January 30, 2014 § 2 Comments
“The blessings of modern technology are enabling us to secure the existence of these ancient documents for future reference.” (Julian G. Plante, in Manuscripta, vol. 11 (1967))
One of the areas where the Hill Museum & Manuscript Library (HMML) has long labored lies in the efforts to make manuscripts more accessible through computerization. In fact, the first mention in our records of a computerized manuscript catalog comes already in 1966! Of course, digital photography was not yet a concept to be explored, so the focus remained on serving scholars by providing searchable descriptions of the manuscripts. The fairly new director of what was then called the Monastic Manuscript Microfilm Library–Dr. Julian G. Plante–wrote in a letter to Father Oliver Kapsner, OSB (field director in Austria):
“Father Ephrem, Assistant Director of the Institute [today's Collegeville Institute], has asked me if we had considered the possibility of using the computer in connection with the microfilm collection. Our conversations led to a meeting with Father Fintan, who is in charge of the computers, and Frater Balthasar, who is at present computerizing the contents of the library’s biblical journals. Let me give you the results of that meeting. Father Fintan estimated that for $3,500.00 the provisional inventory (the cards you type) of the almost 5,000 projects now on hand could be placed on computer cards and provisional catalogs produced according to author, subject, incipit, title, date, project number, and codex number. This work could probably be completed by July of 1967.”(Julian G. Plante, December 15, 1966; emphasis mine)
Dr. Plante foresaw disadvantages in the inaccuracy of the information gathered from the provisional inventory cards on the films, along with the fear that having such information readily available might slow the progress of in-depth cataloging. However, the advantages outweighed these potential problems:
“Now for the advantages: In the first place it will markedly expedite the work of producing an adequate catalogue. Our present plan, as you know, is to go through the films one by one, making out 3×5 cards for each item catalogued. The computer will supply the information from the inventory on sheets of paper with plenty of room for corrections. Instead of my having to write down everything with the great likelihood of errors in my transcription, I will only have to correct an existing text. This should involve considerably less work and be more accurate. I am told that it is astonishingly easy to make corrections on the computer cards.” The second advantage is that a provisional catalog will open up the collection for the use of scholars. Not only will they have available for use here the provisional catalogs mentioned above, but the computer will be able to pull for them any particular items in which they have a special research interest. From our point of view, the more the collection is used by scholars, the more accurate we will be able to make the catalog since every scholar who uses the provisional catalog will be helping us discover its errors.” (Julian G. Plante, December 15, 1966)
Father Oliver responded rather positively in a letter dated January 4, 1967:
“All told, balancing advantages and disadvantages, it looks okay to use the computer in order to make the material in the microfilm collection quickly available in some form. It will take a long time to catalog the microfilm collection, which is expanding rapidly, adequately.”
Encouraged by Father Oliver’s support, Dr. Plante proceeded to hire a consultant and student workers to set up a pilot project to test the feasibility of cataloging manuscripts with computers. The original optimism of 5000 manuscript descriptions in computer format by mid 1967 did not materialize, however. This is not the place to track all of the correspondence related to the project, but I would like to include a few notes here from the “first” report on “The Computerized Catalog of the Microfilms.” The project got underway in 1967 and work continued into early 1969. The goal was always to serve those who would use the manuscript microfilms:
“One of the most important tasks facing the Monastic Manuscript Microfilm Library is [to] render to the scholars and researchers using the facility an account of the contents of the already vast holdings. If the collection is to benefit its potential users an adequate alphabetical index-catalog must be made of the contents.” “Computerization, then, consists in assigning numeric designations to the various aspects of the material on microfilm in such a way that the computer can select any of these designations, either singly or in predetermined concert, for the purposes of printing and study.” (Report 1, May 1, 1969)
Mind you, “vast holdings” in 1969 amounted to about 15,000 manuscripts, nearly all from Austrian libraries. The planned fields of data seem quite scant by today’s standards:
“In practice, the computerization of the catalog of microfilmed manuscripts means coding for language, century, incipit or beginning words of a text, as well as the obvious things like author, title and subject classification.” (ibid.)
The hope was that scholars would be able to find pertinent manuscript entries “in a matter of minutes rather than the hours generally required.” Indeed, scholars could even make requests in advance and the staff could search for relevant manuscripts before the visitors arrived. The report outlines the technical aspects of the project:
“Discussions with members of the Computer Center on the St. John’s campus were begun in December, 1966. On June 30, 1967, an IBM 029-A22 Printing Card Punch was purchased. Computerization involves the use of an IBM 1620 computer with two IBM 1311 disk drives, operating in Symbolic Programming System (SPS) language. Each catalog entry is coded for the previously-mentioned areas and then the entire entry is punched onto cards. This allows printout of not merely numbers, but the actual entry containing complete information such as author, title, incipit, codex name, codex number, project number, date and subject classification (usually more than one heading). The designated manuscripts can be obtained from the collection merely by asking for those project numbers given by the computer.” (report 1, May 1, 1969; emphasis mine)
According to the report, in the approximately 1 1/2 years of the pilot project, the staff had created records for the manuscripts from Stift Wilhering (Austria), a collection of about 154 manuscripts. This resulted in a collection of about 5000 computer punch cards. For me, this is a rather frightening concept, since the entire collection from Austria alone grew to about 30,000 manuscripts. Doing some quick-and-dirty math, I estimate that the Austrian films alone would have required about 1,000,000 computer cards! Is it possible that someday I will open a closet door in the HMML basement and find boxes of thousands of computer cards? Gulp. Dr. Plante announced HMML’s computer projects in various journals, including Computers and the Humanities, vol. 2: no.2 (1967) and Manuscripta, vol. 11: no.3 (1967). The latter report still voiced optimism:
“The possibilities offered by a computerized catalog are being investigated. General areas are assigned a numeric designation which allow us to control the vast amount of material by numeric systems. … It should be emphasized, however, that progress in this area is still at an early stage. ” “The success of the pilot project seems to confirm the validity of the direction that is being planned. The blessings of modern technology are enabling us to secure the existence of these ancient documents for future reference.” (Manuscripta, vol. 11 (1967))
So, Digital Humanities made an early appearance out here on the edge of the prairie. Unfortunately, this early attempt did not survive its first report by very long. Already in 1971, Dr. Plante related in a letter that the project had been deferred:
“The major difficulty involved in computerizing the catalogue of MMML [today's HMML] holdings is that many of the collections on deposit here are completely uncatalogued, and as a result must be catalogued manually before any computerization of information can take place.” (Julian G. Plante, August 23, 1971)
Indeed, of this in-depth cataloging, only 1400 of the 27,000 manuscripts at HMML at that time had already been fully cataloged. Correspondence files at the Saint John’s University archives indicate that interest in computers continued throughout the 1970′s, but no further projects appear to have arisen. In 1982, another catalog computerization project was designed, but that would be a story for another day. By the late 1980′s, HMML had a regular, standing committee investigating the use of computers with manuscript studies. This long-term interest was eventually to blossom in the In Principio project and the Electronic Access to Medieval Manuscripts (EAMMS) project in the 1990′s.
Indeed, it seems that computers are here to stay! But then, they seem to have been with us somehow from the beginning.
December 27, 2013 § Leave a comment
On December 12 and 13, 2013, I had the privilege of participating in an International Round Table Gespräch (Discussion) sponsored by the Institut für Realienkunde, based in Krems, Austria. The Round Table brought together Austrian, German, Dutch, and (one) American scholars to discuss their respective digital humanities projects–under the aegis of: “Digitale Medien–internetgestützte Forschung–Web 2.0. Herausforderungen und Potenziale für die Kulturwissenschaften” (“Digital Media–Internet-supported Research–Web 2.0. Challenges and Possibilities for Cultural Studies”).
I was invited to present on the various digital projects of the Hill Museum & Manuscript Library, including (of course) vHMML. Our library has witnessed an ongoing evolution over the past 15-20 years in its digital mission to support manuscript studies–as it moved from supporting manuscript catalogers (In Principio) to supporting the use of our microfilm by scholars (EAMMS/Oliver), to the delivery of digital images from both microfilm and original digital photographs (Vivarium), and now the creation of a virtual manuscript studies environment (vHMML). A similar evolution can be found in other digital projects, as well.
As many digital projects have grown over the past 10-15 years, they have found their center at first in the delivery of content (“digital libraries”) and now in the creation of work environments, where scholars can utilize multiple electronic sources to conduct research in a new way–especially in the humanities and social sciences. By searching across databases, the scholar may experience the serendipity of finding related images or content in unlikely and separate places.
Since different aspects of the vHMML project have been discussed (and will be discussed) elsewhere in this blog, I would like to discuss below some of the other projects presented at the Round Table over the course of two days. This review is only to pique the interest of those pursuing digital humanities and lead such folks to review the sites themselves–much more can (and in the future will) be said about each of these initiatives!
http://zuccaro.biblhertz.it/ (in German)
Zuccaro (named for Federico Zuccaro, 1542-1609) is a project of the Bibliotheca Hertziana and Max-Planck-Institut für Kunstgeschichte in Rome, Italy. It takes the historic “event” as its core element and works to integrate different databases (e.g., Lineamenta and ArsRoma) into an open-ended network of references for research. There is a very brief English description of the project at: http://zuccaro.biblhertz.it/dokumentation/zuccaro-1). The program brings together information on buildings, persons, locations, geodata, etc., to offer convergences of data to scholars.
ALMA is a extension of the services offered at the Museum Boijmans van Beuningen in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. The interface is in both Dutch and English. The museum has a somewhat eclectic collection of early painting and art, as well as many artifacts of daily life from the medieval and early modern period (“realia”). ALMA provides a means to link data and photographs of actual realia with their depictions in art (not just a cooking pot, but how it is depicted in contemporaneous art. See the neat article on “A Syrian Apothecary Jar in the Three Marys at the Tomb by Jan van Eyck” (at the website listed above).
http://www2.leuphana.de/meta-image/Idee.php (chiefly in German, but with English summaries)
Meta-Image (funded by the German Research Foundation) is similar to vHMML in that it seeks to create an online environment for the study of art history and visual culture. It is grounded on the image resource prometheus (http://www.prometheus-bildarchiv.de/) and a tool for image annotation (HyperImage). An English summary of the project (along with other helpful links) can be found at: http://www2.leuphana.de/meta-image/About%20Meta-Image.php.
Kulturpool is an Austrian project to bring together several resources on Austrian culture under one search engine. Similar to the European initiative “Europeana,” but limited to Austrian resources. Much of the site is offered also in English translation, but the basic language is German. Some of the cultural institutions participating in kulturpool include: The Albertina (graphic arts collection), Imareal (Institute for the study of daily life in the Middle Ages), the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Monasterium.net, Museum of Ethnology (Völkerkunde), the Naturhistorisches Museum Wien, the Austrian National Library, and several others. This allows for searching across collections in art, natural sciences, history, artifacts, books and manuscripts, and other areas.
The Krems Round Table was organized and hosted by the Institut für Realienkunde des Mittelalters und der frühen Neuzeit (http://www.imareal.oeaw.ac.at/home/). Their special niche has been the documentation of daily life as found in late medieval and early modern art, especially painting. Similar in concept to ALMA (see above), their database and website are largely in German, but the database does allow for searching by English-language concepts. HMML first became acquainted with the Institut through a session at the Kalamazoo medieval congress in 2004. We have remained in contact–largely through conferences–since then.
Started by the Austrian Academy of Sciences in 2009, the website manuscripta.at (i.e., Austrian manuscripts) will soon be relaunched with a greatly expanded offering. This is the site that most closely approaches HMML’s general offerings–manuscript descriptions, digital photographs, and a great drive to make manuscript culture available through the Internet. If a manuscript in an Austrian library has been digitized, you should be able to find the digital images here. They also offer catalog descriptions (including copies of early, handwritten catalogs) and pertinent bibliographic references. In light of our shared core mission of preserving manuscript culture, HMML hopes to work closely with manuscripta.at over the coming years.
Monasterium.net started as a local effort to provide digital access to archival documents from institutions in Lower Austria (the area around Vienna). Over the past decade it has grown rapidly to include institutions across Europe (including Eastern Europe). This is especially important for working with archival documents, which often refer to related institutions in areas that today are separated politically, but which were not in a previous era. With its expansive coverage, it provides access in several languages, including German, English, Spanish, Italian, French, Croatian, Hungarian, and Serbian. Those interested in medieval archival documents can also join the Monasterium Facebook group.
http://www.mhdwb-online.de/ (in German)
As one might surmise, the online Middle High German dictionary is especially geared to the interests of those studying Germanistik and Central European history. As a result, its website is in German. This is the online version of the first new large-scale Middle High German dictionary since the classic 19th-century dictionaries of Benecke-Müller-Zarncke and Matthias Lexer. The online version has the added attraction (over the printed version) of being expandible and being able to link to the textual sources where terms appear. Of course, the definitions can also be linked to images of physical materials being described.
Linked to the Middle High German Dictionaries online (i.e., Lexer et al.), the Conceptual Database offer not just straight definitions, but points to the medieval contexts in which terms appear. As with the Institut für Realienkunde, HMML first worked with the MHDBDB at a conference session in Kalamazoo back in 2004. The database also provides a link back to images of realia at IMAREAL’s REALonline (see above).
It was exciting for me to represent HMML and vHMML at this international gathering of digital humanities projects. I look forward to learning more about them in the coming months–and possibly finding points of contact where collaboration would be possible! My special thanks go to Dr. Ingrid Matschinegg and her colleagues at the Institut für Realienkundes des Mittelalters und der frühen Neuzeit for inviting me (and HMML) to participate.
Matthew Heintzelman (Collegeville, MN, USA)
July 22, 2013 § 2 Comments
One core component of vHMML is the Library, which supports online access to literature on manuscript studies, diplomatics, paleography, and codicology. Many out-of-copyright texts have been already been digitized by others and are available through a variety of online services. In addition, HMML staff has identified many gaps and has moved to fill these in. The earlier works include titles by Maurist authors (who “re-discovered” manuscript studies in the 17th and 18th centuries), writing manuals from the 16th to the 19th centuries, as well as later monographs and catalogs on manuscripts.
HMML staff has built a large bibliography with links to online versions of books and articles (where they exist) using a free online resource, Zotero (www.zotero.org): https://www.zotero.org/groups/manuscript_studies/items. This program allows us to work together on this bibliography, not only among HMML staff, but also with our collaborators at other institutions. The most developed list is the one titled “Paleography collection,” but we continue to work on all of the lists and add new links as we can. The goal is to incorporate this bibliography (and links) into the vHMML structure itself.
One area where the use of visual data can be very helpful is the description of writing practices–both the tools used and the way that scribes were expected to sit while writing. Such knowledge can help us understand the physicality of manuscript books, while also providing some insight into the way the letters were formed on the page (even allowing us to better interpret them as readers).
Here is a brief gallery from early modern writing manuals. First we see examples of the tools needed:
Then we have depictions of proper posture:
We even have portraits of writing masters with their pens in hand–note their hand posture:
Sometimes, however, the writer’s posture is not quite ideal:
Finally, HMML’s online image database, Vivarium, contains several photographs from medieval manuscript depictions of scribes and writers. Most of these are saints, often writing themselves, occasionally dictating to someone else. These, too, can provide clues about the proper posture (usually “two-fisted”) for writing, the preferred layout for desk (or occasionally on the “laptop”), and how to hold a pen. Here is a selection of digital images showing someone writing.
Examples of scribes/authors at their desks (or writing in their laps) from medieval manuscripts in Vivarium:
- Admont, Stiftsbibliothek: Codex Admontensis 21 (Nicholas of Lyra)
- Admont, Stiftsbibliothek: Codex Admontensis 34 (Nicholas of Lyra)
- Admont, Stiftsbibliothek: Codex Admontensis 37 (Saint Jerome)
- Admont, Stiftsbibliothek: Codex Admontensis 281 (scribe)
- Bonn, University Library: Cod. S 336 (King David)
- Bonn, University Library: Cod. S 336 (Moses)
- Cologne, Diocesan and Cathedral Library: Cod. 1001a (Saint Jerome dictating to a scribe)
- Cologne, Historical Archives: HAStK 7010 312 (Evangelist Mark)
- Frankfurt, University Library: Ms. lat. qu. 25 (Ausst. 31; monk)
- Frankfurt, University Library: Ms. lat. qu. 65 (author)
- Klosterneuburg, Stiftsbibliothek: Codex Claustroneoburgensis 35 (Albertus Magnus)
- Klosterneuburg, Stiftsbibliothek: Codex Claustroneoburgensis 37 (Saint John?)
- Linz, Upper Austrian Library: Codex 131 (neu 501; Nicholas von Dinkelsbuehl?)
- Linz, Upper Austrian Library: Codex 186 (neu 472)
- Linz, Upper Austrian Library: Codex 195 (neu 415; Evangelist Matthew).
- Vienna, Austrian National Library: Codex Vindobonensis Palatinus 2 (author)
- Vienna, Austrian National Library: Codex Vindobonensis Palatinus 51 (Odo of Cluny)
- Vienna, Austrian National Library: Codex Vindobonensis Palatinus 1169 (Saint Jerome)
- Vienna, Austrian National Library: Codex Vindobonensis Palatinus 1199 (Saint Jerome)
- Vienna, Austrian National Library: Codex Vindobonensis Palatinus 1200 (Saint Jerome)
- Vienna, Austrian National Library: Codex Vindobonensis Palatinus 1904 (Saint Jerome)
- Vienna, Austrian National Library: Codex Vindobonensis Palatinus 1940 (Evangelist John)
- Vienna, Austrian National Library: Codex Vindobonensis Palatinus 1951 (Evangelist Luke)
- Vienna, Austrian National Library: Codex Vindobonensis Palatinus. Slav. 1 (Evangelist Matthew)
- Vienna, Austrian National Library: Codex Vindobonensis Palatinus. Slav. 6 (Evangelist Luke)
- Vienna, Austrian National Library: Codex Vindobonensis Palatinus. Suppl. gr. 50+ (Evangelist John)
- Vienna, Austrian National Library: Codex Vindobonensis Palatinus. Suppl. gr. 50+ (Evangelist Matthew)
- Vienna, Austrian National Library: Codex Vindobonensis Palatinus. Theol. gr. 300 (Evangelist Luke)
- Zwettl, Stiftsbibliothek: Codex Zwettlensis 53 (Saint Isidore)
Until next time, happy writing!
May 31, 2013 § Leave a comment
Every year for the past several years, HMML has collaborated with the Center for Medieval Studies (University of Minnesota) to put on what some refer to as “manuscript bootcamp.” Aside from the fact that our sessions are somewhat more “civilized” than bootcamp, several weeks of rain may require that our visitors actually wear boots this year!
The Minnesota Manuscript Research Laboratory (MMRL) is a five-day introduction to the world of paleography and codicology that provides graduate students (and others) with a general introduction to scripts and the parts of a manuscript book, as well as the opportunity to pursue a special manuscript project of their own choosing. Almost half of the time is spent meeting with the group for lectures/discussion, and the remainder is for practicums and individual research.
The primary teachers are Diane Anderson and Theresa Vann, although I am allowed to say a few words on fifteenth-century printing , especially in the context of the evolving nature of the book. While HMML is primarily a library of manuscript images (either digital or microfilm), it does have a good supply of early manuscripts that have been donated over the years. The students get the opportunity to study the structure of a book with an actual manuscript and not just from a secondary source.
The Minnesota Manuscript Research Laboratory also poses an opportunity for HMML to present vHMML to a new audience. The lexicon of terms, the bibliography for manuscript studies, and the folio collection of manuscript images for practice and study will all play a role in the gatherings this week. As with vHMML, our goal in this workshop is to start scholars in the practice of working with materials directly, not just through editions or secondary literature.
Every MMRL brings a new mix of scholarly interests. This year we have five participants. One is interested in Icelandic and Germanic literatures, one in 9th-century manuscripts, while others are studying the Crusades and medieval Northern Africa, book history and the preservation of historical materials. As always, we learn from our visitors as well!
So, we don’t actually sing any camp songs or make s’mores, but we do have a lot of fun–after all, studying actual documents from five centuries ago (or longer) is always fun, even when it is work! Fortunately, we are not allowed to eat s’mores around the manuscripts and incunabula!
Enjoy learning about manuscripts? Maybe you can join us in 2014!
Be sure to bring your Introduction by Clemens/Graham and your Cappelli!
Until then, Peace!
Textbooks for the class:
Raymond Clemens/Timothy Graham. Introduction to Manuscript Studies (2007)
Michell Brown. Understanding Illuminated Manuscripts (1994)
May 15, 2013 § Leave a comment
One Saturday in Kalamazoo with vHMML!
This past week was the 48th iteration of the International Congress for Medieval Studies at Western Michigan University (Kalamazoo, Michigan). Thousands of medievalists showed up to share their research and some wine (or beer, if you prefer). HMML also showed up at numerous sessions, including one on developing digital resources for Austria, Germany and Switzerland. I took this opportunity to make a presentation on our vHMML work over the past (and future) few months. Below are the slides from this preservation for your perusal! It has been a busy time and much has been (and remains to be) done.
Click on any image to enlarge it.
April 24, 2013 § 2 Comments
At almost 600 terms, the Lexicon is just about ready for testing. The editorial work has reached a point where we need to see how it works, looks, and feels in its natural format before further work can be done. And to find answers to the questions we are asking ourselves, like “Do we need to write a separate ‘short definition’ for each term, or can the Lexicon do this on the fly?” “Do we need a separate field for broad classifications like script and initials?” and the one everyone asks, “When is it ever going to stop snowing, for crying out loud?”
The Lexicon is envisioned as having several functions. It will support the Scriptorium by letting students quickly look up unfamiliar vocabulary tools and providing more detailed information about terminology. It will provide a forum for discussion of paleographical and codicological concepts as registered users can submit revisions and updates to its definitions. Its structures will not assume that western Latin manuscripts are the norm, and its entries will list the words used in different languages for each term. So far, the Lexicon has proved most useful in standardizing portions of the records in HMML’s online catalog, OLIVER, particularly the ones for “script” and “decoration.”
Currently, the Lexicon lives in a Google docs spreadsheet. The fields are:
- Rec ID. Record identification number. Originally assigned for the initial list of terms, and not updated since.
- Term. The word or words that require a definition.
- Priority. An internal ranking, not intended for public view.
- Short Definition. A brief description of the term. Maximum length is two sentences.
- Full Definition. A detailed description of the term, which may discuss related terms. The Full Definition would contain disputes over the meaning or use of the term.
- Definition from Brown. VHMML received permission from the British Library to quote Michelle P. Brown’s Understanding Illuminated Manuscripts: A Guide to Technical Terms (http://www.bl.uk/catalogues/illuminatedmanuscripts/glossary.asp). We assigned a separate field for quotes from this glossary to ensure they received proper attribution in the Lexicon.
- Bibliography. Either the source for the term or the source for the definition.
- Contributor. The initials of the writer of the definitions; also, the initials of later editors and contributors.
- Images. Intended for the file name and/or location of the image that illustrates the Full Definition.
- Notes. Internal use only; not intended to supplement either the Short Definition or the Long Definition.
- Related Terms (See also). Either terms that were used as part of the Full Definition, or terms for similar things, scripts, initials, or concepts.
- Classification. To record which broad category a term belongs to, such as “script” “initial” “support” or “decoration.”
- The last eight fields are containers for the equivalent terms in French, Latin, German, Italian, Spanish, Arabic, Armenian, and Syriac.
The editorial policy of the Lexicon is developing. The HMML staff drew up the list of terms for the Lexicon last year, and while we acknowledged that paleographers did not agree on terminology we did not think it would present problems before the Lexicon went online. We found that certain terms have been deprecated, and have been replaced in modern catalogs and descriptions. It was easy to redirect from the older terms to the preferred versions. But some are still controversial. The term Biting letters provides a good example. I thought this term was ambiguous when we reviewed the Lexicon last summer. I originally thought it referred to a condition found in Mediterranean manuscripts, where many scribes and notaries wrote on paper with acidic ink originally designed for parchment. The ink “bit” into the paper, making it difficult to alter legal documents. Sadly, the ink continues to eat into the paper, leaving letter-shaped holes in its wake. I was informed, however, that “biting letters” meant letters that touched each other. Albert Derolez, The Palaeography of Gothic Manuscript Books, prefers the term “fusion,” and that’s fine with me. However, not everyone agrees with Derolez. Erik Kwakkel anthropomorphizes script in his article “Biting, kissing, and the treatment of feet,” in Turning Over a New Leaf. Not only do letters bite each other, but according to him when they are almost touching they are “kissing” each other. Other paleographers who prefer not to speculate on the private life of western medieval letter forms use the word “junction.”
In this instance, where the neophyte could easily encounter the three different terms in contemporary sources, the HMML staff thinks that the Full Definition and the Related Terms should contain the meaning of the term and refer to alternative terms.