Tracing the History of Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts: the “Mapping Manuscript Migrations” Project

Over the last twenty years there has been a proliferation of digital data relating to medieval and Renaissance manuscripts, in the form of catalogues, databases, digital editions and digital images. But there is little in the way of interoperable digital infrastructure to link these disparate sources together, and the evidence base for manuscript research is, for the most part, fragmented and scattered. As a result, large-scale research questions remain very difficult, if not impossible, to answer.

The “Mapping Manuscript Migrations” project, funded by the Trans-Atlantic Platform under its Digging into Data Challenge for 2017-2019, aims to address these problems. It is led by the University of Oxford, in partnership with the University of Pennnsylvania, Aalto University in Helsinki, and the Institut de recherche et d’histoire des textes in Paris. The project is building a coherent framework to link manuscript data from various disparate sources, with the aim of enabling searchable and browsable semantic access to aggregated evidence about medieval and Renaissance manuscripts.

This framework is being used as the basis for a large-scale analysis of the history and movement of these manuscripts over the centuries. The broad research questions being addressed include: how many manuscripts have survived; where they are now; and which people and institutions have been involved in their history. More specific research focuses on particular collectors and countries.

The paper will report on the first twelve months of this project. The topics covered will include the new digital platform being developed, the sources of data which are being combined, the data modeling being carried out to link disparate data sources, the research questions which this assemblage of data is being used to address, and the ways in which this evidence can be presented and visualized.