DM at the IMC 2019

Session report

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.

Leeds Campus
The main building on the campus of Leeds University

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.

Some of the DM representatives
Some of the DM representatives
(back: Jamie B. Harr, James Cummings, Daniela Schulz;
front : Franz Fischer, Sean Winslow)

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 CFP here (Deadline: Sept. 15th.).

CfP: DM Session at IMC 2020

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.

Please send your proposal (300 Words incl. a short CV) to dm.imc2020@gmail.com by Sept. 22th.

Materiality in Digital Editing – State of the Art – Panel at IMC 2019

At this years International Medieval Congress in Leeds, the Digital Medievalist organised a panel on the relationship between Materiality and Digital Scholarly Editing. Alberto Campagnolo, James Cummings, Franz Fischer, Daniela Schulz, and Georg Vogeler presented their impression on the state of the art and future directions. Here, you can find the slides of this presentation:
Materiality in Digital Editing – State of the Art_DM@IMC2019

DM Elections 2019 – Results

Dear Digital Medievalist community, 

The tally for Digital Medievalist Executive Board Elections (term 2019-2021) has been computed and released. We now have the pleasure of announcing the results from the 2019 DM elections. In alphabetical order, the elected members of the community to the Board are:

•               Roman Bleier, Graz University

•               Lisa Fagin Davis, Medieval Academy of America

•               Els De Paermentier, Ghent University

•               Rose Faunce, Australia National University

We would like to thank the other candidates for standing and providing us with an outstandingly rich choice. Thank you for your participation!

Best wishes to the new DM board, and the DM community as a whole,

The DM Elections Committee:

Greta Franzini

James B. Harr III

Lynn Ransom

Digital Medieval Congress 2019, Call for Proposals

1. NUME, Research Group on Latin Middle Ages, organizes in 2019 the first entirely virtual congress dedicated to medieval studies (DMC – Digital Medieval Congress).

2. The theme chosen for the first edition of the DMC is the ENVIRONMENT, in its broadest sense. We will consider Contributions investigating the problem of the relationship between medieval man and the environment in which he lived, the way in which it was perceived, imagined and transformed, with particular attention to the problem of its mental representation and the impact that this representation had on specific aspects of medieval European culture. Possible topics and approaches include but are not restricted to:

– The mutual impact between the urban context and the natural environment, and how one transforms the other;
– Researches on solutions adopted by medieval man in terms of pollution, urban hygiene, conception and use of green spaces;
– The environment understood and disseminated by political propaganda, theological reflection and artistic elaboration;
– Walking, traveling, fighting, hunting in the landscape;
– Empty places and human contexts;
– Dreamed, imagined, desired places;
– Tools and surveys for understanding the medieval landscape;
– Representations and use of animals, plants and minerals as “resources” (material, cultural, etc.).

3. There are no disciplinary limitations: contributions of history, philosophy, politics, literature, art, archeology, material culture, new technologies applied to medieval studies will be accepted.

– Contributions with two or more speakers are accepted;
– Contributions already structured in panels and leaded by a coordinator are accepted.

4. Participation proposals must have abstract format, written on a single pdf file in English, not exceeding 300 words. Furthermore, 5 keywords identifying the topic will have to be reported in the same file. Proposals must be accompanied by a short CV (no more than 1000 words), and sent by September 6th, 2019 to the email address:

info[AT]nuovomedioevo.it

NB: In the case of panels, the proposal must include a general title with a general presentation not exceeding 300 words, followed by abstracts of all the interventions (presented as in point 4.)

5. Proposals will be evaluated by the Review Board on the basis of quality, interest and originality. The judgment of the Commission will be unquestionable.

6. The Commission will notify the convocation for the speakers considered suitable by September 20th, 2019. The previous membership of the NUME Association does not necessarily imply the convocation.

7. The selected speakers will be asked to prepare a video intervention not exceeding 20 minutes, and to send it by October 12th, 2019 at:

info[AT]nuovomedioevo.it

8. The selected speakers will be required a registration fee (30 EURO each). Speakers who are not yet NUME Members will have to register with our Association (20 EURO membership fee).

9. The congress will be held on October 31st, 2019 on our social platform Numet. All received videos will be uploaded on the site, and organized in virtual rooms in which users from all over the world will be able to access and to follow and comment on the interventions. Chat rooms will also be created in which users can access to follow and animate the debate on contents.

10. At the end of the congress, all the contributions will be collected in a volume with the conference Proceedings. Speakers will be required to send a paper of their intervention by February 28th, 2020 (20,000 characters, notes and spaces included). Speakers who do not respect this deadline will be excluded from publication.

11. The Conference program will be published by October 20th, 2019.

12. The deadlines set out in this call must be strictly observed, otherwise the contribution will be excluded from the call.

NB: Please read the call at: https://www.nuovomedioevo.it/2019/06/17/digital-medieval-congress-2019/