Dark Archives (Oxford, 2019)

THE DARKNESS OF THE MEDIEVAL ARCHIVES, the shadows of the library stacks: too vast for countless lifetimes of scholarship to exhaust? And yet, in our internet era, the accelerating machine-processing of centuries of collected medieval materials and data is yielding ever more detailed, extensive maps of the archive’s extent and  features. The goal of completely surveying the archive, down to every folio and character, is not only increasingly viable but irresistible – and at a time when competence in its languages, diplomatics and palaeography is contracting; for this same process promises new revelations, of unprecedented richness and detail, about the medieval world itself.
      Yet the great irony is that on our new map, the Dark Archives, the medieval unread and unreadable, dwarf all that we currently know, and indeed threaten to paralyse fresh research. In quantity, they encompass the great majority of the millions of known folios and associated records, that remain unread, unscanned and scattered across the world. Who will fund their expensive digitization? What should be prioritized? And to what end, when the mass-transcription and record-creation technologies needed to explore them remain unequal to the task?  Most challenging of all may be owning the shift in perspective that the Dark Archives are forcing upon us: the unsustainably small extent of what we term ‘the medieval’, and the uncertainty over what might succeed it.

Join us this September to crystallize and advance the field at Dark Archives, which is bringing together over 50 of its likely academic and commercial key-holders, from archivists and intellectual historians to machine-learning researchers. General registration now open, and full programme published:

Day 1 (10th September): Mapping the Medieval Graphosphere: What Dimensions, How Composed, Whether Habitable?

Day 2 (11th September): Endless Deserts, Oceans and Mountains: Tackling the Metadata Crisis

Day 3 (12th September): Re-Making Medieval History

along with a range of practical workshops on the latest techniques for Dark Archives discovery on 13th September. 

8:30am to 6:00pm
10th September: Mapping the Medieval Graphosphere: What Dimensions, How Composed, Whether Habitable?

   8:30-9:00am     Coffee and Registration

9:00am to 1:05pm
Manuscripts, Extant and Destroyed


  • Nigel Palmer
  • Teresa Webber
  • Eltjo Buringh
  • Utrecht University

Keynote Address: Estimates of Manuscript Numbers

  • Jo Story
  • University of Leicester

Insular Manuscripts: how many and what next?

  • Joanna Tucker
  • University of Glasgow

Survival and loss: working with documents from medieval Scotland


  • Ralph Cleminson
  • University of Oxford

Non leguntur: shedding light on Slavonic sources


  • Adrien Quéret-Podesta
  • Petőfi Sándor School

"Textual ghosts" in the oldest Central European historiography


  • Daniel Sawyer
  • University of Oxford

At Knowledge’s Edge: Lost Materials

  • Krista Murchison
  • Leiden University

(Re)collecting the Archive: Recovering Medieval Manuscripts Destroyed During WWII

  • Henrike Lähnemann
  • University of Oxford

Nuns' Dust

  • Gustavo Fernández Riva
  • FAU Erlangen-Nürnberg
  • Time Machine Organization

Network Analysis of Manuscripts


1.00pm to 2pm    Lunch

2:00pm to 4:05pm
Neither Parchment Nor Paper


  • Graham Barrett
  • Ellie Pridgeon
  • University of Leicester

The Writing on the Wall: Medieval Painted Inscriptions

  • Maria do Rosário Morujão
  • University of Coimbra

Dark Seals in Portuguese Archives

  • John Hines
  • Cardiff University

Dark Sides of the Runes

  • David King
  • University of East Anglia

The Corpus Vitrearum Medii Aevi



4:25pm to 6:15pm
Why Exalted, Why Neglected?


  • Anthony Lappin
  • Anastasia Shapovalova
  • Institut de recherche et d'histoire des textes, Paris

Exploring the Medieval Archives in France

  • Monika Opalinska
  • University of Warsaw

Reconstructing medieval English religious culture: forgotten manuscript sources versus digital media

  • Matthew Holford

The Least Studied Manuscripts in the Bodleian

  • David Rundle
  • University of Kent

The Unbearable Lightness of the Archive


6:15pm to 6:50pm
Drinks Reception
11th September: Endless Deserts, Oceans and Mountains: Tackling the Metadata Crisis
  • Will Noel
  • Schoenberg Institute for Manuscript Studies

Keynote Address: Through a screen darkly: the metadata crisis and the authority of the digital image

9:55am to 1:00pm
Achieving Mass Transcription - Ex Machina? Ex Populo? And How Soon?


  • Eltjo Buringh
  • Verónica Romero
  • Universidad Politecnica, Valencia

Interactive-Predictive Transcription and Probabilistic Text Indexing for Handwritten Image Collections

  • Achim Rabus
  • University of Freiburg

Training generic models for handwritten text recognition using Transkribus: Opportunities and Pitfalls

  • Vincent Christlein
  • Friedrich-Alexander University

Scribal identification and document classification

11.10am to 11.25am Coffee

  • Ben Kiessling
  • University of Leipzig

The Limits to Digitization

  • Roger Louis Martinez-Davila
  • University of Colorado

Massive Open Online Projects to teach palaeographic skills and to prepare manuscript transcriptions

Thought-Game - Build a Universal Manuscript Transcription Platform - Now !

Participants joining the chair & panelists: 

Michael Sargent
Stewart J. Brookes

12.45pm to 1.55pm Lunch

1:55pm to 4:50pm
How to Organize the Metadata Once We Have It


  • Jo Story
  • Toby Burrows
  • Oxford E-Research Centre

Aggregating provenance metadata to reveal the histories of medieval manuscripts

  • Andrew Hankinson
  • Bodleian Library
  • International Image Interoperability Framework

Discovery through Data: How IIIF shines a light into the dark archive’

  • Debra Cashion
  • St Louis University



3.20pm to 3.30pm Coffee

  • John McEwan
  • St Louis University

Reflectance Transformation Imaging and Medieval Seals

  • Sarah Fiddyment
  • University of York

Manuscript Palaeoproteomics


Thought-Game: Devise a metadata system to satisfactorily describe and relate all written medieval materials - Now!

Participants joining the chair & panelists: 

William Noel
Emma Stanford
Gustavo Fernández Riva

4.50pm to 5pm     Coffee

5:00pm to 6:25pm
What Role Archives? (pt. 1)


  • Suzanne Paul
  • Carolin Schreiber
  • München, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek

Keynote Address: Bringing the Dark Archives to the Light – Medieval Manuscripts in German Collections in the Digital Age

  • Paul Dryburgh
  • The National Archives, Kew

Peering into an impenetrable gloom and the “tyranny” of digital by design: the future of medieval collections at The National Archives (UK)?



7:30pm to 9:00pm
Conference Dinner at St. Edmund Hall
Compline in the Crypt of St-Peter-in-the-East (St. Edmund Hall)
Video of Compline in the Crypt
Video of Compline in the Crypt
.. and some footage from the rehearsal!
.. and some footage from the rehearsal!
9:00am to 6:00pm
12th September: Re-Making Medieval History
9:00am to 12:00pm
What Role Archives (pt. 2)?


  • Pip Willcox
  • Luca Polidoro
  • University of Florence

The Secrets of the Barberini

  • Laura Light

Manuscripts in Private Hands

  • James Louis Smith
  • Trinity College Dublin

Pre-Modern Manuscripts and Early Books in Conflict Zones: An Emerging Network and its Goals

  • Christopher Wright
  • Matteo di Franco
  • University of Cambridge

From isolation to integration: making Greek manuscripts readable

  • Dot Porter
  • Schoenberg Institute for Manuscript Studies

Reading Across A Digitized Collection of Books of Hours



Participants joining the chair & panelists: 

Suzanne Paul
Paul Dryburgh
Elaine Treharne
Robin Darwall-Smith
Carolin Schreiber
Sarah Fiddyment

12.10pm to 1pm    Lunch

1:00pm to 6:00pm
The Future of Medieval Scholarship: Forms, Substance and Means
1:00pm to 3:10pm
The Edition ...


  • Daron Burrows
  • Michael G. Sargent
  • City University of New York

Hidden in Plain Sight: The Obfuscation of Manuscript Evidence

  • Kyle Ann Huskin
  • University of Rochester

Shedding Light on Dark Archives: Principles for Editing Recovered Texts

  • Andrew Dunning
  • University of Cambridge

Opening medieval books and fragments to students with documentary editing

  • Elizabeth Solopova
  • University of Oxford

An Invisible Giant: Editing Neglected Canonical Texts



3:30pm to 4:45pm
... And Beyond


  • Roger Louis Martinez-Davila
  • Mark Faulkner
  • Trinity College Dublin

'Big Dating' and 'Bottom-up periodisation'

  • Sarah Savant
  • Aga Khan University

Finding Meaning in 1.5 Billion Words of Arabic: The KITAB Project and Its Aims

  • Julia Craig-McFeely
  • University of Oxford

‘How dark is my archive?’: What lies behind and beyond the face of Musicology’s online archive, DIAMM



4:55pm to 6:30pm
Medieval Capital


  • Richard Ovenden
  • Marc Polonsky
  • The Polonsky Foundation

Digitisation of cultural heritage: a funder's perspective

  • Maja Kominko

The Arcadia Fund

  • Luciano Floridi
  • University of Oxford

Keynote Address: Semantic Capital. Its Nature and Value

Concluding Debate

9:00am to 5:00pm
13th September: Dark Archives Workshops
  • Verónica Romero
  • Universidad Politecnica, Valencia

Hands-on Workshop on Assistive Technologies to Access the Contents of Handwritten Text Manuscripts

  • John McEwan
  • St Louis University

Imaging Seals on a Budget

12pm to 1pm Lunch

  • Roger Louis Martinez-Davila
  • University of Colorado

Crowdsourcing Manuscript Transcriptions: Opportunities and Challenges using MOOCs, Social Media, and Emerging Platforms

Link to Website

  • Alexander Zawacki
  • Helen Davies
  • University of Rochester

Multispectral Imaging: Technologies, Techniques, and Teaching

Full Presentation and Slides