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From the Spring 2000 Chronica:

Electronic Resources for Medieval Studies
Helene Lafrance, Orradre Library, Santa Clara University

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
Each scholar has his/her own way to undertake research, but most end up sooner or later consulting the major indexes available in their field. The print version of some of these indexes are so confusing to use that scholars have to struggle just to understand the hierarchical categories under which their topic of interest might be buried. The most comprehensive index to access articles on the European Middle Ages is unquestionably the International Medieval Bibliography. Fortunately it is now available on cd-rom. Even though the search software is far from being "user friendly," it does offer a wide range of search options, including keywords, geographical areas and date ranges. The cd-rom version includes approximately 2l0,000 citations of articles from 4000 journals, and the latest disk covers the period from 1972 to 1996. In a few years, the complete bibliography from 1967 to the present will be available.

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.

Multimedia cd-roms
Multimedia cd-roms on medieval topics have been developed in recent years to enhance teaching and learning in the classroom. Designed to recreate a specific aspect of the medieval world for the students, using graphics, text and sounds, cd-roms usually complement, rather than replace traditional textbooks, but they definitely engage the student learner , who can participate actively in the multimedia presentation and work at his/her own pace. A typical example is "Medieval Realms: Britain 1066-1500", which includes source materials, newspapers, maps, and legal and parliamentary records from that era. Other products available are "The Arthurian Tradition," "Gothic Cathedrals of Europe," and "Geoffrey Chaucer: The Canterbury Tales." Even though most of these multimedia presentations are now offered on cd-rom, it is very likely that their publishers will develop web versions available by subscriptions.

World Wide Web Resources
My favorite definition of the Internet is one offered by Michael Gorman in 1995:
               The net is like a huge vandalized library. Someone has destroyed the catalog and removed the front matter, indexes, etc. from hundreds of thousands of books and torn and scattered what remains..."Surfing" is the process of sifting through this disorganized mess in the hope of coming across some useful fragments of text and images that can be related to other fragments.(1)
When you search the web using a typical search engine, such as Infoseek or Google, you retrieve a mix bag of resources that need to be evaluated carefully. A better use of your time is to start your web exploration by visiting web sites specialized for medieval studies. Maintained by scholars in the field, these sites include an incredible variety of primary and secondary sources as well as links to other relevant web sites. Here are some of the most outstanding ones that you should definitely bookmark on your Internet browser.

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:
As technology improves, more and more institutions have begun the process of digitizing their medieval manuscripts, reproducing the page as an image, allowing the viewer to appreciate the most delicate details and colors of the illuminations. The Canterbury Tales Project on cd-rom, a joint project of Oxford University, Montfort University, and the British Academy, published by Cambridge University Press, is often cited as an example of outstanding quality, but other high quality projects are now available on the web as well. In fact, it should be noted that medieval texts have been available in electronic format on the web for several years now. The problem is that they vary greatly in quality, depending on the format in which they have been encoded. The most useful electronic texts are the ones that have been encoded with some kind of sophisticated markup, retaining their typographical features, chapter divisions and pagination, and illustrations. The Manuscripts Department of the Bibliotheque Nationale de France, for example, presents a collection of 1000 illuminations on its web site at http://www.bnf.fr/enluminures/accueil.shtm. The Digital Scriptorium (http://sunsite.berkeley.edu/Scriptorium/) is another example of an outstanding collaborative digital project. A joint effort of the Bancroft Library and the Rare Book and Manuscript library of Columbia University, the project will digitize and make available on the web their medieval and early Renaissance manuscript holdings. The Digital Scriptorium is still only a prototype, but the goal of its creators is visionary: "Images from books that now sit on shelves 3,000 miles apart can appear together on the screen. The Digital Scriptorium will recreate that moment in history when like books were together, whether in a single room, town, or country." (2)

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.

1. Gorman, Michael, "The Corruption of Cataloging", Library Journal 120 (15 September, 1995):34
2."Digital Scriptorium - Towards a Renaissance in Manuscripts Studies", Digital Scriptorium, http://sunsite.berkeley.edu/Scriptorium/#info
3. Beavan, Iain, Michael Arnott, and Colin McLaren, "Text and Illustration: The Digitization of a Medieval Manuscript", Computers and the Humanities, 31 (1997):64
4. Price, M. Daniel, "Will the real revolution please stand up! Gutenberg, the computer, and the university", in Trinkle, Dennis A, ed., Writing, Teaching, and Researching History in the Electronic Age, Armonk (New York): M. E. Sharpe, 1998, p. 14-33.



The Digital Scriptorium: A "visual catalogue" of medieval and Renaissance manuscripts

By Consuelo W. Dutschke, Columbia University, cw3@columbia.edu

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