With the generous support of Carleton University, Kate, an incoming MA student in History, and I, a professor of medieval History, are working over the summer to create a new course to teach upper year students about how to read, describe and digitize medieval manuscripts (and archival material more generally). Our hope is that we use this blog to document our creative/ analytical process, as well as to leave a record (e.g. syllabus, course readings) to help others who might be in the process of developing similar courses.
It is your first day on the job at a small heritage site. You discover incredible artefacts in the basement of the site. Untouched for years, two medieval folios sit in a dark corner gathering dust. You are fortunate to find them in decent condition and know something must be done with these unique pieces. But you also understand the limitations of this small heritage site. To ensure these objects reach a wide audience you resolve to create a digital collection. But where to begin?
This kind of scenario was the basis for our brainstorming session today. We attempted to create a list of things one ought to know before jumping into a digital humanities project. We considered the sorts of digital tools that would lend themselves to the various components of manuscript studies: writing supports, codicology, genre, paleography, transcription, and cataloguing. We discussed many online tools and databases that would be helpful in the creation of a digital collection by a scholar at any technical skill level. We assessed sites such as:
- The Cantus Database, for the study and cross-referencing of medieval chants.
- T-PEN, a web-based transcription tool.
- Mirador, an open-source image viewing and annotation platform.
These tools, that are used for the research, transcription, and description of medieval materials, seemed a logical place to begin linking the digital world and the physical. More challenging, however, was trying to understand which of the multitude of digital humanities tools out there can lend themselves best to the task of creating an online archive. We had to ask ourselves some unfamiliar questions on topics such as: copyright, collaboration, the value of open-source tools, the importance of transparency and longevity, and other potential roadblocks for researchers who do not necessarily know how to code.
- Twitter, as a collaborative space for academics. (See Medieval Twitter)
- Omeka, an open-source tool for creating a digital collection or online exhibition.
- Humanity Commons, (You are Here) as a space to keep a manifest of our project.
These sorts of tools can be used across a variety of digital humanities projects and provide benefits to any discipline such as creating collaborative spaces and being easy to use at all experience levels.
In the end these tools are all about balancing the Digital Humanities aspect of creating an digital manuscript collection with Medieval Studies. There are still more exciting tools out there with tremendous pedagogical potential to explore and that may better answer our question, “But where to begin?”