Texts as Trees and the Importance of Ink.

by: Julie Somers

Continuing with my theme of digitized medieval manuscripts, last week I attended a workshop in Belgium titled “Methods and Means for Digital Analysis of Ancient and Medieval Texts and Manuscripts” sponsored by the Tree of Texts project, Interedition, the Royal Flemish Academy of Belgium, and the KU Leuven Faculty of Arts. The two day meeting brought together scholars who share an interest in digital humanities and textual history. These academics/programmers are developing new ways to fully engage ancient and medieval texts in a digital environment. I mostly sit there in awe of the projects they are developing.

For me, this workshop illustrates the fact that medievalists embrace the opportunities that  digital tools can provide. Multi-disciplinary collaboration, fueled by a common desire for open access and interoperability, make these meetings feel like a community.

There were a variety of presentations, some focusing on analytical, others on practical digital analysis. Ira Rabin enlightened us on the importance of not just identifying ‘brown’ or ‘black’ ink in a description, we should also consider performing a simple light test to determine the type of ink, which would contribute to a database of new information. Similar to discovering the optical properties of ink, Daniel Deckers discussed the use of infra red imaging to uncover writing on palimpsest manuscripts. Both of these endeavors can bring new valuable information to the field.

The databases created and presented by the participants offer many levels of search functions and layers of metadata that will guide new research. Nadia Togni has created a database of Italian Giant Bibles with a location search function that can provide a comparative analysis of geographically distant copies. Francesco Stella remembered the successful history in digital editions of medieval texts, including Anglo Saxon Charters and Electronic Beowulf.  Stella’s database, Musicum, recreates musical notation found in manuscripts, adding an audio layer to research.

The majority of the projects are concerned with creating tools that will help the researcher, but as Patrick Andrist pointed out in his discussion on the needs of manuscript science, the five pieces of information that may be important to you are not the same as another scholar working on the same topic.

In the end, I felt that Tuomas Heikkila presented us with an image that best illustrates what this workshop represents.

picture of Eadwine using his laptop

This community embraces the old and the new, with collaboration and a common desire for open access and sharing. That is what makes these meetings feel like a community. I recently filled out a digital humanities survey titled “Who are you, Digital Humanist?” And I am happy to be a part!

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