From the Spring 2000 Chronica:
Resources for Medieval Studies
Just a few years ago, medieval manuscripts, the most important source of our knowledge of the Middle Ages, were mostly inaccessible to the public and even to scholars. Fragile, unique, they were jealously kept protected by institutions and made available only to a few selected scholars. Today libraries around the world are working on complex digitization projects to make available their original manuscripts. Just as the invention of printing in the middle of the 15th century changed the world forever by allowing ideas to be disseminated easily by virtue of the ability to print any number of copies of texts for widespread distribution, computer technologies and especially the advent of the World Wide Web are once more expanding the breadth of scholarly research opportunities in what can only be called a revolution. What Gutenberg did for the availability of Renaissance texts, the computer is now doing for medieval manuscripts, permitting them to be seen and studied on computer screens by scholars and students around the world.
Improved access to manuscripts and other primary sources is certainly not the only contribution of computer technology to the field of medieval studies. New electronic tools, such as databases and multimedia cd-roms, are facilitating and enhancing research and teaching in ways that could not even be imagined 10 years ago. On The World Wide Web, which has become the most common means of publication for electronic texts and resources, one can find numerous scholarly sites on medieval topics.
This article will look at a variety of electronic resources available to medieval scholars today, including computerized indexes, multi-media cd-roms, web sites, and will also discuss some of the problems related to the digitization of medieval text and manuscripts. Our aim is not to be comprehensive but to provide a good sample of what is available.
The best computerized indexes
Another database providing access to more than 225,000 articles from 300 medieval and renaissance journal titles is ITER, available on the Web at http://iter.library.utoronto.ca/iter. Unlike International Medieval Bibliography, Iter is a non profit project created collaboratively by the Renaissance Society of America and the Universities of Toronto, Victoria, and Arizona. Since it is not a commercial venture, access to the web-based ITER is very affordable for institutions; it is available for individuals for a mere 40 dollars a year. Soon, a monographs database, a directory of medieval and renaissance scholars, research projects and organizations, and free access to an updated edition of the ITER Italicum (a catalogue of humanistic manuscripts), will enhance the ITER database.
If your research interests include women and gender studies, the Medieval Feminist Index, available for free on the web at will be an invaluable tool. This unique database is literally a labor of love created by librarians and scholars to help researchers identify materials related to women, sexuality and gender during the Middle Ages. Including 3000 records, this database reflects the interdisciplinary nature of much of the scholarship on these topics. It covers 300 journals and several essay collections published since 1995; the geographic coverage extends to North Africa and the Middle East as well as Europe.
World Wide Web Resources
The Labyrinth: Resources for Medieval Studies (http://www.georgetown.edu/labyrinth/) should be your first stop. Sponsored by Georgetown University, this site acts as a clearinghouse for medieval studies resources, organizing for you the materials that can be found on web servers throughout the world. The Labyrinth library is organized by subject, by language (for primary sources), and by type of materials (articles, bibliographies, pedagogical resources, etc.). In the section "Special Topics," one can explore dozens of web sites dedicated, for example to "Medieval Women" or "Arthurian Studies".
The ORB: Online Resource Book for Medieval Studies (http://orb.rhodes.edu) is an academic site maintained by medieval scholars and divided in 5 major sections. The encyclopedia section, including only articles judged by outside reviewers, covers all aspects of the Middle Ages; the library section provides links to primary sources; the graphics section is a collection of scanned images; the reference shelf contains tables, timelines and "discussions of technical matters"; and finally the connections section contains links to other medieval pages.
The Internet Medieval Sourcebook (http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/sbook.html ), maintained by Paul Halsall, comprises a set of classroom resources, assigned readings, full-text and excerpts of primary sources, Saints' Lives, and selected secondary sources, as well as maps and images and a list of medieval films.
French Medieval Literature (http://globegate.utm.edu/french/lit/middleages.html), the best starting point for French medieval literature on the Internet, provides a wonderful selection of links to web sites with French medieval contents, prepared by David A. Oatwood.
Women Writers of the Middle Ages (http://www.millersv.edu/~resound/women.htm), a site maintained by Bonnie Duncan of Millersville University, includes a collection of links to information on dozens of secular and religious women writers of the Middle Ages.
Although the web sites listed above are excellent places to begin research on medieval topics, many people still prefer to search the web directly using a search engine. If you are so inclined, try a search tool called ARGOS first. Created at Evansville University, ARGOS (http://argos.evansville.edu) was designed specifically for students, teachers, and scholars of the ancient and medieval worlds. It is described as the "first peer-reviewed, limited area search engine (LASE) on the World-Wide Web." In other words, because ARGOS includes only carefully selected web sites related to the ancient and Medieval worlds, the search results in fewer sites of greater quality.
Electronic Texts and
Digitization projects such as the ones mentioned above involve incredible technical difficulties. Institutions have to work together to develop standards for the encoding of the manuscripts, and the encoding itself is very costly. Legitimate concerns exist regarding the archiving (storage and preservation) of digital texts and manuscripts. Ideally the digitized document should be of archival quality, i.e. "of such high quality that it could permanently replace the original"(3) but at the moment the reality is that nobody knows for sure about the life expectancy of a digital product.
In spite of these problems, digitization projects continue to flourish, new web sites are being designed and the number of electronic resources for medieval studies is increasing steadily. As observed by a participant in a recent conference on the future of historical research, the advent of computers and the web have indeed revolutionized the scholarly world. They have changed the way students are learning and the way scholars are doing research. They have also created a "community of learning" that has no geographical boundaries.(4) For the medieval scholar, boundaries of time as well as space have been eclipsed by technology, and new areas of research have been opened.
The Digital Scriptorium: A "visual catalogue" of medieval and Renaissance manuscripts
By Consuelo W. Dutschke, Columbia University, firstname.lastname@example.org
The Digital Scriptorium project began three years ago with a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to the Bancroft Library of the University of California, Berkeley and the Rare Book and Manuscript Library of Columbia University, to digitize and mount on the Web approximately 10,000 images from the medieval and Renaissance manuscript holdings of the two institutions. "Image" in this context is intended as "photographic image" (not restricted to representational or figurative reproductions), with the purpose of documenting each stage in a manuscript's production: each ruling pattern, each scribe's hand, each level in the hierarchy of the decoration, each artist, as well as ownership marks and bindings, with a minimum of one image from each manuscript (and an average of five). The manuscripts included are those copied in the Latin alphabet, this also representing western European vernacular languages; the chronological span runs from the earliest pieces held, s. VIII, up to ca. 1550.
The database also includes images of archival materials: Berkeley's Catalan collections and Columbia's French documents can serve as teaching examples for diplomatics in the classroom, and they make the intellectual point of interdependence between documentary and book hands in paleographic study.
The project's database was developed with two yes/no checkboxes that respect our discipline's traditional division between diplomatists and paleographers: one checkbox filters presence/absence of documentary material in a computer search of the database; the other allows for a search on dated manuscripts alone.
The broader medieval community is expected to use the database as a "visual catalogue" to the collections represented. Indeed, a number of other libraries have already added their images to the project: the Robbins Collection at UCB and the Union Theological Seminary in NYC, as well as Barnard College and Teachers College.
The Digital Scriptorium is an open-ended partnership: growth in numbers of participating members is predicted by the libraries who have made commitments (such as the Huntington Library in San Marino, CA) or statements of strong interests, both in the United States and in Europe. It is expected that the Digital Scriptorium will be turned over to a distributor who will develop and maintain the search interface, and who will handle the intricacies of sliding-scale institutional and personal subscription.
The Digital Scriptorium is currently available via temporary interface that allows keyword searching in any number of categories internal to one of the four levels of the description of the manuscript (but not yet across the boundaries of the levels): Manuscript, Part, Text, and Caption. Results of a search also move successively from the description at the Manuscript level and work down to the Caption (or image) level. The option exists to bypass the descriptive information and to cut directly to all the images associated with a given shelfmark.
The URL for the Digital
Scriptorium project as a whole is:
The URL for the multi-level
search choice is:
The URL requesting
direct access to all images for one shelfmark is:
Electronic Resource for Medieval Women
Those of you who teach courses on Medieval Women and want to broaden the field that you cover may want to look at the bibliography that Cheryl Tallan has prepared, entitled "Medieval Jewish Women in History, LIterature, Law and Art: A Bibliography." It is available on the wbsite of the Hadassah International Research Institute on Jewish Women at Brandeis University, http://www.brandeis.edu/hirijw/ , under Publications, Working Paper #7, June 2000. It is fairly complete until March 2000.
Other Medieval Websites
Digital Dante - Columbia University
The Camelot Project - The University of Rochester
Medieval Women's Latin Letters - Columbia University