Syllabus

When we say that we “scroll” through a webpage or use the abbreviation “@” as part of an email address, we evoke ghosts of textual cultures flourishing before the rise of printed books. When we skim through a book’s table of contents and its index to read efficiently or we wonder how to use the semi-colon properly, we are drawing on medieval textual innovations that remain in use today. But not only does manuscript culture live on in contemporary books and thinking, but medieval manuscripts themselves are taking on a new life – in growing online collections that grant us access to a library of medieval texts larger than anything possible in the Middle Ages. This class asks students to consider what changes when manuscripts are digitized.

This class has two major goals. First, it seeks to introduce students to medieval manuscript culture based on a hands-on experience working with the two complete medieval manuscripts and the dozen folios at the Archives and Research Collection in MacOdrum library. We have only a little information about our two manuscripts and in class we will work together to unlock the secrets of their origin and provenience. This brings us to the second goal – to use digital tools to describe, understand and present our medieval material. By using different digital tools to play with, map, transcribe, describe, and present our medieval manuscripts, the course seeks to teach students how to undertake a digitization project of their own. In essence the goal of this course is to train students in a methodology which is both cutting edge and in demand by heritage institutions.

By the end of this course, students will:

  • understand how a medieval book was copied, assembled and disseminated
  • be familiar with key tools to view, annotate, publish, and present digital archival material (mostly medieval material)
  • be prepared to go out into the world armed with some knowledge of how and how not to begin your own DIY digitization project
  • We intend to document our work process by maintaining a handbook, a blog and on social media (twitter: @MdvlBook) to leave a roadmap for others.

No previous expertise in Digital Humanities is necessary for this course, but a willingness to learn is key. In this class, we’ll all be learning as we’re doing – both the teacher and the students.

Communication

It is not possible to speak too much in class.

Communication in class and outside the classroom is actively encouraged. During class, students should feel welcome to express their thoughts, ask questions, and request clarifications about the material being considered. Discussion and an exchange of views are the very keystones of learning in History. To keep everyone in touch, to share our findings as we’re working and to create an archive, we’ll be using our own Slack (medievalbook.slack.com).

Please remember that if you are having difficulties with the readings or the assignments, personally meeting with the professor during office hours is often the best and quickest way to resolve your concerns, questions and queries. Please do not use e-mail to ask questions that should/ could be brought up during or after class or for information that is contained in the syllabus. Understand that I may not receive messages (by email or Slack) left late in the day or on the weekend, nor am I always free to respond immediately.

Evaluation
Term I Term II
Participation 15% Participation 15%
Project Updates 10% Project Updates 10%
Catalogue Entry 15% Digital Exhibition 25%
Leading Seminars 10%  Leading Seminars 10%
ORal Assignments
  1. Participation. All students are expected to have read and assimilated the material for discussion each week. You will assign to yourself a mark for your degree of involvement (subject to oversight; see sheet). Your participation mark will be determined both by the frequency of your attendance (45%) and the degree of your involvement (45%). An additional 10% of the final grade is assigned by meeting with the professor one-on-one each term to discuss assignments and progress towards the major assignments . This mark is earned by arranging for a meeting with the professor, coming to the meeting prepared and on time. Additional bonus points (up to 10% of final participation grade) will be awarded for organization or attendance of talks or trips outside of class time. You cannot miss more than three (3) classes and still pass the course.
  2. Leading Seminar. Each student will be responsible for leading the seminar once per term – that is, introducing the readings, digital tools etc. assigned for the week to the seminar as a whole. The “seminar leader”(s) must publish one week in advance a blog post on the course website to identify, without overly summarizing, the main points and the historiographical significance of the texts. In addition to a brief personal reflection, seminar leaders will be expected to post guiding questions for their assigned class. We will maintain a sign-up sheet online to keep track of each week’s leader(s) as a shared online spreadsheet.
  3.  Research Presentations. In the last weeks of the second term, students will offer concise, well-prepared formal presentations of their work (10- 15 mins), explaining how they developed their research and what its impact is on our general understanding of the history of the medieval book. The topics of the presentation will be the same as the topic of the research project (see below), though organized in the most attractive and logical fashion for an oral presentation.
Written Assignments
  1. Practical Exercises. Most weeks we will spend some time in class showing students how to complete some practical exercises (such as transcription) and using select digital tools. Usually, this work will be required to be finished on your own time afterwards. In the first term, this practical work will be digital (e.g. signing up for accounts, exploring twitter etc.) and codicological (you will be working each week with the same medieval folio. This weekly work will contribute key information and text for your final work each term. So long as you complete the work each week, your final projects will be easy to complete. You can imagine this as weekly “homework” needed to be done each week in addition to reading and thinking about the readings.
  2. Critical Reflections. This is a catch-all term to describe the blog posts (4), Github updates (4) and twitterings (4 x 5/time) students will do to think about and describe the class/ process of digitizing manuscripts.
  3. Folio Catalogue Entry. At the end of first term, students are required to complete a complete catalogue entry and transcription of the folio they have been working on, on the class’ Omeka site, medievalottawa.org.
  4. Exhibition. At the end of second term, students will work together to create an exhibition on a topic of their choosing based on the medieval material that has been worked on, over the course of the two terms. The exact topic will be decided by consensus in class.