Report on ‘Methods and Means’ workshop

The workshop “Methods and means for digital analysis of ancient and medieval texts and manuscripts”, held on 2-3 April in Leuven and Brussels, was by any measure a resounding success.  We had 40-45 attendees on each day of the workshop; the good attendance resulted in some stimulating discussion after each of the paper sessions.

We began the first day with a set of papers on palaeography and manuscript digitization moderated by Juan Garcés. Ira Rabin (Berlin) presented cutting-edge work on the application of infrared imaging to the chemical identification (and therefore, in many situations, the provenance) of the ink used in medieval manuscripts. Daniel Deckers (Hamburg) followed up this contribution with a look at a range of methods for manuscript imaging, adding ultraviolet and multispectral methods to the infrared method proposed by Rabin. Ainoa Castro Correa (Barcelona) rounded out the session with a presentation of her database of Visigothic palaeography; a lively discussion followed all three papers.

The second session, moderated by Torsten Schaßan, saw a pair of presentations by Patrick Andrist (Fribourg) and David Birnbaum (Pittsburgh) on the topic of manuscript descriptions and cataloguing. Andrist proposed a cataloguing model for online (and print) use that is more suited than common current models for the accurate capture of information, including dating, for the different parts that might comprise an entire manuscript.  Birnbaum discussed the analysis techniques that he has applied to the catalogue descriptions of medieval Slavic manuscripts.

Session three, moderated by Tara Andrews (Leuven), focused on stemmatology – that is, the attempt to recover the history of transmission of a text based on the manuscripts that survive.  Jean-Baptiste Camps and Florian Cafiero (Paris) presented the techniques that they have developed to handle translations within a text tradition; Philipp Roelli presented a neo-Lachmannian method aimed at the automatic identification of Leitfehler, or ‘significant error’ that can be used to reconstruct a text stemma.

Session four, moderated by Aurélien Berra (Paris), concerned statistical and stylistic analysis of texts.  Armen Hoenen (Frankfurt) presented his research into creating a statistical model for scribal error and showed its application in the case of Avestan manuscripts.  Karina van Dalen-Oskam (Amsterdam/Den Haag) demonstrated the use of stylistic analysis applied to the Rijmbijbel of Jacob van Maerlant, not only to examine the ways in which a text was adapted by its various scribes but also to show the effect that modern edition has had.  The paper was followed by a lively discussion that returned to the theme of stemmatology and its uses in the cases of popular and fluid medieval texts such as the Rijmbijbel. The final paper, presented by Mike Kestemont and Kees Schepers (Antwerp), demonstrated the application of stylistic methods to distinguish distinct ‘voices’ in the collection ‘Ex epistolis duorum amantium’, which provides scientific support for the hypothesis that the letters did indeed have two authors.

The first day of the workshop was rounded out with a discussion, led by Joris van Zundert (Den Haag), on the nature of textual scholarship and whether there is any justification for non-digital text edition.  Participants were asked to take five minutes at the end of the discussion to write down what, in their opinion, were the most important points arising from it. A consensus developed over the course of the discussion that, while paper editions are still necessary, digital methods in a variety of forms have become indispensable to well-prepared text editions. There remains a great deal of question and debate, however, on the subject of publication forms, acceptance and use of standards for data formatting, and sustainability of the digital products of scholarship.

Day two of the workshop was hosted by the Royal Flemish Academy in Brussels. We began the morning with the fifth session, on existing databases for textual analysis and presentation, moderated by Karina van Dalen-Oskam. Eugenio Luján and Eduardo Orduña (Madrid) presented their work on a database of palaeo-Hispanic inscriptions, many of whose scripts remain undeciphered to the present day; the database raises a number of issues for encoding and representation of text that we do not yet have the ability to read.  Nadia Togni (Geneva) presented a database, BIBLION, centered on the representation and display of Italian “giant bibles” of the eleventh and twelfth centuries. Francesco Stella (Siena) gave an overview of the state of the art of digital publication, and presented the publication of the Corpus Rhythmorum Musicorum in this context.

We returned to the subject of stemmatology for session six, moderated by Joris van Zundert. Alberto Cantera (Salamanca) discussed the coherence-based model for ascertaining text genealogy as it applies to the tradition of Avestan religious texts, and Tuomas Heikkilä (Helsinki) discussed the transmission and readership of the Life and Miracles of St. Symeon Treverensis.

Sessions seven and eight, moderated respectively by Caroline Macé (Leuven) and Tuomas Heikkilä, looked at aspects of inter-texual analysis, taking us from scholarship of a single text or corpus to the investigation of relationships across disparate texts.  Charlotte Tupman (London) presented the work of the multi-institutional ‘Sharing Ancient Wisdoms’ project on tracing the provenance and transmission of gnostic sayings throughout medieval literature, including Greek and Arabic works.  Samuel Rubenson and Benjamin Ekman (Lund) presented their work on a database of the Apophthegmata Patrum (sayings of the church fathers) as transmitted throughout medieval Christian literature.  Linda Spinazzè (Venice) presented the Musisque Deoque project and discussed the ongoing research into intertextual aspects of their corpus of medieval Latin poetry up to the Renaissance.  Finally, Maxim Romanov (Michigan) discussed his work on the analysis of public sermons in the Islamic world, as reported in Arabic chronicles.

The organizers of the workshop (Caroline Macé and Tara Andrews) closed the event with a presentation of the Tree of Texts project, wherein we seek to derive an empirical model for textual transmission in the Middle Ages based on the statistical analysis of a variety of texts in several different languages.  It then remained only to thank the speakers and attendees for their enthusiastic participation. The workshop was an excellent showcase for the wide variety of analysis methods and techniques being applied to the study of medieval texts.

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