Part 1: Macrocosms

Just how big is the world of medieval writing (extant, whether read or unread, and destroyed), how is it connected and what is it made of? How and why should we map it? How has our current ‘active archive’ come to include the materials that it does, and not others?

Keynote Address: Showing the Medieval and Early Modern World as it Actually Was: the expansion of the work of HMML (the Hill Museum & Library) beyond monastic libraries in Europe to global preservation of handwritten heritage
Keynote: Columba Stewart (Hill Museum and Manuscript Library) @columbastewart
Chair: Anthony J. Lappin
Inaccessibility and Bias
Chair: Michael G. Sargent
Panelists: Inaccessibility and Bias Presenters
Miri Rubin (Queen Mary University of London)
Maja Kominko (Arcadia Fund)
Columba Stewart (Hill Museum and Manuscript Library)
Cornelis van Lit
The Dark Archive and the Silent Book: histories of access
Speaker: Stacie Vos (University of San Diego) @stacvos

The current widespread lack of access to the archive may be new to researchers around the world, but it is nothing new in the history of oppressed groups seeking access to reading material. I propose a paper on the themes of textual access in three examples that range from the medieval, early modern, and modern periods. These materials invite educators and their students to reflect upon the history of access to the book. What were the rules around use? Where were books held within the religious house or the family home? When figures–such as Margery in The Book of Margery Kempe, Agnes Beaumont in the Narrative of her persecution, or Olaudah Equiano in his Interesting Narrative—talk about the need for the the word of God, the Bible, or the voice of the book itself, what do they mean?
The first example I plan to discuss in this presentation is Marston MS 287 (pictured above), a late fifteenth century volume of various texts on Saint Barbara, held at the Beinecke Library. The binding of the book features a striking fenestra within which the name of the saint is framed. This feature introduces a key aspect of the legend of St. Barbara, who requested that a third window be made for the tower in which her father imprisoned her. The compiler of the manuscript, Nicasius de Pomerio, specified that the book could not be removed except when “some devotee of this glorious virgin should wish for a reasonable period of time to copy it out or perhaps to study it privately and then to return it to its original place.
Two additional sources I will discuss include a scribal copy of a previously printed book called the Narrative of the Persecution of Agnes Beaumont. Within this narrative, Beaumont tells the story of being locked in her barn without her Bible. Under these extreme circumstances, and at a time she faces censure from her father for her divergent Protestant beliefs, she refers often to the way in which scripture runs through her mind. The narrative becomes a powerful, memory-based retelling of the scripture. Finally, I will briefly discuss the printed narrative of Olaudah Equiano, who famously writes that he, as a person of African descent, finds that books do not talk to him they way they do to the white people he observes. The darkness of the tower and the barn becomes in Equiano’s account the silence that is returned when the black reader encounters the book for the first time. Explorations of narratives about texts and the books that preserve them can deepen our understanding of how pre-modern literacies often incorporated sensory experience and what Mary Carruthers calls “arts of memory.” The paper also suggests that digital lessons on manuscripts can helpfully account for the history of use and access. The question of who could own or hold a book has suddenly been thrown into relief.

Inaccessible and Inconvenient Archives at the Turn of the Century
Speaker: Genevieve McNutt (Edinburgh University)

In the 1801 edition of Specimens of the Early English Poets, George Ellis argued for the necessity of complete editions of early texts: …a scarce and valuable manuscript cannot possibly be put into general circulation; and many learned men are necessarily debarred, either by distance, or by infirmity, or by the pressure and variety of their occupations, from spending much time in those public repositories of learning, to which the access has indeed been rendered easy, but could not be made convenient, by the liberality of their founders. (I: 58-59) For Ellis and others, including Joseph Ritson, Walter Scott, and Henry Weber, the physical accessibility of manuscripts in public, institutional collections enabled the study and publication of medieval texts at the turn of the nineteenth century in ways that had previously been impossible. Moreover, they often wrote about the process and the necessity of editing medieval texts for print publication as a quest to ‘rescue’ texts – from a precarious physical existence, from obscurity, from inaccessibility, from libraries. This paper will examine how materials that were inaccessible, or accessible but not convenient, shaped the early study and publication of medieval texts in Britain. While these early scholars employed a number of strategies to overcome the necessity of physical access, they were not always successful. The difficulties of travel, or even simple bad timing, produced omissions – even patterns of omissions – in the selection of texts that could be made available to the public. More than two hundred years later, digital availability has made medieval primary materials accessible in ways that these early scholars could never have imagined. Yet their struggles remain familiar, and possibly illuminating.

Medieval Graffiti
Speaker: Matthew Champion (Norfolk Graffiti Survey) @mjc_associates
Book Ciphers and the Medieval Unreadable
Speaker: Anna Dorofeeva (Durham University) @LitteraCarolina
Digitalization and Practicalities of Medieval English Studies in China
Speaker: Yating Zhang (Shaanxi Normal University)

This video is about the practicalities of medieval English Studies in China since 1913.

Loss and Dispersal
Chair: Elizabeth Solopova (University of Oxford)
Panelists: Loss and Dispersal Presenters
Teresa Webber (Cambridge University)
Krista Murchison
Fragments and Reconstructions: the written traces of polyphonic liturgical music in medieval Worcester and beyond polyphonic liturgical music in medieval Worcester and beyond
Speaker: Karen Desmond (Brandeis University) @demontibus

As many as 58 distinct codices of polyphony survive from thirteenth-century England, yet only one is complete: the remainder are fragments, mostly reused as parchment pastedowns and flyleaves in later book bindings. Worcester Cathedral houses the largest number of these fragments, familiar to musicologists under the moniker “The Worcester Fragments.” This talk first outlines what is known and knowable about the copying of polyphonic music in England from the surviving fragments. I then focus on the liturgical genre of the Alleluia, and what can be reconstructed of its polyphonic performance practice from the scraps that remain.

The Lost Patriarchs Project: discovering Greek patristics in the medieval Latin tradition
Speaker: Scott Bruce (Fordham University) @xuthalofthedusk

This paper calls attention to an important, yet neglected, subset of medieval Latin sources: the dozens upon dozens of works of late antique and early Byzantine Christian Greek authors translated into Latin between the second and thirteenth centuries. It also introduces a new initiative to study these sources: "The Lost Patriarchs Project." After considering some examples of medieval Latin texts with Greek origins across a number of genres and the reasons why these texts have not been the subject of critical inquiry, this paper announces the plans for a new instrument of reference to study the dissemination and impact of Greek patristics in Latin translation: The Lost Patriarchs: A Survey of the Greek Fathers in the Medieval Latin Tradition.

The Elusive Archives of Livonia
Speakers: Anastasija Ropa (LASE Latvia)
Edgar Rops (LASE Latvia)

Research into the medieval Livonian archives today has to take into account a number of post-medieval events that took place on the territory of Livonia, due to which the original archives were dispersed, relocated, exported, and sometimes returned, but not always to their original location. As a result, any study into medieval archival documents produced in Livonia or pertaining to its history must begin with ascertaining the possible whereabouts of the documents. As the influential edition of the documents related to the Turaida Castle from the twelfth to the seventeenth century, compiled by Vija Stikane, demonstrates, these documents may be found in archives ranging from Poland (Warsaw and Krakow) through Sweden (Stockholm), Lithuania (Martynas Mažvydas National Library of Lithuania), Russia (St. Petersburg), not to mention private family archives in Germany. Many of these archives lack digital catalogues, and some of the documents are not catalogued at all. Only a small portion of medieval Livonian archives is preserved in the Latvian State Historical Archive, and access to it is limited due to the fact that very few of these documents are digitized, and the catalogue of the documents still remains in paper format and can be consulted only on the spot. In our paper, we consider the challenges posed by this situation in researching issues in medieval Livonian history, using as case study our own research into medieval illuminated charters issued in Livonia. One of the problems in locating the documents is that many of the charters were edited and published in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, as part of the National Revival, and the whereabouts of the documents subsequently changed. However, these early editions are often partial and unreliable, because the selection of material and its interpretation was coloured by the national movement. In particular, locating and interpreting one of the earliest illuminated charters issued in Livonia, the 1248 charter of Nicolas, the fourth bishop of Riga, and its transumpt of 1424 posed a number of challenges. It was very hard to trace the earlier 1245 charter, apparently now in Stockholm Archive, by which Nicolas made the grant of land confirmed in the 1248 charter, of which an old photographic copy is preserved in the Riga School Museum. In addition, the transumpt of 1424 has been denounced by some early scholars as forgery, but this view was not supported by some contemporary scholars in Latvia. In our paper, we suggest some strategies that proved fruitful in our research into medieval Livonian charters, including ways in which we can critically assess and estimate the potentially lost materials. We also suggest that, given the current dispersed condition of the Livonian archives, the most fruitful approach would be to create a digital collective repository. This initiative, however, may face a number of administrative and institutional challenges, as well as being necessarily selective. In building such a digital archive, choices will have to be made which documents to digitize, with the oldest, the illuminated, or simply the most ornate documents being usually prioritized. Meanwhile, our experience shows that having access to “plain”, “inexpensive” charters is equally important to access the significance of the more carefully executed examples.

Using Manuscript Fragments to Map Lived Religion: the case of the cults of saints in medieval Sweden
Speaker: Sara Elis-Nilsson (Linnaeus University) @ellisnilsson

Mapping the cults of saints and using digital methods to contribute to our understanding of lived religion in medieval Sweden and Finland is the goal of a interdisciplinary research project currently ongoing at Linnaeus University, in collaboration with the Center for Digital Humanities at the University of Gothenburg. The project members are building a comprehensive, online, open-access database and mapping function to provide researchers and educators with access to previously digitized and newly digitized material from cultural heritage collections. Among this material is the earliest evidence for the veneration of saints in Sweden: fragments of liturgical books. This presentation will introduce the fragment material and its history, as well as highlight how the calendar fragments in particular will be made accessible in new ways via this future research portal.

Estimating the Loss of Medieval Literature with an Unseen Species Model from Ecodiversity
Speakers: Mike Kestemont (Antwerp University) @Mike_Kestemont
Folgert Karsdorp (Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences)

How much medieval literature has been lost to us? Using a quantitative model from biodiversity in ecology, we attempt to answer this question for Middle Dutch chivalric epics, with intriguing results.

Veiled Manuscripts: European female mystics’ writing in medieval Castile's monastic libraries
Speaker: Pablo Acosta-García (Heinrich Heine University Düsseldorf) @PabloAcostaGarc

Following an essential trend in the last decades, in recent years wide attention have been devoted to communities of nuns, tertiaries and individual beatas in Medieval and Premodern Castile. Despite of important contributions on History and Literary History about specific European feminine influence on the religious life and literature of this context, little evidence has been discovered on the paths followed by those European writings, specifically in the form of books. The general objective of this chapter is to stablish a state-of-the-art on this topic, drafting a methodological approach to the different avenues that nowadays a researcher need to follow to find manuscripts contaningn texts by/about visionary women circulating in the Iberian Peninsula. In the first part, I will focus on specific historical aspects that have affected the conservation or the mere existence of these books in Castile. I will show the reasons for the difficulties not only to "reconstruct" monastic/conventual libraries, but also to find specific titles authored by women. In this context I will highlight the range possibilities (and limitations) of the searching tools, both old and new (online catalogues, data bases, searching tools…). In the second, I will examine some manuscripts by/on medieval religious women, discussing them in the wider theoretical framework drafted in the first part.

#PolonskyGerman #BloggingMSS Presentations
Organisers: Matthew Holford @MatthewHolford
Tuija Ainonen @AinonenT
Henrike Lähnemann @HLaehnemann
Andrew Dunning @anjdunning
Part 2: Microcosms

How far is it the case that the facets of the medieval written artefact can, cannot or can only be captured digitally?

Keynote Address: The Opportunities (and Limits) of Lockdown Digital Fragmentology
Keynote: Lisa Fagin Davis (Medieval Academy of America) @lisafdavis
Chair: Roger L. Martínez-Dávila (University of Colorado)
The Whole Book?
Chair: Lisa Fagin Davis (Medieval Academy of America)
Found Within: discovery and complex objects
Speaker: Benjamin L. Albritton (Stanford) @bla222
Reading the Invisible: can biocodicology help interpret the history of a manuscript?
Speaker: Sarah Fiddyment (Cambridge University) @DrSFiddyment

The emerging field of biocodicology explores the biomolecular record trapped inside manuscripts, invisible to the eye in many cases but packed with information. Analysing the proteins and DNA found in these objects can give us a deeper level of understanding of how the object was made and used through its history, highlighting the importance of materiality in an increasingly digital age.

How to Read the Unreadable? Non-Invasive digitization of cultural heritage
Speakers: Vincent Christlein (Friedrich-Alexander University) @v_christlein
Daniel Stromer (Friedrich-Alexander University) @daniel_stromer

Sealed documents can contain valuable sources of information. In this presentation, we will give an overview of our efforts in reading sealed documents. These may be books or scrolls that have been damaged by external influences (e.g., fire, water) or are too fragile to open them due to aging processes. We show that non-invasive methods, such as 3-D X-ray computed tomography (CT) imaging, are capable of revealing hidden contents. We outline the full pipeline of the digitization process: first the document is scanned by means of CT imaging. Afterwards, the pages need to be extracted. Due to the high resolution and the thin and wavy pages, which are also squeezed together, the separation of pages within the 3-D volume is not trivial. Since manual segmentation is too time-consuming, a fully automated process for extracting and mapping the pages in 2-D was developed. While a large proportion of documents were written with iron gall ink, other inks were also used. Therefore, we evaluated which inks could be reliably made visible. In contrast to codices, books or manuscripts, symbols and drawings were captured on bamboo in ancient China. Wooden slips were used as the common communication media. Unfortunately, the discovered pieces are sometimes in a poor condition and contaminated by soil. The manual cleaning of excavated slips is a demanding and time-consuming task in which writings can be accidentally erased. Therefore, we are investigating the possibility of using also CT imaging for digitization. We propose a mainly automatic algorithmic solution to virtually clean the bamboo scrolls from contaminated soil. Then, the scroll is digitally unwrapped and the 3-D slips are processed in a texturing step to obtain a 2-D representation readable by the naked eye. This digitization also allows the recovery of potentially erased writings and reconstruction of the original spatial information. Eventually, we will discuss the potential and challenges of using CT for a broad application of the technique.

Reading the Unread: parchment damage in a fifteenth century Netherlandish prayer book
Speaker: Sophie Clayton (University of Leeds) @sophieclayton97

As we sit behind a screen with hundreds of digitised manuscripts at our fingertips, we must be mindful of what is lost in the process of digitisation - namely the tactile interaction with parchment. Parchment damage is often overlooked in the increasingly growing digitisation of manuscripts, with projects favouring the more illustrious and elegantly illuminated texts. Looking closely at parchment damage can provide us with a plethora of information about a manuscript - not only about its production, but also the medieval act of reading and interacting with its pages. Contrary to popular beliefs, medieval scribes and rubricators were often deeply aware of the notion that they were writing onto the skins of slaughtered animals and used this understanding to their advantage. In this paper, I shall explore damaged parchment that is utilised by scribes to draw attention to its very nature as skin.

Drawing on the work of Michael Camille and Mary Carruthers on reading images, I shall analyse an instance of parchment damage in a late fifteenth century Netherlandish prayer book and explore the medieval reader’s relationship with this non-linguistic aspect of the manuscript. Through my reading of this parchment damage, I will demonstrate how the scribal exploitation of the material as skin enhances the religious power of the object. I will demonstrate that that which appears unreadable and unread to a modern scholar would not have been viewed as such by the medieval reader. As a result, I conclude that, whilst the digitisation of manuscripts has encouraged and nurtured much fruitful scholarship, more careful attention should be given to parchment damage both during the digitisation process and in medieval studies more broadly as an insight into medieval reading practises.

Rethinking the abbreviation: questions and challenges of machine reading medieval scripta
Speakers: Estelle Guéville (Louvre Abu Dhabi)
David Joseph Wrisley (NYU Abu Dhabi) @DJWrisley

Every medievalist will recognize barriers to access (time, distance, paleographic skill, condition) and how digitization has expanded the way we work. It is possible to view facsimiles on the other side of the world (say, in Abu Dhabi). Inaccessibility in 2020 has not only been a question of distance from physical archives, but also from the recognizable infrastructures in which we work (offices, libraries, print-only resources). We know across the GLAM sector that the creation of transcriptions and metadata is being revived in a time of social distance (Ferraiolo, 2020). This Spring we focused our collective attention on what can be done in isolation and with the kind of time and attention span that we might not have had in a regular work year. A slow focus on creating "ground truth" for neural automatic transcription systems, has led us to rethink what transcription really means for pre-modern writing systems (Kirmizialtin and Wrisley 2020). Usually the notion of "unread" is used with a Morettian connotation, pointing to all the texts that we don't have in our possession or we have not had the time to read. There is an unread, however, within medieval manuscripts. It is an issue that has always been there, just beneath our eyes, that most medievalists prefer to resolve or to uncollapse: the abbreviation. Our case study uses a thirteenth-century Latin Bible following the Paris tradition held in the Louvre Abu Dhabi collection. This Bible has a very regular script and page layout, which, in the absence of a colophon, makes it almost impossible to date and to determine exact provenance. As often, when palaeography and textual clues fail, the medievalists have looked to the decoration, which, in our case, has been compared to other manuscripts from the Rouen region. Computational text studies have illustrated that micro-features are useful for textual forensics (Pinche et al, 2019; Byszuk and Khismatulin, 2019; Kestemont et al, 2019). What new knowledge about manuscripts can automatic transcription help uncover: authorship, localisation or scribal habit? Are there patterns of use of abbreviations, or even letters forms (s and ſ; d and ꝺ; r and ꝛ) that can help us re-read our texts in manuscript? Can we link variance in abbreviations to a change of hand or other material traces of change? In the case of charters, the use of s and ſ; d and ꝺ has been studied (Stutzmann, 2011) and led to the author to make a classification and assertions about textual evolution. Yet, this study was based on manual encoding, which, if possible in the case of charters, is not an option when working with manuscripts made of many hundreds folios. Studying the use of those specific letter forms, the number of abbreviations per line, their location in the word, in the line, in the sentence, or even the recurrence of abbreviations for the same words (i.e. quoque, deus, super, etc.) and their differences is a huge task made possible thanks to computational methods.

How Much of a Manuscript is a Digitized Manuscript?
Speaker: Cornelis van Lit (Utrecht University) @LWCvL

A strange paradox has crept into our philological work. Scholars have been so eager to take advantage of digitized manuscripts, that some wonder “who will ever go back to the ‘real’ manuscript?” The more our research focusses on the manuscript world, the more our work takes place in the digital world, it seems. But here is an even stranger paradox: When it is time to cite our sources, we refer to the actual, material manuscript and seem to forget we ever looked at digital images. Can we identify the digital surrogate so strongly with the material artifact? If not, what can and can’t we do with it? It is time to define the digital materiality of digitized manuscripts.

Beyond the Veil: manuscript curtains and the reading experience, medieval and modern
Speaker: Henry Ravenhall (King's College London) @HenryRavenhall

The use of curtains to cover illuminations is a well-known, if understudied, phenomenon of European medieval manuscript culture. Detecting the presence of curtains often proves difficult: in most cases, only a series of stitch holes remain either above or to the side of the illumination; in some cases, some thread is left behind; and in very few cases, we are able to see the fabric that would have veiled the image. Knowing when curtains were added or removed – and who by – is equally tricky to ascertain. This task is made yet more arduous by the lack of cataloguing data regarding curtains. The online manuscript illumination database Enluminures, (, for instance, has hundreds of attributes to filter results by, but no record of curtains. Whether or not their primary function was to protect the gold leaf, these curtains were a fundamental part of how medieval readers experienced the book through touch. They could imbue images with a spiritual mystery linked to notions of divine revelation. They could complicate text image relations by allowing the reader to decide when, and indeed if, the veil was lifted. They could build suspense, or shield viewers from troubling images. This paper has three main objectives: firstly, to outline some of the challenges of detecting the erstwhile presence curtains in medieval manuscripts by looking at both Latin and French manuscripts of the thirteenth century; secondly, to reflect on how curtains, especially in the vernacular context, would have shaped the medieval reader's engagement with the text in several different ways; and thirdly, to consider how digital platforms should go about cataloguing, reproducing, and foregrounding this widespread, if furtive, medieval practice.

Blast from the Past and Back to the Future: manuscripts and digitisation
Speakers: Luise Morawetz (SAW Leipzig) @LuiseMorawetz
Natascha Domeisen (University of Oxford) @NDomeisen
Carolin Gluchowski (Fribourg)
Lena Vosding (University of Oxford)

The presentation discusses the benefits of going from the original to the digitised object and back, taking the use of digitised objects a step further and shining light on the general use of digitised objects, via four case studies.

1 Die Heidin and the Henfflin Workshop: UB Heidelberg, cod. pal. ger. 353 (Natascha Domeisen). [ ]

2 Old High German Stylus Glosses: Munich, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek Clm 6293 and Clm 21525 (Luise Morawetz) [ ]

3 The Medingen Manuscripts and their Materiality: Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS. Don. e. 248 (Carolin Gluchowski) [ ]

4 Empty Pages and Materiality in the Lüne Letters: Kloster Lüne, Klosterarchiv, Hs 15, Hs 30, Hs 31 [ (Dr Lena Vosding) ]

Further links:
- Blog A first-hand encounter with MS. Don. e. 248 [ ]
- Blog Medingen Manuscript Production in the Age of Monastic Reform (1479) and Lutheran Reformation (1524-1544): How the project contributes to understanding the genesis of the Oxford prayerbook MS. Lat. liturg. f. 4 [ ]
- Website The Medingen Manuscripts [ ]
- Edition "The Nuns' Network" [ ]
- Film Series on the Lüne Letters [ ]

The Book, The Whole Book, and Nothing But the... Digital Surrogate
Speaker: Stewart Brookes (University of Oxford) @stewart_brookes
Let there be Light: The holy digitised artefact
Speaker: Keri Thomas @keri_thomas

“And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.” In 2020 the doors of our cultural institutions closed as a result of COVID-19 restrictions: disease being the ultimate gatekeeper, leaving us without access to our cultural heritage. The desire to digitise the whole world is a flame that is fanned into life once again. But what is lost in the digitisation of a medieval manuscript, and what is gained? The medieval manuscript was created for many purposes - not just to bring light into the darkness through the dissemination of knowledge, but also to create a link to God through the scribal act. In the act of writing, the processes of creation involved in the making of a manuscript and the very existence of a manuscript in the world, we see the act of worship. And manuscripts provide solidity: their very physicality a way of warding off the forces of darkness. But digitisation doesn’t necessarily strip the weight from a manuscript, nor its ephemerality; in fact, digitisation can often find faces in the darkness that we did not know existed. Truth does not have to be lost, if a slow digitisation strategy [Prescott & Hughes, 2018] is employed. Bad digitisation leaves us bereft in a post-pandemic world where access to physical spaces, and physical artefacts, is limited: the metaphorical flaming sword, barring access to Eden. By examining a range of digitised manuscripts this paper will argue that digitisation does not simply capture images, but opens doors to us that have been closed in the physical world. It enables us not just to find things that were once lost, but to gain something that we may never have experienced. Arguably, with the right digitisation, there is nothing that we cannot capture – including God’s grace.

Compline from the Crypt
St Edmund Hall Chapel Choir and friends
PDF icon Order for Compline
Part 3: Massive, Open, Online ... The Future?

What challenges and opportunities would the answers to Parts One and Two of DarkArchives 20/20 open for the future of the Archive and of scholarship?

Keynote Address: Seeing and Being Seen: digital manuscripts and their viewers
Keynote: Elaine Treharne (Stanford) @ETreharne
Chair: Stephen Pink (Medium Ævum)
The Future Archive
Chair: Suzanne Paul (Cambridge University) @suzpaul
Panelists: Future Archive Presenters
Elaine Treharne
Ben Albritton
The Curator in the Machine: balancing accessibility and experience in digitizing the Islamic manuscript collection of the National Library of Israel
Speaker: Samuel Thrope (National Library of Israel) @SamuelThrope

The talk focuses on a particular challenge here at the NLI in digitizing our Islamic manuscript collection: for decades, the collection was catalogued and curated almost exclusively by one extremely knowledgeable scholar, Efraim Wust, who employed an idiosyncratic cataloging system and language of his own design. The challenge we face today is translating that system into a digital repository that will be accessible and transparent to all without losing Efraim's vast knowledge, experience, and familiarity with the collection, as embodied in his own, handwritten catalogue. Other libraries and archives, to a greater or lesser degree, face similar challenges in transitioning from the personal and analog to the public and digital.

(Re)collecting the Archive: recovering medieval manuscripts destroyed During WWII
Krista Murchison (University of Leiden) @drkmurch

Thousands of medieval manuscripts, each an irreplaceable witness to history, were lost and destroyed during the Second World War. Yet fragments of these precious artifacts remain in the form of editions, photographs, and descriptions. Thanks to funding from the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research, I am embarking on a project to effectively recreate the destroyed manuscript collections of four European nations by gathering together multimedia fragments of lost manuscripts. As this paper will discuss, the project is aimed at recovering these documentary and literary artifacts for future generations while exploring the idea of a wholly immaterial archive—one that is not bound by geographical limits or material realities.

There and Back Again with 2022: bringing Dublin's lost records back from Westminster
Speakers: Elizabeth Biggs (Durham University) @ElizabethCBiggs
Paul Dryburgh (The National Archives) @pablodiablo74
Lynn Killgallon (Trinity College, Dublin)

The restrictions placed on access to archives and manuscripts during the 2020 coronavirus pandemic have brought the transformative potential of the digital into sharper focus. But where a national archive has been almost entirely destroyed that potential is magnified. On 30 June 1922 a cataclysmic fire destroyed the Public Record Office of Ireland [PROI]. The ashes of more than seven centuries of records were scattered across the city, leaving the nascent Irish state stripped of much of its archival heritage. Of the enormous riches produced by the administration of the English lordship of Ireland only a handful of original records survive. And yet, all is not lost. Funded by the Government of Ireland, Beyond 2022: Ireland’s Virtual Record Treasury is a multi-disciplinary project based at Trinity College Dublin. It aims to reconstruct the PROI and its lost collections. By digitally uniting surviving originals, transcripts, inventories and indexes, the records will be restored to their shelves in a virtual reconstruction of the building. While many reconstructions can only be at fonds level, several “Gold Seams”, which aim to reconstruct lost sources even to item level, are being developed. One such “seam” deals with the financial administration of the English lordship of medieval Ireland. This presentation will introduce the Medieval Exchequer Gold Seam and some of the tools and methods used in our reconstruction of a lost archive that will become an indispensable resource for all audiences. Corruption in financial administration in the 1270s induced the English crown to develop a process of audit to check the records of successive treasurers of Ireland; this created a shadow archive of copies in Westminster, which we can use to illuminate the dark archive in Dublin. The principal output will be a dynamic edition of those hundreds of surviving copies of Irish Exchequer accounts sent to Westminster, digitised by The National Archives (UK) and made available via IIIF. The edition will use TEI methodologies and will work with Handwritten Text Recognition software (Transkribus) to rapidly incorporate nineteenth-century copies of related material. A secondary focus is to harness semantic web and link data across these vast datasets through knowledge graph technologies. This is a method by which entities appearing in records (persons, places, subjects, dates) are not only encoded, but relationships between them are identified and made fully searchable. Rather than looking at each individual reconstructed item by itself, Beyond 2022’s Knowledge Graph uses the potential of sophisticated searching to link connected materials across the archive. Finally, we will think about the medieval Exchequer and its processes and start to ask and answer new questions about English presence in Ireland, its impact and changing reach. We can start to tell the stories of those who lived under that government in new ways. The items destroyed in 1922 cannot themselves be recovered, but we can create a surrogate, virtual archive using large-scale collaboration, digital tools and understanding the processes that created both the lost archive and its shadow in a manner that will have broader applicability. The Medieval Exchequer Gold Seam researchers, Beyond 2022: Ireland’s Virtual Record Treasury, Trinity College Dublin: Dr Elizabeth Biggs, Dr Paul Dryburgh, and Dr Lynn Kilgallon. Elizabeth Biggs (University of Durham), Paul Dryburgh (The National Archives), Lynn Killgallon (TCD) @pablodiablo74, @ElizabethCBiggs

Shedding Light on Middle High German Hymn Translations
Speakers: Franziska Lallinger (Humboldt University)
Pavlina Kulagina (Humboldt University)

When inventories of libraries are not physically accessible, digital resources and databases offer the only insight into, or perhaps just a glance, at historical artifacts. Coming up with an efficient strategy to digitize manuscripts is critically important in researching genres that abound with manuscripts, such as books of hours and prayer books. Given the overwhelming number of extant copies and limited resources, digitalization must be approached strategically to balance the high costs of scanning with specific research benefits. This paper concerns the approach we selected at Berliner Repertorium: the online database of Middle High and Low German translations of Latin hymns, sequences, and antiphons, a genre that remains unexplored and underdigitized, due to volume, its secondary character, and the peculiar way it exhibits poetic variety. The database provides the user with scans of the source texts and presents information in a systematic, searchable way. Our contribution provides an opportunity to reflect, methodologically, on the scientific decontextualization of texts from their original environment in manuscripts and their cataloguing in the database, using the Berliner Repertorium as an example. This contribution will not only offer a descriptive terminological outline of the effects and challenges that come with the need for selective representation of historical artefacts, but also describe the potential of this approach. Based on heuristic conceptual instruments conceived by Bergemann et al. in their theory of cultural transformation, we view scientific work on the database – and digital archiving in general – as an act of transformation.1 The concept’s main premise is that transformation relies on interdependency and thus cannot be seen as a unidirectional process. Thus work on the database is analytical but also a creative production and reconfiguration of cultural goods. By selecting, adopting, or incorporating an element that belongs to the reference sphere (in our case, the hymn translation) the reception sphere (the database) is modified while the reference sphere is constructed. This means that the text genre is above all created by its presentation. As a consequence, the presentation of our data strongly determines the reception and perception of historical artifacts that are described. Yet the methodological alienation of hymn translations as autonomous texts can be productive. The removal of textual witnesses from their pragmatic liturgical context opens up the possibility of examining hymns as literary artifacts and draws attention to the study of translation strategies. The theoretical part is illustrated by a case study that focuses on one fascinating textual transformation rendered visible thanks to this approach, or the structural changes that hymns and sequences undergo when translated into the vernacular. In particular, extensive Latin poems can be split into smaller parts, which are then rearranged and assigned to certain hours, reinforcing or even creating a narrative structure and shifting pragmatic emphasis. The mode of presentation developed by the database introduces German translations of Latin hymns and sequences as a distinctive genre of medieval vernacular literature with great research potential.

Preserving the Materiality of the Digital: data management and sustainability in the context of a digital edition of <em>L’histoire ancienne jusqu’à César
Speaker: Natasha Romanova (King's College London)

Until recently, we tended to associate the threat of loss of cultural heritage with material media, as manuscripts and other objects can be physically destroyed or damaged, on the one hand, or become inaccessible due to lack of curation, on the other. The advent of digitisation and digitally-enabled scholarship and the arrival of the Internet at the end of the twentieth century appeared to offer an excellent solution: unlimited storage combined with immediate discoverability. We should not, however, overlook the peculiar kind of “materiality” of digital resources, whose existence and usability are threatened by growing online security risks and eventual obsolescence of software. As a consequence, digital resources depend heavily on the labour and costs involved in bringing them up to date, as well as on maintenance and storage solutions. Moreover, as in the case of “analogue” data, there is a danger for content or research to become inaccessible or overlooked due to the sheer amount of information available online.
Over the course of five years from 2015 to 2020, “The Values of French Language in the European Middle Ages” (, a collaborative project between the French Department at King’s College London, King’s Digital Lab and the Dictionnaire Etymologique de l’Ancien Français in Heidelberg (see has produced a digital edition of two important manuscripts of the medieval universal chronicle Histoire ancienne jusqu’à César, enhanced with a range of functionalities allowing users to explore the textual tradition of the chronicle and the language of the manuscripts. Immensely popular in the later Middle Ages within and beyond the francophone world, Histoire ancienne, itself a text and a textual and manuscript tradition that engages with our relationship to the past, driven as it is by a need to interpret and preserve the legacy of classical and contemporary authors, is an important case study in data preservation.
This paper will explore the practicalities of data management in the context of “The Values of French” project that enabled collaborative work and will ensure preservation of and sustainable future for the data collected as well as ensure discoverability. By placing the issues facing “The Values of French” team in the larger context of the practices of and debates surrounding data management in Digital Humanities, the paper will address the place of data produced in collaborative research in our relationship to medieval sources in the digital age.

‘Back up soon’: toward an infrastructural understanding of digital archives and digital failure
Thomas White (University of Oxford) @___TomWhite___

In early 2018, as I began revising my doctoral research, I attempted to return to the digital version of a manuscript I had discussed at length: Cambridge, Trinity College, MS O.9.38 (more commonly known as the ‘Glastonbury Miscellany’). On clicking the bookmark stored in my web browser—a codicological metaphor with a reassuring sense of physical solidity—I was met with the following sight:
What Michael Betancourt calls the ‘aura of the digital’—its illusory ephemerality and limitlessness—can quickly dissipate when familiar paths through online resources are suddenly blocked.1 When a digital archive’s operability breaks down or is forestalled, its online interface re-emerges as a threshold, as a designed and maintained system that will afford access to what lies beneath only when all is well. In this instance, Scriptorium had been hacked and a lengthy period of rebuilding work was needed, during which time the project was fully incorporated into the Cambridge Digital Library. There, it became part of an extensive collection of digitised materials spanning many centuries and a substantial, well-funded technical infrastructure of digital reproduction and preservation.
In one sense, and despite the frustration it caused, the Glastonbury Miscellany’s period offline resonated with the manuscript’s own eventful history—the manuscript disappears from the historical record at numerous points in its life and is badly damaged. Yet it also raised a number of pressing questions around the resilience, or otherwise, of our digital archives. Working outwards from this brief medial history of the digital Glastonbury Miscellany, this paper examines how the burgeoning interdisciplinary field of critical infrastructure studies offers a number of important provocations for medievalists, particularly in the wake the Covid-19 pandemic. In particular, it turns to some of the social and ecological consequences of the increasing ubiquity of computation and digitisation. An infrastructural understanding of digitisation suggests that online archives may, in fact, be more vulnerable to failure and loss than their traditional counterparts, dependant as they are on a consistent electricity supply, paid-up subscriptions to third-party server providers (chiefly Amazon), well-maintained undersea cable networks, and forms of geopolitical stability that allow signals to travel freely.

Medieval Spanish Manuscripts, Modern Digital Repositories: the future of scholarly-curated thematic collections supported via public engagement
Speaker: Roger L. Martínez-Dávila (University of Colorado) @rogerlmartinez

The medieval cathedral archives of Spain, especially those in the royal Castilian city of Burgos, remain Dark Archives to all but a few academicians who know the hidden doors that guard access to almost a millennium of interreligious history. Deciphering and distributing this history of the collaborative nature of Jewish, Christian, and Muslim communities is a significant problem. Why? Physical access to manuscripts is limited, manuscripts are not digital, indexing is not attuned to interreligious themes, and paleographic challenges limit access to the content of documents. The Deciphering Secrets project, a collaboration of scholars and the public that crowdsources the collection and transcription of medieval manuscripts, has breached these defiant walls. Coupling citizen-science, specifically teaching everyday persons the craft of paleography and engaging them in the transcription of Spanish manuscripts from the thirteenth through fifteenth centuries, we are now opening new lines of digital humanities research and investigation. With as little as two-weeks of web-based instruction (digital videos, exercises and examinations, and online discussion forums), our peer-reviewed research demonstrates our “citizen scholars”, when working independently and collaboratively, can master transcribing medieval handwriting. We envision one possible future for archives which are scholarly-curated thematic collections that bring many different institutions’ manuscript collections into communion with one another. These novel archives can ensure universal access, preservation, and dissemination of digital manuscripts alongside of robust indexing and crowdsourced transcriptions. This goal is embodied in the Deciphering Secrets manuscript collection, which is catalogued at the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs Archive at In this paper, we present how we approach digital preservation, distribution, indexing, and searchability of our manuscript transcription collections. We argue that building collaborative partnerships with cathedrals in Spain, employing free Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) to attract and engage interested learners, and maximizing the connectivity of minor research university libraries and digital repositories might serve as a replicable and organic model used by modest research initiatives.

Manuscript Catalogues: unread and unreadable
Speaker: Michelle R. Warren (Dartmouth College) @MichelleRWarren

Manuscript studies conducted online depend not only on facsimile digital images but on digital cataloguing and metadata. How can you find something you don’t already know? The “dark archives” in many cases are much of the digital archive, except for those portions one knows already by other means—print catalogues, previously published scholarship, personal acquaintance with specific libraries, etc. The challenges of standardized cataloguing and metadata reconciliation are well known in libraries, archives, and elsewhere. They have become more acute with digital catalogues and digital facsimiles. Ambitious projects of data aggregation and born-digital manuscript research will be defined by the quantity and quality of interoperable structured data. In this presentation, I illustrate these issues with a case study of more than four centuries of manuscript cataloguing at Parker Library, Corpus Christi College, Cambridge. I argue that in concert with the growth of digital images and data, manuscript studies need to integrate robust historiographies of cataloguing. Otherwise, digital resources become unreadable “dark archives.” I follow Tim Maly’s four-part typology of archival shades: known availables (the bright archive: information we know about and can access); known unavailables (dark to those who lack hardware, subscriptions, security clearance, etc.: information we know exists but can’t access); unknown availables (dark archives, information that exists but cannot be accessed for lack of indexing, retrieval technology, etc.); unknown unavailables (dark ontology, information you don’t even know you could know) ( As digital representations of medieval materials proliferate, they slip along this continuum from bright to dark. Parker Library provides for an exemplary illustration of this process because its manuscripts have been catalogued so many times—and because the manuscripts as well as the catalogues currently exist in digital formats. The catalogues range from Matthew Parker’s handwritten Register of 1574, through five print catalogues (1600-1912), to two editions of the digital platform Parker Library on the Web (2009, 2018). This succession of catalogues reveals the fallacy of technological progress: newer isn’t necessarily better. Metadata have been getting more fragmented, not more complete. Each catalogue, though, has contributed something distinctive even as it reflects vested interests in politics, classification, or technology. The most recent resource is the most mysterious unless compared to its predecessors. Medieval studies will probably always have a lot of “bad data.” And better data may never be created. In the meantime, digital resources can produce better “paradata”—that is, descriptions of how and why digital images and their metadata have been made so that users know what they are reading and what remains unread. The contours of the dark archive haveyet to be curated. Bibliography:

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The Future of Scholarship
Chair: Peter Frankopan (University of Oxford) @peterfrankopan
Panelists: Future of Scholarship Presenters
Damon Wischik (University of Cambridge)
Justin Stover (University of Oxford)
Jane Taylor (Durham University)
Elaine Treharne (Stanford)
Mike Kestemont (Antwerp University)
Crowdsourcing in a Time of Data Protection and Covid-19: the case study of Crowdmap-the-Crusades
Speaker: Emma Goodwin (University of Oxford) @dhAHRC
Medieval Digital Visionary Women: editing the wiki ‘Catalogue of Living Saints’
Speakers: Rebeca Sanmartin Bastida (Complutense University of Madrid)
Pablo Acosta-García (Heinrich Heine University Düsseldorf) @PabloAcostaGarc

This paper aims to introduce the “Catalogue of Living Saints”, a wiki for users interested in gender and spirituality that provides knowledge about the lives of Castilian charismatic women previous to Teresa of Ávila who acquired reputation for holiness between 1400 and 1550. The collected lives appeared in a diversity of sources: manuscripts of the 15th-16th centuries (including early conventual books and compendiums containing lives of saints), handwritten and printed chronicles of religious orders and other formats. Besides recovering a group of texts that have never been printed before and many others that were not independently edited, this platform allows us to create a tool for the geolocalization of the phenomena and to develop a database of gestures and actions in order to understand the hagiographical models based on its performative features. This paper aims to focus on the idea of how working with an open access corpus of Castilian lives of women via a wiki tool involves a radically different relationship between the user and the material text. In this sense, we would like to discuss the change involved in these narratives from the original codicological contexts to the universal accessibility of the digital world, highlighting how texts are affected by evolving reading practices. Indeed, gathering these lives online has an impact on the dissemination and reception of these fragments of the past. On the other hand, this catalogue is part of a wider network of projects that are mediating and completing primary sources through different digital perspectives. Here, the multiple layers of selection and meaning (marked by confessors, copyists, chroniclers’ choices and, ultimately, by the wiki editors) create and shape different receptions of the hagiographical narratives on its audience.

The Changing Paradigms of the Digital Production and Communication of Medieval Scholarship: some reflections on openness
Speaker: Ulrike Wuttke (University of Applied Sciences Potsdam) @UWuttke
Using Semantic Textual Encoding to Support the Navigation and Analysis of Medieval Texts
Zoe Bartliff (University of Glasgow) @ZBartliff

Medieval texts, with a slight refocusing of perception, can be considered as a large scale data-set (LSDS), comprised of a wealth of data but much of it only accessible in a limited or hard to find format. Traditionally, the same issues encountered by medieval scholars are those also found in working with LSDS. Aside from the difficulties of navigation and processing the sheer volume of the data contained within even a single text of the medieval corpus, issues arise in the estimation of the size and shape of the material, the identification of relationships that exist between it and other manuscripts and in the seeking, sorting and filtering of the textual information.
The research presented within this paper, proposes the application of semantically focused XML encoding to support a data-driven approach to medieval textual analysis. Utilising twenty-six of the manuscripts from the Cyfraith Hywel legal corpus as a case study, this paper briefly treats the process of encoding the texts, before presenting select highlights that have resulted from the subsequent analysis. Due in part to the tenacity of the tradition, spanning several centuries, and in part to its deep cultural ties with medieval Welsh society, Cyfraith Hywel is widely considered to be the most important source available to modern scholars concerning the state of the contemporary Welsh legal system as well as a valuable reflection on the cultural and historical situation within Wales throughout the Anglo-Norman invasion. The temporal and structural depths of these manuscripts are matched equally by the internal breadths of the content contained within. Containing topics ranging from the rights, dues and duties of each of the King’s officers through to the valuation of animal parts and the place and protections of women, Cyfraith Hywel is a veritable social compendium, constructed to embody the culture of medieval Wales in as far as it is applicable to the law.
Numerous techniques have been employed to aid navigation of the Cyfraith Hywel corpus, primarily though the creation of scholarly editions, but these approaches, as with the majority of access methods for LSDS, either permit the researcher to aggregate the data, therefore gaining a surface level overview, or to 'drill down' and explore a smaller sample of the data, but in greater detail. A consequence of this limitation on access to the text has resulted in the application of research methodologies that are not replicable with additional data-sets. Further to this, much scholarship into Cyfraith Hywel, often by admission of the academic who conducted the research, is lacking in sufficient data to present a representative and convincing argument for the corpus as a whole or to create a protocol to allow the inclusion of additional material that may progress their research further. This lack of inherent replicability and expandability within the discipline has left Cyfraith Hywel at somewhat of a methodological impasse, one which is reflected throughout medieval scholarship.
Through the application of semantically focused encoding, the edited corpus that forms the core of this research the corpus is opened up to both horizontal and vertical examinations of the material whilst concurrently providing opportunities for replicable and expandable exploratory data analysis.

From the Library of Babel to Arcologies of Information
Speaker: Michael G. Sargent (City University of New York)
Discussion: Funders' Perspectives
Chair: Peter Frankopan (University of Oxford) @peterfrankopan
Panelists: Marc Polonsky (The Polonsky Foundation)
Daniel Reid (The Whiting Foundation) @DPReid
Simon Chaplin (Arcadia Fund) @SDChaplin
#PolonskyGerman #BloggingMSS Prize: Laudationes and Award
Organisers: Andrew Dunning, Henrike Lähnemann, Matthew Holford, Tuija Ainonen
Online (Zoom /
Tuesday, September 8, 2020 - 8:00am to Thursday, September 10, 2020 - 11:00pm