Digital Medievalist 7 (2011). ISSN: 1715-0736.
© Christine McWebb and Helen Swift, 2011. Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial licence

Preface

Keywords: Medieval Studies; French Studies; Digital Humanities; Margot Conference; University of Waterloo; Delbert Russell.


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§ 1    On June 16 and 17, 2010 digital medievalists from many countries gathered at Barnard College, Columbia University in New York to discuss the implications of new digital technologies available to us for teaching and research. The event was held in honor of our esteemed colleague, Prof. Delbert Russell, who is now professor emeritus at the University of Waterloo. Together with Hannah Fournier (emeritus, University of Waterloo) and Jean-Philippe Beaulieu (University of Montreal), Delbert Russell was one of the founding members of the now internationally recognized MARGOT group, housed at the University of Waterloo. Prof. Russell was one of the early adopters of the digital humanities that John Unsworth refers to in his introduction. Already in the early 90s Delbert experimented with software originally written for the online Oxford Electronic Dictionary to adapt it to his goal of building a transcription database of otherwise inaccessible literary texts written by early modern French female authors. His desire to make available transcriptions of medieval texts to the broader public then led him to the development of an extensive database of medieval saints’ lives. This database of thirteen saints’ lives is used by many students and scholars today.

§ 2    The mandate of MARGOT is to foster collaborative research and information exchange focusing on the literature and culture of the French medieval and early modern periods. With The digital middle ages in teaching and research as its central theme, it is perhaps no coincidence that during this two-day conference, many papers, dinner and cocktail hour conversations expressed the increasing need and demand for collaborative tools in the digital humanities. This topic emerged as a significant common thread over the two days that we met, with a number of contributors proposing and evaluating several means for attaining greater interoperability, on a variety of scales, and in respect of different aspects of source analysis and dissemination.

§ 3    To begin with the volume’s introduction, drawn from his plenary address, John Unsworth reviews the history of medieval digital humanities. Whilst promoting the status of Medievalists as early adopters of information technology in their development of databases and electronic scholarly editions, he also highlights medievalists’ significant role in the diffusion of innovation to a broader audience. Concerns of interoperability and the promotion of open source access are central to his argument, an issue that is also addressed by David Trotter. His plenary address, Bytes, words, texts: The Anglo-Norman Dictionary and its text-base outlines the constructional principles of the Anglo-Norman Dictionary (AND). Recounting how the project has handled the relationship between source texts, citations and the dictionary entries themselves, he notes that its current, digital format follows the same underlying methodology as its original, paper version. Looking ahead, he postulates the desirable interlinking of dictionaries to reassemble in its full multilingual complexity the lexical landscape of medieval Europe.

§ 4    One project mentioned in Unsworth’s historical account as an example of tool development in the digital humanities is the Mappaemundi Project. In Developing digital mappaemundi: An agile mode for annotating medieval maps , Martin Foys and Shannon Bradshaw report their advancement of open source tools for both editing and annotating image and textual data that are networked together. Commenting on the increased agility of the project’s annotation and search functions, they also express the aim of making the toolset interoperable. Debra Lacoste also echoes the importance of collaborative efforts in advancing digital humanities computing, in The CANTUS database: Mining for medieval chant traditions . Founded as a database of electronic indices of manuscript and early print sources of Latin chant, CANTUS has also created analytical tools and will continue to expand that side of the database. Lacoste comments in particular on the utility of a dendrogram tool for comparative study of chants. Frederick W. Gibbs, in his article New textual traditions from community transcription , underscores the value of digital noncritical editions achieved by means of a web transcription tool. Visibility, accessibility and usability of manuscript sources are offset against inevitable imperfection, with the additional benefit of harnessing community expertise. A desire for large-scale, fluid teamwork and a concern for broad public distribution are expressed in Elena Cantarell and Mireia Comas’s discussion of The ARQUIBANC project: Location, recovery, arrangement, and dissemination of Catalan private archives and documents . They document their first steps in making privately archived materials available to the scholarly community through the creation of two online databases. Their reflection on both strategic and practical considerations is shared by Thomas Hansen. In his contribution, TEI – Keeping it simple , he discusses sustainable storage and information exchange, and a balance between popularity and flexibility as reasons for implementing TEI P5 in Diplomatarium Danicum. Hansen aims at effective sharing of multi-purpose content, as do, in a broader sense, Morgan Kay and Maryanne Kowaleski in Developing an online database on a shoestring: Growing pains at the online medieval source bibliography . Their account of the genesis of the OMSB’s database of modern editions and translations of medieval primary sources highlights their targeting of a range of different audiences, from high school students to university professors, and their resourceful working practices, making valuable use of – and offering invaluable research experience to – both postgraduate and undergraduate students. Being responsive to a user-audience’s needs is the concern of the next article in the collection, New tools for exploring, analysing and categorising medieval manuscripts . Colleagues from the Université de Paris Descartes, INSA Lyon, and the Université d’Orléans outline and demonstrate their production of numerical tools to enhance the study of medieval writing samples. A collection of interactive graphical tools enable palaeographers to extract, analyse and compare detailed features of individual scripts. From the curvelets of individual letter forms to the larger units of quotations, Chris L. Nighman presents The Janus intertextuality search engine: A research tool of (and for) the electronic Manipulus florum project . He shows that the purpose of a sophisticated search engine does not only enhance the user experience, but also serves as a tool for refining the critical edition of the florilegium itself, thereby aiding scholarly research into the composition of the text. Collaboration and archiving on a large scale are examined in Toby Burrows’s review of Building a digital research community in medieval and early modern studies: The Australian network for early European research . He evaluates the effects of Australia’s national Network on research practices through the services for collaboration, publication and storage, and identification of research objects that it has provided. He concludes quite fittingly by evoking the prospects of both new challenges and great opportunities in the future of the digital humanities.