On the Way to the Future of Digital Manuscript Studies. Experiences and Challenges

Special Issue

On the Way to the Future of Digital Manuscript Studies. 
Experiences and Challenges.

Contents of the volume. 


Through the special issue On the Way to the Future of Digital Manuscript Studies the Journal of Data Mining and Digital Humanities offers a dynamic space to present state-of-the art achievements in the field, to reflect on its current challenges, and to envision its prospective developments.

Our reflections move on from an event that has taken place at Radboud University on 27-29 October 2021. In that occasion, a Workshop hosted by the ERC Project PASSIM (Patristic Sermons in the Middle Ages) has gathered in Nijmegen some accomplished scholars in this area of study, together with promising young researchers. The dynamic and impressively increasing impact of the digital techniques on the world of manuscript studies has been the critical issue addressed by the Workshop: in this scientific framework, the participants have presented the endeavours they are conducting, the challenges they entail, and the opportunities they unfold.

Textual studies in the broadest sense of the word have informed the conception of the Workshop, and will underlie the structure of this special issue. The written word and the material ways in which it manifested itself through the ages have proven a terrain where methodological innovations in Digital Humanities converge. As for the topics involved, however, the inevitably limited availability of space and time has imposed a tough decision: namely, that of revolving primarily on Medieval Latin West. Nonetheless, papers dealing with other cultural contexts (Classics, Vernacular, Greek), with epistemological questions, with the pivotal issues of maintenance and sustainability of the products yielded by digital scholarship, and with technical and informatic tasks, have provided a thorough and complementary overview.

The projects presented during the Workshop have explored several aspects of Digital Humanities applied to manuscript studies. Some papers were concerned with digital editions, including both the strategies to render puzzling manuscript transmission, and the techniques for assisted stemmatology and digital phylogenetics; and it is not only about editing, but also about encoding the text so as to spark immense potential for investigating it and its connections. Other contributions have examined the impressive recent developments of manifold quantitative analysis: statistiscal paleography, lexicometry, text-reuse detection, stylometry, and authorial attribution. All of this is deeply interconnected with encoding, on the one hand, and with HTR applications on the other. In particular, programs for automated reading of high-resolution manuscript images have enjoyed outstanding enhancement in recent times, achieving an impressive degree of accuracy. Innovative perspectives have been examined, such as to think of the digital manuscript not just as the representation of a material artefact, but rather as an entirely new object of study that demands specific approaches and methods. Further papers have pointed to the opportunities disclosed by digital analysis of vast corpora comprising hundreds and thousands of manuscript, as well as to the tools which assist the scholar to explore the history of libraries, or to benefit from understanding of quantitative aspect of text dissemination in the Middle Ages.

Increasing digitization, immense hubs for manuscript images and metadata which network between several single organizations, interoperability protocols and data models (IIIF, XML-EAD, and the like), provide the structuring framework for outstanding endeavours. We are finally at the point of having digital environments where digital collections of manuscripts, editions, encoded texts, and HTR techniques can dialogue and interact in order to pursue achievements that, until recently, were simply unconceivable. Not least, the formation of the digital scholars and the skills that the field requires of them have also received consideration.

It is impossible here to adequately render the complexity of the Workshop’s achievements; we entrust this task to the articles collected in this special issue. Nevertheless, we would like to draw special attention on two of the most essential constitutive elements of the Digital Humanities, as they have emerged during the meeting. Although both have been long considered as crucial and exploited, once again the works carried out in Nijmegen have particularly emphasized their importance. To stress on them will lay the foundations to move farther.

The first of these pivotal words is vision, meaning that the intuition that underlies a Digital Humanities enterprise is crucial. Since the very beginning of Digital Humanities, the storage of huge amounts of material in databases (text, metadata, images, and the likes) seemed to be already able to disclose unprecedented opportunities, and has actually proven of the outmost utility for research purposes. More recently, however, the improvement of techniques and infrastructures have allowed for a much broader perspective. The digital environment is not limited to investigations conducted by querying over a larger repository of data. In fact, it has the power to inspire a new mindset, and hence trigger innovative research questions that would simply be unthinkable outside of it. This is the most rewarding approach, and in view of its implementation, it is crucial to encode the stored data in such a way that they enable to answer the new questions. A simple database is no longer the utmost goal; rather, it provides with the means to aim bigger, as it has been plainly showcased during the Workshop.

The second word is cooperation. The scholarship is, on average, structured in layers: the access to texts, images, metadata, or interpretations is often separate, and the exchange of data between individually created research instruments does usually present with complex technical and epistemological challenges. In response to this, each of the projects discussed at the Workshop, while pursuing its own specific goals by addressing the source material most relevant to it, opens the floor to multiple collaboration options. The frequency with which a particular problem touched upon in a given paper tied in with either specific challenges or more general theoretical issues raised by another has largely exceeded all expectations. To mention but a few: a technical solution that responds to an open problem posed by another scholar; an opportunity to benefit from the same data collected by someone else; the discovery of a model whose application can be envisaged by another project; in our personal case, the epiphany of an integrated system which steers and boosts the concept of our own enterprise, showing in actual functioning something which we could just aspire to five or ten years ahead of us. In light of this, interoperability between different endeavours is of the greatest importance, as well as the development of conventional structuring and encoding protocols in order to ensure it.

In addition to making for mutual scientific benefit, cooperation is also crucial to some of the biggest challenges that Digital Humanities enterprises have to face. As scientific landscape evolves rapidly, as well as do digital solutions, the task of achieving long-term sustainability and maintenance of infrastructures takes center stage more than ever. In view of this goal, it is vital to join forces on several levels: technical, economic, and communication. Elaboration of versatile data models and flexible interoperability protocols is essential from the technical point of view. But the goal is virtually unachievable without significant financial support and organisational effort: these are intended to enhance the efficiency of communication within a network of enterprises, to increase the impact of each of them and hence – why not – strengthen their capability to negotiate with concerned interested institutions.

As anticipated, the first purpose of this special issue is to disseminate within the scientific community the outcome of the Workshop held in Nijmegen: therefore, this material is the first fundamental layer of the current publication, and lays the foundations which further achievements rely upon. In fact, the contributions hosted during the event have been explicitly designed to pay attention to overarching methodological reflections, and to the question of how the differing approaches implemented by projects of uneven size, shape, and objectives can contribute to the field of Digital Humanities as a whole.

The scientific questions and the informatic challenges discussed at the Workshop can translate easily to a much wider domain, and encompass countless object of study in the context of textual studies, regardless of language, chronology, material support, and programming methods.

Of even more universal significance – as they reach far beyond the boundaries of textual studies – are some questions which often escape scholarly attention: namely axiology and values of the research in the Digital Humanities. What are we aiming at? Should exhaustivity be the ultimate goal? What is the place, purpose and role of “smaller” observations made and apparently “minor” connections identified in the investigations? What is the role of hypothesis? Is the pre-digital system of proof still valid in a domain moulded by the deployment of new technologies? Choosing between openness to serendipity and clear presentation of the results of interpretation, what should we opt for? Should (preliminary?) results and bare, yet rich datasets be published, and if so in which form? To which extent is the machine able to replace the human brain and take on assessment, evaluation, and interpretation of the available data?

This special issue is devised to bring to the next level the works and the reflections that have been brought to light during the Workshop. The world of digital humanities world is in restless evolution, and hence demands constant revision, update, and discussion of new approaches. The issue aims at giving the floor for all of this. Under the aegis of the Journal of Data Mining and Digital Humanities, we are delighted to offer an opportunity to all those who are interested to provide their own contribution to the field, by taking into account, and engaging in, the problems just outlined above. Value and scientific accuracy will remain ensured by the meticulous reviewing policies implemented by the Journal.

Newcomers will find an up-to-date and painstaking scholarly guide to the field; experienced audience will get involved in a discussion of current achievements, and of how they pave the way for further developments. Finally, as far as we are concerned, by editing this special issue volume we hope to foster fruitful cooperation and dialogue within the field, on both the applied and theoretical levels, and thus to bring our modest contribution to the future of digital manuscript studies.

Papers presented at the workshop (in alphabetical order):

Roman Bleier – Klug H. Werner – Julia Eibinger (Graz Universität) — The Cooking Recipes of the Middle Ages Digital Edition — A data hoard for the curious scholar

Marjorie Burghart (Centre National de Recherche scientifique, Lyon) — Looking through the Preacher’s Kaleïdoscope: Digital Humanities and the Study of Intertextuality in Preaching Material (13th-15th c.)

Daniele Fusi – Lorenzo Calvelli – Silvia Orlandi – Thea Sommerschield – Tatiana Tommasi (Università Ca’ Foscari Venezia) — EpiSearch. Digitally coalescing Ancient Inscriptions and Epigraphic Manuscripts

Ève Defaÿsse (Université Lyon 2 Lumière) — Reconstructing the library of Saint-Victor of Paris 12th-mid 14thcentury through SQL

Franz Fischer (Università Ca’ Foscari Venezia) — Editing complex manuscript traditions. The case Peter of Poitiers’ Compendium in genealogia Christi

Suzette van Haaren (Rijksuniversiteit Groningen) — Looking at the digital medieval manuscript: a codicological approach

Mike Kestemont – Wouter Haverals (Universiteit Antwerpen) — The Herne Charterhouse as a textual community, inquired through stylochronometry and HTR techniques

Thomas Köntges (Independent digital consultant) — Knowledge Bases and Digital Manuscript Studies

Riccardo Macchioro – Gleb Schmidt (Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen) — “Codex Tetris”: strategies to visualize and investigate relationships between complex manuscript collections of texts 

Elena Pierazzo (Université de Tours) — In praise of experimentation: looking for Boccaccio’s Humanism

Matthieu Pignot (Durham University) — The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity: tracing its cultural influence through different source typologies and various linguistic domains

Gustavo Fernández Riva – Simon Gabay – Jean-Baptiste Camps (École Nationale des Chartes) — Back to the Future: Building and Analysing a Digital Collection of Textual Genealogies (1827 to today).

Régis Robineau (Equipex Biblissima, Campus Condorcet) — Building a digital ecosystem for Written Cultures from Clay to Print: the Biblissima + infrastructure

Philipp Roelli (Universität Zürich) — On the applicability of digital tools in reconstructive textual editing

Evina Steinova (Huygens ING) — A database instead of a catalogue: a way to tame overabundant manuscript traditions?

Dominique Stutzmann (Institut de recherche et d’histoire des textes (IRHT), Paris) — Medieval manuscripts from digitization to historical analysis

Mariken Teeuwen (Huygens ING) — Virtual libraries, databases and AI in medieval manuscript studies: how can the bookworm and the computer nerd become one creature?

Jeffrey Witt (Loyola University Maryland) — Patristic Sources and Scholastic Uses: using a text-image network to study text-transmission

Technical & Submission details: 

  • Submission is open for everyone, not only the participants of the workshop. The papers are expected to be between 15 and 25 pages and present original and previously unpublished work.
  • Articles in both English and French are accepted.
  • All submitted articles are subject to blind peer-review in accordance with journal's editorial policies.
  • First submission deadline: 15 July 2022.
  • Second submission deadline: 1 November 2022.

In order to submit an article to the special issue you should:

  • Sign up and connect to the platform of the journal.
  • Register on an exterior repository cooperating with EPIsciences (HAL, Arxiv or CWI) and upload your manuscript there.
  • Papers should be formatted according to the JDMDH templates
  • Submit your manuscript to the special issue. In order to do this, you should, first, provide the journal with the ID of your manuscript that was assigned to it upon uploading. Then, once your manuscript is retrieved by the infrastructure of the journal, you will be invited to choose the volume you would like to submit your article to. Make sure to choose the title of the special issue in the dropdown menu “Submit in the volume”.
  • After acceptance of your paper, you will be invited to adjust the manuscript according to journal's guidelines and stylesheet (toolkits are provided for MS Word and LaTeX).

For more details, see corresponding section of this website and official EPIscience documentation.


Gleb Schmidt: gleb(dot)schmidt(at)ru(dot)nl

Contents of the volume.