Digital Medieval Editions

Screen Shot 2013-03-24 at 2.12.38 PMWe all know what a proper edition is! Way back the standard was set by such gigantic projects like Monumenta Germaniae Historica or the homunculus Patrologiae Cursus Completus. Such projects later resulted in more nationally oriented editions of charters, manuscripts and other literary left-overs from both ancient and medieval history. Any medievalist worth his or her salt knows of the pertinent editions inside their field and that is all well; especially now when they are becoming digitized and generally more available for scholars and students in the periphery of minor universities and colleges around the world.

However, recent years have witnessed a whole new genre: the proper digitized edition of texts – complete with not only text-editions and translations, but also photos, links to relevant literature etc. Examples are The Roman de la Rose Digital Library  and the edition of the plan of St. Gall presented at the very comprehensive website, Carolingian Culture at Reichenau and St. Gall. A new initiative is the ongoing digitization of the Vatican Apostolic Archive with over 80.000 manuscripts and 8900 rare incunabula in the pipeline towards the digital printing press. The digitization is going to fill up 2.8 petabytes and cover any publication before 1501. The digitization is sponsored by the EMC Corporation, which is a global leader in enabling businesses and service providers to transform their operations and deliver IT as a service.

Whether the last initiative will just provide storage or the plan is to supplement it later with proper editorial work is a yet unknown. The project, however, is part of this on-going trend: to deliver state-of-the-art-editions, which properly uses the medium to present not only content but also context.

Focus for the two scholarly roundtables at the upcoming meeting of the Medieval Academy 201 in Knoxville are initiatives as these. At the first roundtable “A New Age of Exploration: Scholars and Digitized Manuscripts” will be debated, while the next morning the debate will be broadened: Back to the Future: Exploring New Digital Initiatives in Medieval Studies.

Speakers will – amongst others – be:

  • Abigail Firey, University of Kentucky
Chair, who will talk about the The Carolingian Canon Law Project, The Carolingian Canon Law project, which is a searchable, electronic rendition of works of canon law used by Carolingian readers. This project maps the extent of variation in “standard” legal texts known to Carolingian readers, and identifies particular points of variation. In addition to clarifying the textual history of medieval canon law, the project will provide historical and bibliographic annotation of several hundred canons used by jurists before, during, and after the Carolingian period.
  • Patrick J. Geary, Institute for Advanced Studies, who is in charge of the digital edition of the plan of St. Gal at “Carolingian Culture at Reichenau and St. Gall”
  • Elizaveta Strakhov, who will talk about “The Canterbury Tales Project”, which aims to investigate the textual tradition of Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales in order to achieve a better understanding of the history of its composition and publication before 1500. This project is housed at the Institute for Textual Scholarship and Electronic Editing at the University of Birmingham.
  • Lynn Ramey, Associate Professor of French at Vanderbilt University, who will speak on her involvement in the Digital project: The Discoveries of the Americas
  • Timothy Stinson, North Carolina State University, who is working on the Piers Plowmann Electronic Archive plus meta-reflexions on digital editing and publishing in connection with the Medieval Electronic Scholarly Alliance run by Dot Porter.
  • Wolfgang-Valentin Ikas, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, who will present European regia, a project, in which five major libraries located in four countries and with the support of the European Commission, digitized more than 1000 rare and precious manuscripts from the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. All of them were once part of three great royal collections that are currently dispersed and which represent European cultural activity at three distinct periods in history: the Bibliotheca Carolina (8th and 9th centuries), the Library of Charles V and Family (14th century) and the Library of the Aragonese Kings of Naples (15th and 16th centuries). These manuscripts are now fully accessible on the websites of the partner libraries and have also been included in Europeana. For a reflection on types of readers and users and the formation of the project in general see the article on “Consultation of manuscripts online: a qualitative study of three potential user categories” in Digital Medievalist 8 (2012)
  • Charlotte Denoël, Bibliothèque Nationale de France, who is also involved in the Europeana regia project.
  • The Rev. Columba Stewart, OSB, who is executive director of the Hill Museum and Manuscript Library at St. John’s University, will talk about the work with the manuscript preservation project, largely focused on the Middle East, Turkey and India. The initiative aims to help threatened communities to digitize their manuscript heritage just in case. Among the treasures now safely in digital form are all of the surviving Armenian and Syriac manuscripts held by churches in Turkey, some as old as the seventh and eighth centuries. Another initiative has been the work in Syria, which began several years ago, when the country appeared to be stable. As of now two churches have been shelled, one of them largely destroyed while the offices of a cathedral in Aleppo, whose library Hill has digitized, have been ransacked, and the archbishop has fled to Lebanon. These events serves to underline the importance of this ongoing work.


Preparing for the debates at the roundtable?
– read the illuminating article:

Medievalists and the Scholarly Digital Edition.
By Dot Porter.
In: Scholarly Editing: The Annual of the Association for Documentary Editing. Vol 34, 2013.

– delve into the fascinating material made available at, where all the digitizers convene.

– check out the Medieval Electronic Scholarly Alliance


Get our Medieval News with links to our premium content

We don’t spam! Read our privacy policy for more info.

Leave a Reply