Technology and Medieval Studies Research

Elizabeth Guemmer



Before the technological advancements of the digital age, researchers in medieval studies were limited by geographic locations of manuscripts and, by the nature of the documents, access to them for study. However, digital photography, personal computers, internet access, and other tools have allowed collections of medieval sources to be organized and disseminated globally. Websites, databases, wikis, blogs, and softwares provide access to ancient manuscripts and provide tools for their study, where in the past this access would have been reserved for only the most distinguished scholars under the most laborious of conditions.
Bringing Sources Together


Preservation of ancient manuscripts is foremost to the custodians who hold these unique documents in their collections. Before the advancements in technology, scholars who wished to study these sources were limited by time and space. However, through dedication and determination, many in the field of medieval studies have compiled and organized their collections and provided access through digital copies. The “Digital Scriptorium” expresses this thought in its description; [it] “is a growing image database of medieval and renaissance manuscripts that unites scattered resources from many institutions into an international tool for teaching and scholarly research.”[1]

These databases, like numerous others, are projects implemented within universities, libraries, and museums. The “Digital Scriptorium” is hosted by Columbia University Libraries as a “project of the Libraries Digital Program Division.”[2] Fordham University has compiled the “Internet Medieval Sourcebook” which contains full text documents sources for many disciplines in the humanities.[3]

Another excellent example, from the University of Rochester, is “The Camelot Project” which contains “Arthurian Texts, Images, Bibliographies, and Basic Information.”[4]

Finding Information


In the study of ancient documents, an additional benefit realized through technology is the ability to search a digitized work with key terms which reduces labor-intensive searching of the physical document. The “Domesday Book” in the collection at the United Kingdom’s National Archives is “the earliest surviving public record and the foundation document” in the collection.[5] Researchers are able to locate specific information by surname, location, and year, if known.

Finding and viewing sources has become accessible to anyone, not just scholars, who possess the tools through, not only university libraries, but many public libraries. The Free Library of Philadelphia provides access to their collection of medieval manuscripts, which are also accessible through the “Digital Scriptorium”, and also provides photographic representations of “[b]ooks [which] have been photographed to look like three-dimensional objects instead of flat images. Individual leaves and cuttings are shown front and back to give as much information as possible about the leaf’s original context. All texts should be legible in close-up view.”[6] (See Appendix A for representational photograph)

The New York Public Library has augmented the “Digital Scriptorium’s” database, which was cited earlier in this paper from its location at Columbia University’s website, with “primary documentation with images from its collection.” The latter provided exposure to the former’s collection which is “one of the largest and finest collections of medieval and Renaissance illuminated manuscripts in North America, yet its manuscript holdings are scarcely known to scholars, much less to a wide public audience.”[7]
Specialized Manuscripts


While many well-known manuscripts have been digitized for easier access, other more-specialized manuscripts, such as “medieval polyphonic music manuscripts” are accessible for research through the Digital Image Archive of Medieval Music.[8]
The purpose of this site was to obtain and archive digital images of European sources of medieval polyphonic music, captured directly from the original document. The purposes were (1) conservation and protection against loss, especially of vulnerable fragments, and (2) to enable libraries to supply the best possible quality of images to scholars. High-quality direct digital capture ensures a level of detail and colour accuracy that is not possible from scans of surrogates such as slides or glossy photographs. In particular, this type of imaging is crucial to detailed study. Normal single-shot digital photography usually captures at a maximum of 7-11 Megapixels. The imaging used by DIAMM captures at a maximum of 144 Megapixels. This extremely high resolution is necessary for digital restoration. Where there is damage that makes these sources difficult to read, detailed restoration of copies of the original images is possible, to improve legibility and scholarly access.[9]
There is free access to this material. However, one is required to register for use and, with this registration; a pledge is made for appropriate and ethical use.

Another specialized project, the Restorers of Alchemical Manuscripts Society, R.A.M.S., evolved from a pilot digitization project beginning in 2005. Their library offers “[o]ver 10,000 pages of rare Alchemical literature in digital format.”[10] Additionally, this society provides RSS feeds, podcasts, and offers their collection on CD-rom and DVD-rom. It is recognized as a group of individuals committed to the preservation and dissemination of these materials, which are not scholars, but offer this information for scholarly and personal use.

Authentication Software


Students have become acquainted with the internet-based software, Turnitin, used to detect plagiarism in papers.[11] However, a similar software design has been used to verify co-authorship of a sixteenth century play previously published anonymously.
With the help of computer software Pl@giarism, a free plagiarisation detection program developed by Maastricht University, Professor Sir Brian Vickers of the Institute of English Studies has been continuing his researches into the Shakespeare canon. In the latest installment he proves that the five passages added to the 1602 edition of Thomas Kyd’s ever-popular play The Spanish Tragedy were written by Shakespeare. Previously he had shown that the anonymously published play, The Reign of King Edward III (1596), was co-authored by Shakespeare and Kyd.[12]

Conclusions


The technology available to the scholarly researchers, and to the lifelong learners of medieval history, has provided access to ancient manuscripts, and other medieval works, which did not exist a generation ago. From detecting co-authorship of a genius in the literary world to providing imagery of illuminated manuscripts, computers and the internet have promoted research in medieval studies where no study would have been possible in the past.



Bibliography
DIAMM, http://www.diamm.ac.uk/about/introduction.html.
Digital Image Archive of Medieval Music, http://www.diamm.ac.uk/index.html.
Digital Scriptorium, “About Digital Scriptorium,” http://www.scriptorium.columbia.edu/about/index.html.
Fordham University: The Jesuit University of New York, “Internet Medieval Sourcebook Full Text Sources,” http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/sbook2.asp.
Free Library of Philadelphia, “Medieval Manuscripts,” http://libwww.freelibrary.org/medievalman/.
NYPL Digital Gallery, “Medieval and Renaissance Illuminated Manuscripts from Western Europe,” http://digitalgallery.nypl.org/nypldigital/explore/dgexplore.cfm?col_id=173.
Restorers of Alchemical Manuscripts Society (R.A.M.S) Digital Library, “About Us,” http://ramsdigital.com/about.html.
School of Advanced Study: University of London, “Sir Brian Vickers Uses Computer Software to Prove That Shakespeare Co-authored Plays,” http://www.sas.ac.uk/436.html?&tx_ttnews[pointer]=3&tx_ttnews[tt_news]=669&tx_ttn ews[backPid]=438&cHash=aea84bd100a448fd55b8b117256f0988
The Camelot Project at the University of Rochester, http://www.lib.rochester.edu/camelot/cphome.stm.
The National Archives, “Domesday Book,” http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/documentsonline/domesday.asp.
Wikipedia, “Turnitin,” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turnitin.


Appendix A
Fig. 1
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Book of Hours, use of Rome http://libwww.freelibrary.org/medievalman/detail.cfm?imagetoZoom=mca1180910.



[1] Digital Scriptorium, “About Digital Scriptorium,” http://www.scriptorium.columbia.edu/about/index.html.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Fordham University: The Jesuit University of New York, “Internet Medieval Sourcebook Full Text Sources,” http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/sbook2.asp.
[4] The Camelot Project at the University of Rochester, http://www.lib.rochester.edu/camelot/cphome.stm.
[5] The National Archives, “Domesday Book,” http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/documentsonline/domesday.asp.
[6] Free Library of Philadelphia, “Medieval Manuscripts,” http://libwww.freelibrary.org/medievalman/.
[7] NYPL Digital Gallery, “Medieval and Renaissance Illuminated Manuscripts from Western Europe,” http://digitalgallery.nypl.org/nypldigital/explore/dgexplore.cfm?col_id=173.
[8] Digital Image Archive of Medieval Music, http://www.diamm.ac.uk/index.html.
[9] DIAMM, http://www.diamm.ac.uk/about/introduction.html.
[10] Restorers of Alchemical Manuscripts Society (R.A.M.S) Digital Library, “About Us,” http://ramsdigital.com/about.html.
[11] Wikipedia, “Turnitin,” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turnitin.
[12] School of Advanced Study: University of London, “Sir Brian Vickers Uses Computer Software to Prove That Shakespeare Co-authored Plays,” http://www.sas.ac.uk/436.html?&tx_ttnews[pointer]=3&tx_ttnews[tt_news]=669&tx_ttnews[backPid]=438&cHash=aea84bd100a448fd55b8b117256f0988.