of AI-based methods in the classification of scripts. These new digital approaches not only seem promising to facilitate future research, but also provide us with an opportunity to rethink the analytical categories our research has been based upon in the past and still is.
The number of papers with the index term “Computing in
Medieval Studies” has increased over the last years, and thus the common
interest of scholars working in the field of Medieval Studies. This was also testified
by the fact that the room was packed in both DM sessions, and people even
needed to be sent away, because there were no chairs available anymore. Given
this great success, a continuation of sessions sponsored by DM jointly organized
by the DM board as well by its recently founded subcommittee, is planned for IMC 2020 with its special
thematic strand “borders”. See
(Deadline: Sept. 15th.).
Digital methods are by definition at the border of Medieval Studies. This bold statement is primarily justified by the observation that the application of digital methods is triggered by a research community outside Medieval Studies, i.e. Computer Science and New Media Studies. Therefore, in its interdisciplinary nature digital medieval studies is a border-crossing discipline and breaks up traditionally developed scholarly silos and institutional borders. The experimentation with and application of new methods and technologies challenges traditional perceptions and research approaches. Another kind of digital borders are “metadata borders”. For example, digital cataloging standards create unintended, and sometimes intended, borders and boundaries that prevent data-sharing and linking.
In the light of this proposition the Digital Medievalist will take the opportunity of next years’ general IMC theme (“Borders”) to discuss cutting edge and “border-crossing” digital methods and technologies and/or borders and boundaries caused by digital methods. Topics may include current research in machine learning, computer vision, 3D modeling, IIIF, multispectral imaging, Handwritten Text Recognition, Linked Data and distant reading, etc. Machine learning, for instance, poses specific problems for Medieval Studies, as its success depends on the availability, findability, reusability, and accessibility of large amounts of data. Similar issues exist with the application of other digital methods to medieval material and the session(s) “Digital Borders of Medieval Studies” will be the place to present and discuss them.
The Digital Medievalist community invites the submission of proposals for 20-minute papers covering a topic relating to the session title and focusing on the application of digital methods and technologies for current and future research in the field of Medieval Studies.