Monday, June 1, 2020

Manuscript layout: accessing new knoweldge

After doing a Bibliographical Society of America webinar on manuscript mise-en-page (page layout), there were lots of interesting questions raised. For follow-ups, you can see a few things using the #BSALayout hashtag on Twitter, and the presentation itself is here: BSA Webinar Mise-en-Page. One of the more important of my scholarly sources for this presentation is "Where are the Prickings?" by L. W. Jones. It's is a must-read, published in the Transactions of the American Philological Society in 1944 (Volume 75, pp. 71-86). Written in the thick of World War II, many manuscripts were inaccessible (familiar much in a time of pandemic?) and plates had to be used by scholars who generally worked in the archives and repositories. Jones had this to say:


As in Britain during WWII, manuscripts were moved to places of relative safety: bunkers, caves, and bomb-proof shelters indeed. Andrew Prescott commented on the story of the tunnels constructed underneath the National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth in the second World War, details of which are given by Rhidian Griffiths in this video: Secrets of a War-Time Library

In these days of pandemic and state violence, it is currently impossible for researchers to get to see manuscripts, just as it was impossible for Jones. Rather than working with plates, though, now we have the incredible luxury--if we have access via a connected computer--of browsing manuscripts, often in full, online. What quickly becomes apparent from working with digitized materials is the more limited vision of scholars in previous decades. Many had no option but to work remotely and depend on the selection of plates available in major publications. So, Codices Latini Antiquiores (by E. A. Lowe, and for more on which, see ELMSS) with its plates of early manuscripts or the volumes of the New Palaeographical Society were singularly important. And whole narratives were formed on the basis of this available evidence--narratives that are still very much in place now: about the evolution of script, or the modes of preparation of the manuscript page. But now we have hundreds of thousands of whole manuscripts, millions of individual folios, to explore and evaluate. As such, it will become clearer as research continues that some of the accepted histories of manuscript production are not quite right.


The field of manuscript studies will certainly change, then; grand narratives will be overturned, as we're able to see that while certain parts of a MS adhere to a particular layout, or have specific prickings patterns, this may not be true of the whole codex as it exists online. Our work is so profoundly transformed and facilitated by digitizers. It is important then to say thank you to digital repositories, to digitizers, & data wranglers. It is also time to request that given what e-research can accomplish, libraries, archives, galleries, and museums, in consultation with users, should seek to STANDARDIZE THE METADATA to make it discoverable. This will allow researchers of all kinds to build on predecessors' work to make scholarship more usable and to encourage new generations of interested students to engage in bringing more manuscripts and archives to life.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Mise-en-Page in Medieval Manuscripts

An Introduction to Mise-en-Page Bibliography to accompany the Bibliographical Society of American Webinar (28 May 2020). A link will be posted.

The link for the presentation from 28 May 2020 on mise-en-page (western manuscripts, mostly British, mostly monastic) is here: You Tube Mise-En-Page

Western Manuscript Studies Select Bibliography


Albritton, B., G. Henley, and E. Treharne, eds., Medieval Manuscripts in the Digital Age (London: Routledge, 2020)
Bischoff, B., Latin Palaeography: Antiquity and the Middle Ages, trans. Dáibhí O. Cróinín and David Ganz (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990)
Bishop, T. A. M., English Caroline Minuscule, Oxford Palaeographical Handbooks (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1971)
Boyle, L. E., Medieval Latin Palaeography: A Bibliographical Introduction, Toronto Medieval Bibliographies 8 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1984)
Brown, T. J., A Palaeographer's View: The Selected Writings of Julian Brown, ed. Janet Bately, Michelle P. Brown, and Jane Roberts, with Preface by Albinia C. de la Mare (London: Harvey Miller, 1993)
Brown, M. P., A Guide to Western Historical Scripts from Antiquity to 1600 (London: British Library, 1990)
Brown, M. P., and P. Lovett, The Historical Source Book for Scribes (London: British Library, 1999)
Brown, M. P., The British Library Guide to Writing and Scripts: History and Techniques, The British Library Guides (London: British Library, 1998)
Clemens, Raymond, and Timothy Graham, Introduction to Manuscript Studies (London: Cornell University Press, 2007)
Colker, M. L., ‘Some Recent Works for Palaeographers’, Medievalia et Humanistica 8 (1977): 235-242
Da Rold, O., and E. Treharne, eds., Cambridge Companion to British Medieval Manuscripts (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2020), espec. Chapter 1: R. Beadle and R. Hanna, ‘Describing and Cataloguing medieval English manuscripts: a checklist’.
Da Rold, O., M. Swan, and E. Treharne, New Medieval Literatures 13 (2012 for 2011)
Da Rold, O., T. Kato, M. Swan, and E. Treharne, The Production and Use of English Manuscripts, Stanford University, 2nd rev. ed. (, 2018)
Denholm-Young, N., Handwriting in England and Wales (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1954)
Dumville, D., English Caroline Script and Monastic History: Studies in Benedictinism, AD 950-1030, Studies in Anglo-Saxon History 6 (Woodbridge: Boydell and Brewer, 1993)
Gillespie, A., and D. Wakelin, eds., The Production of Books in England c.1350–c.1530 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013
Grieve, H. E. P., Examples of English Handwriting, 1150-1750, Essex Record Office Publications 21 (Chelmsford: Essex Education Committee, 1954)
Hector, L. C., The Handwriting of English Documents, 2nd ed. (London: Edward Arnold, 1966)
Jenkinson, H., The Later Court Hands in England, 2 Vols. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1927)
Johnson, C., and H. Jenkinson. English Court Hand A.D. 1066-1500, 2 Vols. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1915)
Knight, S., Historical Scripts: From Classical Times to the Renaissance (New Castle, DE: Oak Knoll Books, 1998)
Lowe, E. A., ed. Codices latini antiquiores: A Palaeographical Guide to Latin Manuscripts Prior to the Ninth Century, 12 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1934-1972)
Lowe, E. A., English Uncial (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1960)
Parkes, M. B., English Cursive Book Hands, 1250-1500, Oxford Palaeographical Handbooks (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1969)
Petti, A. G., English Literary Hands from Chaucer to Dryden (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1977)
Prescott, A., and E. Treharne, ‘The Origin and Context of the Salisbury Magna Carta’,
Preston, Jean F., and Laetitia Yeandle, English Handwriting, 1400-1650: An Introductory Manual, Pegasus Paperbooks P6 (Binghamton, NY: Centre for Medieval and Early Renaissance Studies, 1992)
Rumble, A. R., ‘The Palaeography of the Domesday Manuscripts’, in Domesday Book: A Reassessment, ed. P. Sawyer (London and Baltimore: Edward Arnold, 1985) pp. 28-49
Sawyer, D., Reading English Verse in Manuscript, c.1350-c.1500, Oxford English Monographs (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2020)
Sheppard, J. M., The Buildwas Books: Book Production, Acquisition and Use at an English Cistercian Monastery, 1165-c.1400, Oxford Bibliographical Society (Oxford: Bodleian Library, 1997)
Stokes, P. A., and S. Brooks, DigiPal:

Stokes, P. A., Scribal Attribution Across Multiple Scripts’, Speculum (2017), DOI: 10.1086/693968

Thompson, E. Maunde, An Introduction to Greek and Latin Palaeography (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1912)
Thompson, E. Maunde, G. F. Warner, F. G. Kenyon, and J. P. Gilson, et al. eds. Facsimiles of Ancient Manuscripts, The New Palaeographical Society, 2nd series (London: Oxford University Press, 1913-1930)
Thompson, E. Maunde, G. F. Warner, F. G. Kenyon, and J. P. Gilson, eds. Facsimiles of Ancient Manuscripts, The New Palaeographical Society, 1st series (London: Oxford University Press, 1903-1912)
Thomson, S. Harrison, Latin Bookhands of the Later Middle Ages, 1100-1500 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1969)
Treharne, E., ‘“The Good, the Bad, the Ugly”: Old English Manuscripts and Their Physical Description’, in Matthew Hussey and John Niles, eds., The Genesis of Books: Studies in the Scribal Culture of Medieval England in Honour of A. N. Doane (Brepols, 2012), pp. 261-83
Treharne, E., ‘Manuscript Production’, in The Encyclopaedia of Medieval Literature in Britain, ed. Sian Echard and Robert Rouse (Hoboken, NJ: Wiley-Blackwell, 2017), IV: 2071-78
Treharne, E., ‘Raw Materials: The Role of Palaeography in Medieval Studies’, in Andrew Rabin and Stefan Jurasinki, eds., Languages of the Law in Early Medieval England: Essays in Honor of Lisi Oliver, Mediaevalia Groningana ns 22 (Louvain, Belgium: Peeters, 2019), pp. 155-75
Ullman, B. L. Ancient Writing and its Influence (1932; rpt. Medieval Academy Reprints, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1989)
Wright, C. E., English Vernacular Hands from the Twelfth to the Fifteenth Centuries, Oxford Palaeographical Handbooks (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1960)

Codicology/ Mise-en-page / Scribal Practices
Arduini, Franca, and Guglielmo Cavallo, The Shape of the Book, from Roll to Codex (3rd Century BC-19th Century AD) (Firenze: Mandragora, 2008)
Bischoff, F. M., and M. Maniaci, ‘Pergament—Handschriftenformate—Lagenkonstruktion’, Scrittura e Civiltà 19 (1995): 277–319
Briquet, C.-M., Les filigranes: dictionnaire historique des marques de papier dès leur apparition vers 1282 jusqu'en 1600 (Geneva: A. Jullien, 1907)
British Library Catalogue of Bookbindings <>
Brown, M., The British Library Guide to Writing and Scripts: History and Techniques (London: The British Library, 1998)
Brown, T. J., ‘The Distribution and Significance of Membrane Prepared in the Insular Manner’, in Le Paléographie Hébraîque Médiévale (Paris, 1974) pp. 127–35.
Brown, T. J., with a technical description of the binding by Roger Powell and Peter Waters, eds., The Stonyhurst Gospel of St John (Oxford: University Press for the Roxburghe Club, 1969)
Busby, Keith, Codex and Context: Reading Old French Verse Narrative in Manuscript, 2 vols. (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2002)
Canart, P. et al., ‘Recherches préliminaires sur les matériaux utilisés pour la réglure en couleur dans les manuscrits grecs et latins’, Scriptorium 45 (1991): 205-225
Clement, R. W., ‘Codicological Considerations in the Beowulf Manuscript’, Proceedings of the Illinois Medieval Association 1 (1984): 13-27
Codex Sinaiticus (London: The British Library): http://>
Dane, Joseph A., ‘On the Shadowy Existence of the Medieval Pricking Wheel’, Scriptorium 50 (1996): 13–21
Da Rold, O., ‘Codicology’, in The Encyclopaedia of Medieval British Literature, ed. S. Echard and R. Rouse (Oxford, Wiley-Blackwell, 2017), pp. 531-538
Da Rold, O., ‘Materials’ in The Production of Books in England c.1350–c.1530, edited by A. Gillespie and D. Wakelin (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013), pp. 12-33
Da Rold, O., ‘Paper in Medieval English Books’ in P. O Machain, ed., Paper and the Paper Manuscript: A Context for the Transmission of Gaelic Literature (Cork: University College Cork, 2012), pp. 1-7
Dukan, M., ‘De la difficulté à reconnâitre des instruments de réglure: planche à régler (mastara) et cadre-padron’, Scriptorium 40 (1986): 257-261
Dukan, M., La réglure des manuscrits hébreux au Moyen âge (Paris: Centre regional de publication de Paris, 1988)
Gameson, R., ‘The material fabric of early British books’, in The Cambridge History of the Book in Britain, Vol. 1, ed. R. Gameson (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011): 11-93. Web. Cambridge Histories Online. 11 May 2020.
Gilissen, L., ‘La Composition des Cahiers, le Pliage du Parchemin et l’Imposition’, Prolégomènes à la Codicologie (Ghent: Éditions Scientifiques Story-Scientia, 1977), pp. 21–44
Gilissen, L., ‘Les réglures des manuscrits’, Scrittura e civilta 5 (1981): 231-252
Gruys, A., and J. P. Gumbert, eds., Codicologica: Towards a Science of Handwritten Books, 5 vols. Litterae textuales (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1976-1980)
Gumbert, J. P., ‘Ruling by Rake and Board: Notes on Some Late Medieval Ruling Techniques’ in P. Ganz, ed., The Role of the Book in Medieval Culture (Turnhout: Brepols, 1986), pp. 41–54
Hanna, R., ‘Booklets in Medieval Manuscripts: Further Considerations’, Studies in Bibliography 39 (1986): 100-111
Hobson, G. D., ‘Some Early Bindings and Binder's Tools’, The Library 19 (1938/9): 202–49
Hobson, G. D., English Binding before 1500 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1929)
Jones, L. W., ‘Where are the Prickings?’, Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association 75 (1944): 71-86
Jones, L. W. ‘Pricking Manuscripts: The Instruments and their Significance’, Speculum 21 (1946): 389–403 
Jones, L. W., ‘Prickings as Clues to Date and Origin: the Eighth Century’, Mediaevalia et Humanistica 14 (1962): 15-22
Ker, N. R., ‘From “Above Top Line” to “Below Top Line”: A Change in Scribal Practice’, in N. Ker, Books, Collectors and Libraries: Studies in Medieval Heritage (London: Hambledon Press, 1985)
Kwakkel, E., ‘The Cultural Dynamics of Medieval Book Production’, in Manuscripten en miniaturen: Studies aangeboden aan Anne S. Korteweg bij haar afscheid van de Koninklijke Bibliotheek (Zutphen: Walburg Pers, 2007) pp. 243–52
Maniaci, M., and P. F. Munafò, Ancient and Medieval Book Materials and Techniques (Vatican: Biblioteca Vaticana Apostolica, 1993)
Maniaci, M., ‘Un repertorio da leggere fra le righe’, Gazette du livre médiéval 28 (1996): 13-22
Marichal, Robert, ‘Du “volume” au “codex”’, in Mise en page et mise en texte du livre manuscrit, ed., H-J. Martin and Jean Vezin (Paris: Editions du Cercle de la Librairie—Promodis, 1990), pp. 45-54.
Mazal, O., ‘Medieval Bookbinding’ in The Book through Five Thousand Years, ed. H. D. L. Vervliet (London: Phaidon, 1972), pp. 314–38
Moorman, Charles, The Statistical Determination of Affiliation in the Landmark Manuscripts of the Canterbury Tales. (Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen Press, 1993)
Muzerelle, D., La machine à rouler…les codicologues!’, Gazette du livre médiéval 31 (1997): 22-30
Muzerelle, D., Vocabulaire codicologique (2003):
Needham, P., Twelve Centuries of Bookbindings, 400–1600 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1979)
Nixon, H. M. ‘The Binding of Winton Domesday’, in Winchester in the Early Middle Ages, ed. M. Biddle (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1976), pp. 526–40
Ornato, E., ed., La Face cachée du livre médiéval: L'Histoire du livre (Rome: Viella, 1997)
Pantin, Isabelle, ‘Mise en page, mise en teste et construction du sens dans le livre moderne’, Melanges de l’Ecole francaise de Rome (2008): 343-61:
Parkes, M. B., ‘The Influence of the Concepts of Ordinatio and Compilatio on the Development of the Book’, in Scribes, Scripts and Readers: Studies in the Communication, Presentation and Dissemination of Medieval Texts, ed. M. B. Parkes (London: Hambledon, 1991), pp. 35-70.
Parkes, M. B., ‘Layout and Presentation of the Text’, in Cambridge History of the Book in Britain 2 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), pp. 55-74
Pearson, D., Books as History: The Importance of Books beyond their Texts (London: British Library, 2011)
Peikola, Matti, ‘Guidelines for Consumption: Scribal Ruling Patterns and Designing the Mise-en page in Later Medieval England’, in Manuscripts and Printed Books in Europe 1350–1550: Packaging, Presentation and Consumption, ed. Emma Cayley and Susan Powell (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2013), pp. 14–31
Pollard, G., ‘Describing Medieval Bookbindings’, in Medieval Learning and Literature: Essays Presented to R.W. Hunt, ed. J. J. G. Alexander, and M. T. Gibson (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1976), pp. 50–65
Pollard, G., ‘Notes on the Size of the Sheet’, The Library, 4th Ser., 22 (1941): 105–37
Pollard, G., ‘Some Anglo-Saxon Bookbindings’, The Book Collector 24 (1975): 130–54
Pollard, G., ‘The Construction of English Twelfth-Century Bindings’. The Library 5th series, 17 (1962): 1–22
Rand, E. K., ‘How Many Leaves as a Time?’, Palaeographia Latina 5 (1927): 52-78
Roberts, Colin H., and T. C. Skeat, The Birth of the Codex (London: Oxford University Press, for the British Academy, 1987)
Robinson, P. R. ‘The “Booklet”: A Self-Contained Unit in Composite Manuscripts’, in Codicologica, ed. A. Gruys, and J. Peter Gumbert (Leiden: Brill, 1980), pp. 46–69
Rosenfeld, R., ‘Pricking Wheels’, Gazette du livre médiéval 37 (2000): 18-25
Rouse, R.H., and M. A. Rouse, ‘Ordinatio and Compilatio Revisited’, in M. D. Jordan and K. Emery, eds, Ad Litteram: Authoritative Texts and their Medieval Readers (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1992)
Stinson, T., ‘Codicological Descriptions in the Digital Age’, in Kodikologie und Paläographie im Digitalen Zeitalter - Codicology and Palaeography in the Digital Age, ed. M. Rehbein, P. Sahle, and T. Schaßan (Norderstedt: Books on Demand, 2009) pp. 35–51
Stinson, T., ‘Counting Sheep: Potential Applications of DNA Analysis to the Study of Medieval Parchment Production’, in Kodikologie und Paläographie im Digitalen Zeitalter 2, Codicology and Palaeography in the Digital Age 2, ed. Franz Fischer, Christiane Fritz, and Georg Vogeler (Norderstedt: Books on Demand, 2011)
Stokes, P. A., ‘Codicology’, in The Literary Encyclopedia, ed. R. Clark, and H. Magennis (2006): < rec=true&UID=1679>
Turner, E. G. The Typology of the Early Codex (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1977)
van Regemorter, B., Binding Structures in the Middle Ages: A Selection of Studies (London: Maggs Brothers, 1992)
Wakelin, D., Scribal Correction and Literary Craft: English Manuscripts, 1375-1510 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014)

A few journals
Fragmentology, Digital Medievalist, Digital Philology, Gazette du livre medieval, Manuscript Studies, Scriptorium, Speculum, The Library, Traditio, Viator

Very select online resources

British Library Digitized Manuscripts:

Cambridge, Trinity College, Wren Library:

Design History:

Digital Vatican Library:
Earlier Latin Manuscripts, ELMSS:
E-Codices, Virtual Library of Switzerland’s Manuscripts:
Erik Kwakkel’s Blog, ‘Medieval Books’, especially:
Hand Bookbindings: Plain and Simple to Grand and Glorious <>
John Rylands University Library of Manchester Digital Collections:
Medieval Academy of America Digital Resources:
Parker on the Web (Cambridge, Corpus Christi College manuscripts):

Pricking and Ruling video:

Schoenberg Database of Manuscripts:

Stanford Medieval Fragments collection:
Walters Art Museum Ex Libris:

Please send corrections or additions to Elaine Treharne, Thanks!

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

The history of boredom in a time of lockdown

Here's a thread on the etymology of Boredom and its earlier ally, Sloth, that I wrote as a Twitter thread. It's fascinating that boredom wasn't present in English until the eighteenth century. Its etymology is a little peculiar, too.

Bored as a border collie? Get ready to glaze over. Here’s a thread on boredom & English words for a ‘disinclination to action’. First curious thing to know is that a ‘bore’ doesn't exist in English until 1766. /1

Google N-gram for Boredom, Laziness, and Ennui from 1600-2012
‘Boredom’ doesn’t emerge in English until the 19thC with Dickens’s ‘chronic malady of boredom’. The etymology of ‘bore’ is obscure; it may have arisen to describe ‘ennui’, by analogy of being persistently irritated by something; ie with the persistence of boring a hole /2 

‘To bore’ is recorded in 1768 when Earl of Carlisle said: ‘I pity my Newmarket friends, who are to be bored by these Frenchmen.’ In the Oxford English Dictionary, there is also a use in 1535 to ‘bore one’s ears’, which surely offers the best parallel. /3

So, weren't people bored before the leisure heyday in the 18thC? Yes. Boredom is many-faceted. An ironically vibrant semantic field has lassitude, inertia, torpor, sluggishness, inactivity, indolence, enervation, disinclination, lethargy, apathy, listlessness /4

The Oxford English Dictionary reminds us of a term ‘boreism’--‘the practice of being a bore’. George Eliot (hoorah!) wrote: “The male could assert his superiority & show a more vigorous boredom" in an uncanny anticipation of mansplaining. Mansplaining=stultification? Yes, indeed /5

Is boredom in Old Eng. rare? We imagine there was a lot to do to survive daily. But a plethora of terms exist: unrotnes (tedium); æmelnes (weariness); asolcennes (indolence); aswindan (enfeebled, languishing in spirit); æswind (torpor); slæcfull (slackful) /6

‘Wlæc’ is a fav word, meaning lacking in spirit or energy. It's modern ‘wlak’; that is lukewarm, tepid, lacking spirit, languid. A fab OE word is ‘bæftansittende’ (to be sitting behind still), translating Latin ‘reses’--dormant, stationary, idle, immovable /7

Important is ‘Sloth’, from Old Eng ‘slæwð’ (ME ‘sleuðe’). It's the 6th of the 7 (or 8) capital sins (‘acedia’ or ‘accidia’—‘without care’—in Latin). Chaucer’s Parson says: ‘Accidie maketh hym heuy’. It means idle thoughts, or being lazy in worship of God /8
From a tree of Acedia, says 15thC Desert of Religion, comes ‘Gruchyng alswa & drerynes, Langour, wanhope...spredes on ilka syde’. It's dreariness, languor, carelessness, neglect, oblivion, forgetfulness, stupefaction, ‘wanhope’ or ‘insufficient faith’ /9
London, British Library, Harley 3244

The 14thC Piers Plowman, shows Sloth as hideous: 'Then came Sloth all beslobbered with two slimey eyes… What I tell with my tongue is two miles from mine heart. I am occupied each day holidays and other With idle tales in the alehouse & sometimes in churches' /10
John Walton of Osney Abbey translated Boethius in 1410, where he basically says about a slothful person, ‘Call him a lazy ass’: He þat useþ sleuthe and ydelnesse And will noght done no werkes profitable, Thow myght hym calle a verrey asse expresse. /11
Slothfuls end up in hell's snake-pit. As Morrissey sang: ‘The Devil will find work for idle hands to do’. Or, in St Jerome's cheery words, Fac et aliquid operis, ut semper te diabolus inveniat occupatum: Do something so that the Devil always finds you busy /12
London, British Library, Harley 603: The Harley Psalter
The moral of the story is don’t be an asolcena (‘sluggard’), but definitely practice rest, mental relaxation, and idleness because then you get time to think (and read the OED for no particular reason) /13

All these Old English words on ‘sloth’ with impressive subtleties and manifold expressiveness are in the fabulous & searchable Open Access, Open Access, and /En

Thursday, September 12, 2019

A is for Archive: The Future of the Archive

#DarkArchives Roundtable (12.ix.19)
The Future of the Archives

Here are some points that I had made for myself, but didn’t present, at the Oxford Sociey for the Study of Medieval Languages and Literature conference, #DarkArchives (darkarchives) Roundtable on ‘The Future of the Archives’, chaired by Pip Willcox. Thank you to the organizers, Drs Julie Dresvina and Stephen Pink, for inviting me to participate; it was lively and interesting. The roundtable was held at 11.30am, and I zoomed in from California (in my pyjamas!) to participate and to hear colleagues’ considered and perceptive views on where academics, archivists and librarians in the medieval and early modern periods go from here; and to learn about and what priorities might emerge in these textual and historical fields.

Hopetoun House fire-proofed archive room

I believe we are close to a point of stasis in the world of medieval and early modern textual materials. There is such an abundance of information available through images, online projects, and a plethora of mismatched finding aids, that it is in danger of overwhelming those who work in these areas. Being overwhelmed, as all students know, leads to stasis--an inability to move in any direction. More, we know much of what archives can be and can do, though we focus too much on the big repositories, and too little on the less-well known places (as well as those that are under significant cultural and political threat). I think scholars have a very good idea of what the digital can be, what it can do for scholarship and research, and we are increasingly getting hints of what it cannot be or do. There is also an awful lot of reinvention of the technological and theoretical wheels (as I, and others, have been saying for the past five or six years). 

So. What next? One thing is sure--despite the tools, the digital medium, the catalogues and editions--expert librarians, archivists and scholars still need their eyes on these collections and their rare materials, as, indeed, some speakers have commented in the Twitter stream (at #DarkArchives). If anything, digitization has shown us how important the physical object is; how we need to look, and then look again, but also feel our way through the object. That aside, as of right now, I have a list of nine (and-a-half) As in my role as prognosticator:

Cambridge, Corpus Christi College, MS 3 'A'
1. Avoid loss of momentum. Beyond digitizing more and more materials, when most of what’s available is rarely accessed or studied, how can interdisciplinary teams of scholars maintain the momentum created thus far? How do we make these materials discoverable and accessible (another ‘A’ = accessibility)? How do we encourage more widespread use of the archives that are now in the public domain?
2. Abandon small-scale thinking. Let’s be Audacious in our planning for the future. Events like #DarkArchives, bringing colleagues from all over the world and in many disciplines together, are critical to the discussion and opportunities to build on work already achieved. This means more virtual conferences, perhaps; less ‘ownership’; less of a rush to be the first, to discover the magic formula. It means…
3. Abundant collaboration and generous Aspirations for the community at large. This is easy to say and really difficult to do. IIIF (@iiif_io) is exemplary in this regard with their community conversations and openness to all-comers. Internationally shared resources are critical to the life of this kind of scholarship and curation (with all that that entails, including cataloguing and display). If I cannot do something myself, I should be able to find a freely available resource. If someone has expensive equipment, is there a way to share it?
4. Advocacy for the human, especially when doing work at scale; the human eye is essential. Applied Humanities as a wide-ranging set of disciplines is essential, too. Increasingly, teams working on datasets (whether image-based or not) are almost exclusively engineers. Humanities needs advocates; it needs Appreciation.
5. Attend to the next generation. We must find ways to get a seat at the table of innovation and massively funded research. We must Argue for funds and fellowships to train, support, and create a meaningful career trajectory for our upcoming archivists, graduates, postdoctoral fellows, librarians, academics.
6. Artificial intelligence and Augmented intelligence. Using massive datasets for handwriting recognition development, or large-scale investigation, or crowd-sourcing, means we are reliant on multiple repositories’ clear metadata (as I, Will Noel, Ben Albritton, and many others have pointed out) and consistent digitization outcomes. It also means recognizing the inherent biases in datasets, and the lack of standardization. AI (and AugI) will be critically important in exploring all the data we now have at our disposal, which is still such a tiny amount of what exists, so we must be invested in being involved, but also publicly anticipating the pitfalls.
7. Acknowledgement. We need to loudly and publicly acknowledge each others’ work; acknowledge and credit all team members; acknowledge the undergrads and grads, contingent and precarious scholars who facilitate the projects we initiate. Institutions must be persuaded to recognize how significant team-work is to humanists now and that is it part of many scholars' effort and output. I, for one, could not do lots of areas of my work and thinking without the inspiration and input of Orietta Da Rold, Ben Albritton, Andrew Prescott, all the digitizers, and many others.
8. Acceptance of the fact that none of our collections, or our prioritizing of tasks, is neutral. There are always choices in what we do, and choices are subjective. What do we stand to gain through our choices? Who loses out? How can we be sure to seek representation and inclusivity in our work?
9. Accounting for time: funded time, daily time. Large data, collections of manuscripts, require time to analyse and evaluate. Those of us who’ve run two-year, or five-year, projects to catalogue or create new tools, or design algorithms, know that this takes times. Training of colleagues on teams takes time. But after all that, when those projects are ‘done’, the data (248,000 images of embellished capitals in Stanford Global Currents (SGC), for example,) takes a great deal of unbudgeted time to explore and write-up. This needs to be properly accounted for and properly funded or recompensed.
9.5. Amen to all that.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Ethics and the Digital Archive

Autograph Album 1874 belonging to Amy Scheeline
Stanford Ordinary People Extraordinary Stories (SOPES) is a new project I'm running within Stanford Text Technologies. It contributes more broadly to ongoing work on Digital Archives that seeks to uncover patterns detectable through machine learning (the NEH-funded 'Global Currents') or visualization (the Hewlett-Packard funded 'CyberText Technologies'). SOPES takes this work back to the level of the recovery of individuals' lives through traces they left in their own written records: autograph albums, postcards, photograph albums, letter collections, receipts, and other ephemera.

Within Amy Scheeline's autograph album that I bought at an antique shop in San Juan Bautista was a tiny envelope full of bits and pieces--remnants of her short life, it turns out. She died just a short while after receiving this autograph album as a present on her seventh birthday in 1884 from her 'loving Mamma'.

This envelope included sewing samples, a letter that Amy sent to her grandparents, a photograph, and Amy's death notice.

It turns out that this otherwise unknown person's life was, perhaps unsurprisingly, rich and fascinating. Amy's grandparents were Oppenheimers; the whole family was involved in mercantile enterprise related to the railroad expansion of the US West in the 1870s and '80s. Her uncle proclaimed himself the King of Mexico, and Amy herself was the first Jewish person to die in Spokane Falls, Washington. My student, Liz Fischer, who's from Spokane, sent me photographs and rubbings of Amy's grave. I feel as if I have the evidence of this child's whole earthly existence in my reach.

There's not much that would cause scandal or embarrassment to Amy and her family in these traces of her life. This material can be digitized and analyzed as a wonderful piece of socio-historical evidence. We could network her relationships; think about the family's immigration from Germany, and their subsequent impact on the western United States; evaluate the lives of well-off merchants in this period. I have few ethical qualms about the usefulness of this information being in the public domain.

Other ephemera, though, have made me wonder about the implications of SOPES and similar efforts to make available the lives of others through the digital realm. In one set of letters, datable to 1937-1945, which I bought for $39 in December 2016, a divorced woman's desperate efforts to keep herself afloat financially resulted--as the letters illustrate--in a life of frequent dalliances with men who might have been able to help her. She evidently had an affair with a man know to be a British spy; she struck up relationships with soldiers on their way to fight; she had a fraught relationship with her ex-husband; and she suffered from not knowing where her Austrian and Dutch Jewish family members were during the earlier 1940s. She went on to marry a much older man, whose life was so notable that he has a blue plaque at their marital home in Putney. Should all of these epistolary pieces of her life be made available now? None of those 100+ letters in my possession was intended for publication.

Last week, I picked up this small set of documents on EBay for about $50. 

They include passports (now invalidated), birth certificates, marriage certificates, photographs, and honorable armed-forces discharge papers of a couple, both previously married. I cannot trace their children through cursory research. Should these materials, presumably acquired through a house clearance, be digitized and investigated? What are the dangers of this kind of documentation being in the public domain? Are there any dangers? The ethical implications of digitizing and making public family archives, small collections of ephemera, and, effectively, other people's lives are many. To whom does a researcher owe responsibility? How does one reflect the lives of those who were not likely to be among the literate, or among the documented? What about those who could not afford photographs, stationery, and the physical relic of being on record? Where do the morals in book historical, social and intellectual scholarship like this lie?