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.

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