Tag Archives: digital medievalism

Name in Print XIV

Cover of Antonella Ambrosio, Sébastien Barret & Georg Vogeler (edd.), Digital Diplomatics 2011: the computer as a tool for the diplomatist?

Cover of Antonella Ambrosio, Sébastien Barret & Georg Vogeler (edd.), Digital Diplomatics 2011: the computer as a tool for the diplomatist?

Second of the 2014 outputs now! In 2011, as you may remember, I went to a conference in Naples about digital study of charter material. It’s been a long time coming but the proceedings of that conference are now published, in the Beihefte of the Archiv für Diplomatik, and my paper is in there, the last in the volume indeed. It’s called “Poor Tools to Think With: the human space in digital diplomatics” and it’s about database techniques that try not to over-determine structure. Let me put that another way by exemplifying with a paragraph. Taking a data search from the Casserres material as an example, I write:

“I think that, where I have been prepared to deduce here, the deductions are all reasonable, but of course they are not certain. This is not a failing of the database, however; it is an accurate result. There is not enough information to make those judgements, and the data returned from the query accurately reflects that. This design is set up to require the human user to make the final decision, or not. This subset is small enough that I can, even without a computer, establish accurately that we cannot tell which of these [homonymous people] are the same on a logical basis, and I ought not, therefore, to entertain data schemas that would make me do so. We do not, in fact, have to make technical solutions for these problems, because the historian can do as much with the information presented this way as he or she can with it anchored to look-up tables and so on.”

This is coming out of the problem of building a structured database whose purpose is to allow one to identify people without having to identify them to build the database. If this sounds like a problem you too have faced, or expect to, I may have something to say to you! It’s probably as close to a publication of ‘my’ database method as there will be, and on a first read-through possibly actually free of typos, which I have never before managed. I humbly put it before you all.

Grim statistics: this was written in September 2011, revised and submitted in November 2011 and revised after editor’s comments in March 2012 and then again in April 2013. Proofs arrived in December 2013 and it’s taken 9 months to come to press, not what I expect from the Archiv which, last time I dealt with it, went through the whole submission process in that time. From first submission to press would thus be 2 years 11 months, rather below even my long average. But, fortunately indeed for a technical paper, my methods are so low-tech that they remain useful I think…

Full citation: J. Jarrett, “Poor tools to think with. The human space in digital diplomatics” in Antonella Ambrosio, Sébastien Barret & Georg Vogeler (edd.), Digital Diplomatics 2011: the computer as a tool for the diplomatist?, Archiv für Diplomatik Beihefte 14 (Köln 2014), pp. 291-302.

I built a resources page

But you already have one of those, you may say, and indeed a whole ragbag of links on the sidebar here that you should really organise so that people may know why they could be useful. All true, but this one I built for my previous job, for the Birmingham graduate course Research Skills in Medieval Studies which I then convened, and since I no longer have access to the virtual learning environment where it resides, I thought almost as soon as I created it that it would be worth stashing the code and later copying it here also. I’ve stripped out the institutional-only bits and updated a bit of text, replaced dead links and so on. Hopefully you may find it interesting or useful…


Digital Resources

Sources of data

Object databases

Images and Maps

As far as images goes, one obvious resource that avoids problems with copyright restrictions is Wikimedia Commons, from which Wikipedia’s images all come; most of these are licensed for re-use and the metadata is usually helpful. The museum catalogues above, especially the British Museum and the Walters, also provide images of many significant objects and manuscripts. (We also deal with dedicated manuscript resources below.) Other image resources on the open web of interest to medievalists include the REALonline image server (whose sophisticated search however requires a certain amount of German), the Web Gallery of Art, and the site of Genevra Kornbluth, a medievalist art historian and photographer who is slowly digitising her photo collection.

For maps, the most obvious resource, being worldwide, sophisticated and free, is Google Earth, but of course this is not historical information. The University of Edinburgh runs a historical map archive as part of its much larger Edina service which covers the UK. Further afield can be at least partly covered by the various historical maps offered by the commercial concern Euratlas.


One of the most exciting applications of digital resources for medievalists has been the sudden and still-expanding accessibility of our original source material, manuscript books and single-sheets, in digital form. The following are only a few of what is now too substantial a set of initiatives of which to keep track. It is by now always worth seeing if the manuscript you need has been digitised by its owners. (As an example, the Vatican project listed below was brought to the editor’s attention by a friend while he was actually in the act of writing this bit of the webpage.)

Full-Text Databases

There are an ever-growing number of these. The one you will probably be most used to is Google Books, but Google’s adherence to US copyright law makes its availability outside the USA vexingly partial.

  • The most important alternative, because publicly-funded and more fully available although still largely composed of old texts, is the Internet Archive, which includes as well as texts a vast archive of music and the Wayback Machine, an attempt to archive the actual Internet.
  • The Bibliothèque nationale de France has a similar server mounted at its Gallica site, which makes its copyright-free collections fully available.
  • Another such server is to be found courtesy of the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, the Münchener Digitalisierungszentrum, which also makes available the periodicals published by the Sigmaringen publishing house and the Staatsbibliothek’s manuscript collections.
  • The Internet Medieval Sourcebook is a venerable but still invaluable collection of primary sources in translation.
  • It forms part of one of the oldest medievalist sites on the Internet, the Online Reference Book for Medieval Studies. This is a collection of material largely intended for teaching, mostly now some years old, but with some nuggets buried in it.

Many more could be added. There are also specific groups of texts of interest to medievalists that are now available in digital, and searchable, form. These include the Acta Sanctorum and the Patrologia Latina, both published by ProQuest, though these are subscription-only. The Monumenta Germaniae Historica, however, is online for free and now fully searchable.

A particular group of sites can be mentioned that collect periodical literature. These are all European, where the whole open-access question (see below) has largely been solved with state money as if there was no problem there.

  • Persée is the French one of these portals, collecting most French academic journals.
  • In Germany we have DigiZeitschriften, which does the same job there.
  • In Spain the Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas maintain the latest five years of all their journals on the web for free.
  • In Catalonia (que no es Espanya!) almost all journals in current publication are available through Revistes amb ACcès Obert.

Data Archives

A cautionary tale is offered by the Arts and Humanities Data Service, whose surviving web presence is located here. The AHDS was set up by the Arts and Humanities Research Board (now Council) to ensure archiving of the digital outputs of researxch done under its auspices. An important part of this endeavour was permanence and ongoing attention to making data available in current formats, all requiring a continuing investment. Unfortunately for those goals, funding for the initiative was cancelled in 2008, after which its contents, frozen, were kept available by the Joint Information Services Committee (JISC), now a private company known only as Jisc. The only part of the old AHDS that still receives and archives information is the Archaeology Data Service, which is however an invaluable and highly searchable resource that contains, among other things, copies of all ‘grey literature’ from archaeological investigations done with state funding in England.

Other archives of scholarly data or source information (beyond manuscript archives, detailed above) include the National Archives at Kew, the French site ARCHIM, the Spanish one PARES and the wider-spread Europeana.

Bibliographical Databases

One of the most obvious ways in which digital resources assist historians of all stamps is in locating the work of other historians. Some tools like Google Scholar are pluridiscplinary, but the medievalist is favoured with several specialist databases.

  • The most well-known of these is the International Medieval Bibliography, published by Brepols. Until 1996 this was a print serial, then made available (and searchable) on CD-ROM, but now it exists only online through the Brepolis portal, again accessible only via subscription.
  • Much of the IMB’s content is, however, also available along with monographs (which the IMB does not index) via the OPAC server of the Regesta Imperii project at Mainz. This is a truly invaluable resource.
  • For those whose interests are focused on the British Isles, the Royal Historical Society maintains a similar but locally more comprehensive Bibliography of British and Irish History that can be found here.
  • Lastly (of more that could be named) the site Magazine Stacks aims to index most scholarly journals important in medieval studies.

Structured Data

Making data searchable by any means than free text, which is less and less useful the larger a sample gets, requires some form of structuring. All the catalogues and databases above obviously have some structure, but this section notes some resources that aim to give you processed information resulting from scholarly work, not the raw texts from which that work could be done. Many more of these tools exist than can be listed here, and creative web-searching is to be encouraged.

  • The Prosopography of Anglo-Saxon England gives biographical and source information on every identifiable person recorded in Anglo-Saxon source materials, and now also those in Domesday Book too.
  • Many other prosopographies exist: one that can be compared is People of Medieval Scotland 1093-1214, but it is worth searching for more.
  • Nomen et Gens is a similar project atbthe University of Tübingen that collects information covering the early medieval Frabkish kingdoms as part of a study of ethnicities.
  • Cathalaunia is proof that worthwhile projects of this kind can be done by one person, if that person has coding chops and a lot of spare time…
  • French-speaking areas have been especially forward-looking in the digitisation of medieval documentary materials. TELMA and Chartae Burgundiae Medii Ævi are two such databases that between them collect a good proportion of the early and high medieval charter evidence of modern France, the former among many other collections.
  • In England the Electronic Sawyer and various other resources available through the Kemble website offer similar possibilities for the much scanter Anglo-Saxon charter material.
  • As with the manuscript projects, the number of such initiatives now threatens to become untrackable; the editor could link to similar endeavours going on in Italy, Serbia, Russia and Germany with no trouble. MÕM (Monasterium.net) aims to unite these different projects into a single searchable database covering all medieval European charter evidence, and has not yet given up with 250,000-plus documents incorporated.
  • A perhaps unique way of accessing such information is offered by the site Regnum Francorum Online, which uses historical maps as a front-end for an index of prosopographical, bibliographical and archaeological information on the Frankish kingdoms of the early Middle Ages. This is hard to use but immensely informative when it can be made to work.
  • Another map-based project with more limited but no less impressive aims is ORBIS, based at Stanford University, which runs journey-planning software on a database built around the Roman road network!
  • Information from coins lends itself particularly well to this sort of treatment. The Early Medieval Corpus at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge collects all information published on coins from the British Isles of the period 380-1180, including both museum collections (the Sylloge of Coins of the British Isles) and archaeological finds (the EMC proper). (Full disclosure: Dr Jarrett used to maintain this.)

Digital interpretations of data

3D reconstructions

There are increasing numbers of these on the web. Some particularly illustrative ones are this amateur one of Ryd Abbey near Flensburg in Germany done in Blender 3D, which makes the construction stages of the model very clear or this one of the early Anglo-Saxon royal vill at Yeavering which is very true to the site. The one that perhaps most fully illustrates the potential of the medium, albeit not a medieval one, is this video showcasing a reconstructed seventeenth-century London on the eve of the Great Fire.


  • We’ve already mentioned Blender 3D, a free 3D imaging programme; there are also Microsoft Photosynth, a cloud-based application requiring Windows, and the app Autodesk 123D
  • For graphical representations of complex data, the current popular choice seems to be Gephi, which can be found here.
  • All the above software is free and usually open-source.

The Digital Humanities debate

There is a recent and heated debate about whether digital humanities is its own field or merely a way of approaching questions belonging to other humanities disciplines. One way to answer this has been to suggest that the discipline or sub-discipline is concerned with ‘big data’, accumulations of information so huge that only computerised analysis can produce results from them; a counter-attack has been that such work has so far done little beyond assembling its data. One scholar who discusses such matters accessibly is Scott Kleinman, whose blog is here; another is Jack Dougherty, whose blog is here.

Such issues have also resulted in publications, however, as scholars try to acquire digital ‘chops’ to increase the relevance and possibility of their studies and computer specialists get interested in humanities questions their techniques may be able to approach. Very few of these latter studies are conducted with the cooperation of experts in the relevant subjects, which limits their usefulness. Within the humanities, however, positions range from the extreme one that the new digital era necessarily brings with it an entirely new set of models for scholarly practice – this is most stridently set out in the edited volume Hacking the Academy, which is online for free here – to the Luddite one that the whole field is only a fad that frequently offers no more than expensive ways to check what we already ‘knew’. A middle position, that digital resources vastly increase the ease and potential of our research, seems most reasonable to us, with the added potential that if humanities scholars acquire enough of an understanding of such fields they will in fact be able to take the lead in directing such endeavours toward genuinely new outcomes.

One very recent book that explores the new possibilities of the ‘digital age’ for historians is Writing History in the Digital Age, edited by Kristen Nawrotzki and Jack Dougherty, which is also online for free here and was itself experimental in construction, being edited openly online with comments from both solicited and unsolicited reviewers. A recent issue of the journal Literature Compass entitled ‘E-medieval: teaching, research and the ‘net’, even looks at such issues with a lens firmly on medieval studies. (Full disclosure: Dr Jarrett got into both these volumes, but the other essays are very good.)


That volume contains an essay written in entirely digital collaboration by Dr Jarrett on the scholarly value of blogging, which is something about which he has views. As this implies, he has a long-running academic blog, A Corner of Tenth-Century Europe, which links to many other worthy medievalist blogs and a range of further resources. You may like it.

And lastly and perhaps most importantly, even if the comic PHD: Piled Higher and Deeper doesn’t seem relevant at this stage of your studies, it will!

Name in Lights VII & Print XII

[This was originally posted on December 3rd 2013 and stuck to the front page, but now I've reached the point in my backlog where it would originally have fallen, I'm releasing it to float free in the stream where future readers might expect it. Don't laugh, chronology is important to historians...]

Cover of Writing History in the Digital Age, ed. by Kristen Nawrotski & Jack Dougherty

Cover of Writing History in the Digital Age, ed. by Kristen Nawrotzki & Jack Dougherty

Some of the announcements I make here, despite backlog, deserve to be made while they’re still current. Such a one is this, though even it is a bit behind-hand: very shortly after my arrival in the new post described below, there emerged a volume edited by Kristen Nawrotzki and Jack Dougherty called Writing History in the Digital Age. This volume has had an interesting history, because it’s very largely been written and edited in public view online here. They solicited some contributions, got given others, had a couple of dedicated reviewers go through them but also let the authors see each others’ work (for once! why is this not done more often, and why does it make so little difference normally when it is?) and accepted comments from the open web too. These were surprisingly useful, and I know because I’m in it, and as I’ve recounted before wound up as a result in a collaboration I had never expected with a co-author I may never meet. In any case: the results are out, and because it’s in the University of Michigan Press’s digitalculturebooks imprint that means you can read it for free on the web here. Oddly, the title page names no authors, so you would have to be told that my/our piece is near the bottom, entitled, “Only Typing? Informal Writing, Blogging, and the Academy”. This may be a direct link to that essay, which is an oddly difficult thing to do. I suppose they would like you to buy the print version, which I believe exists and of which I am hoping some day to receive oneactually looks really nice and smart.1 In the meantime, though, as well as our piece I would especially recommend the several pieces on teaching with Wikipedia, something many of us may have thought of doing but fewer met the complications and teaching points involved in trying. The whole thing’s pretty good, though, and well worth some browsing time I think. I humbly recommend it to the readership…

Boring statistics: three drafts of my original version, still visible here, and three of the combined one but thrashed out in only two fairly frantic days in 2012; submission of final text to appearance, 1 year 8 months, not bad by the standards of the Academy alas. I still think it’s worth noting these things, because especially when you’re writing about the Internet, as I know all too well, content dates fast. I hope we’re still more or less of relevance, though.

1. Yes, there is still apparently a market for print works about the Internet. Have fun typing in those URLs… Full citation: Alex Sayf Cummings & Jonathan Jarrett, “Only Typing? Informal Writing, Blogging, and the Academy” in Writing History in the Digital Age, edd. Kristen Nawrotzki & Jack Dougherty, digitalculturebooks (Detroit 2013), pp. 246-258, doi:10.3998/dh.12230987.0001.001.

Leeds 2013 report part 3

This was the longest day of my attendance at the International Medieval Congress at Leeds last year, not just because of it ending in the dance but because it was the only day of the conference where I went to four sessions before the evening. I guess that for some of you this will be more interesting reading than for others, so, varying the usual pattern, here’s a list of the sessions I went to and their speakers and papers, then a cut and you can follow it up if you like!

    1030. Digital Pleasures, IV: scholarly editions, data formats, data exploitation

  • Francesco Stella, “Database versus Encoding: which methods for which results?”
  • Jean-Baptiste Camps, “Detecting Contaminations in a Textual Tradition: computer versus traditional methods”
  • Alexey Lavrentev, “Interactions, corpus, apprentissages, répresentations”
  • 1107. ‘Foul Hordes': the migration of ideas and people in Pictland and beyond

  • Oisin Plumb, “Go West Young Urguist: assessing the Pictish presence in Ireland”
  • Tasha Gefreh, “Foul Iconography”
  • Bethan Morris, “Reading the Stones: literacy, symbols, and monumentality in Pictland and beyond”
  • 1207. Peripheral Territories in Early Medieval Europe, 9th-11th Centuries

  • Katharina Winckler, “Competing Bishops and Territories in the Eastern Alps”
  • Jens Schneider, “Celtic Tradition and Frankish Narratives in 9th-Century Brittany”
  • Claire Lamy, “Dealing with the Margins: the monks of Marmoutier and the classification of their possessions (11th c.)”
  • 1310. Texts and Identities, IV: violence, legitimacy, and identity during the transformation of the Roman world

  • Glenn McDorman, “Military Violence and Political Legitimacy in the Burgundian Civil War”
  • Adrastos Omissi, “Hamstrung Horses? Timothy Barnes, Constantine’s Legendary Flight to his Father, and the Legitimacy of his procalamation as Emperor in 306″
  • Michael Burrows, “Lower-Class Illegitimate Violence in the late Roman West”

If any of that piques your interest, then read on! If not, hang about till next post and we’ll talk larger-scale Insular funerary sculpture instead. Continue reading

Cross-Rhine digital facsimile charter cooperation

This is another link post, but I didn’t bundle it in with the previous one because it has a significance that’s worth spending a bit more time on. In July of last year I was passing through the website of the Monumenta Germaniae Historica, as one does when looking for actual publication details of their volumes to put behind abbreviations (part of an argument I’m in over something I’m editing just now, sorry) and I saw there this notice that the MGH had now put online all of the 9-volume facsimile edition Diplomata Karolinorum by Ferdinand Lot and Philippe Lauer.1 And lo, it’s true and if you go look you can see them all. It’s a really good job, too; the original images are of course uncoloured, so they look a bit dull reduced to the size of a blog’s main column (witness below) but they have set them up zoomable and so on and seriously, one is a long way down the rabbit hole before these images pixelate, well below the point where you’re basically looking at the parchment texture. These were really good photographs and they’re being rendered near-perfectly.

Facsimile of 753 judgement in favour of the abbey of St-Denis

The first charter on the site, a 753 judgement in favour of the abbey of St-Denis

So that gives you about 300 images of royal charters right the way through from Pippin the Short to Louis V, passing via Charlemagne’s sister and most other points between with a final diversion into the kingdoms of Provence and Burgundy, it’s already quite a corpus, and not just originals either but fakes and things attempting honestly to represent the appearance of originals, so they’re actually quite a good resource for the kind of basic diplomatic that is telling authentic from inauthentic. But of course there were once a lot more, still are many more royal charters than here presented and, with the famous exception of those of Emperor Louis the Pious (now nearly done) these are all edited.2 But, equally famously among those who know, they were not all edited in the same projects. The problem here arises from the fact that the Carolingian Empire covered the territory of many modern states, most obviously France and Germany. The Monumenta Germaniae Historica‘s intention of editing everything written between 500 to 1500 in countries where Germanic languages were spoken covered France as far as they were concerned, but the French, and specifically the École des Chartes in Paris, were equally keen to make sure these monuments of their country were edited in-house in the new Chartes et diplômes relatifs à l’histoire de France. Somehow an agreement was reached that the Monumenta, which had started first, would get to do the kings and emperors who had covered the whole Empire (so, Pippin III, Carloman I, Charlemagne, Louis the Pious and Charles the Fat) and those of basically German focus, while the French would do the kings of the West Franks from Charles the Bald onwards and also Provence and, what might have been more contentious, Burgundy, and the Monumenta would not bother with those.3 (If the Italian diplomatists were involved in this at all, it didn’t work out, with the result that the eventual Codice Diplomatico Longobardo, itself also now going online, duplicates a lot of the editing work done in the other series for the documents ‘their’ kings issued for and in Italy.)

Portrait of Engelbert Mühlbacher

One of the men who made it work, Engelbert Mühlbacher, editor of the first volume of the MGH‘s Diplomata Karolinorum. “Engelbert Mühlbacher“. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons. There’s some kinds of scholarship where one just feels more validated with a huge beard, alas.

There was thus, even in the run-up to the Great War, what now seems a surprising amount of Franco-German cooperation on these projects: on the German side Engelbert Mühlbacher got the MGH edition of charters of Pippin III, Carloman and Charlemagne out with plenty of use of French archives to do so, and substantial if abortive work was done on the edition of Louis the Pious’s documents too, while on the French side the result was the Lot & Lauer facsimile volumes. (Note their sharing, or appropriation, of the Monumenta‘s series title.) But that cooperation ended fairly abruptly in 1914 and even since 1945, as I have somewhat unkindly pointed out, it has been hard to see.4 That these French volumes now go online courtesy of the MGH is thus a small big thing, and should be celebrated as something that hopefully heralds further such collaborations. After all, though the Chartes et diplômes volumes are thoroughly good editions, as one would expect from the École des Chartes, they are nonetheless not online, not everywhere has the print volumes and there are some projects which need one to compare both sides of the Rhine; indeed, there are some projects that can only be done by so comparing.5 Some parts of the Recueil have already been sucked into the ever-growing collective that is Chartae Burgundiae Medii Ævi, and those documents that we have as originals now form part of Telma, but even so the old editions work well as units, not least because of their indices, and it would be so nice to have them online… One can but hope, but it’s projects like this, quietly and successfully done, that give one some reason to.

1. F. Lot & P.Lauer, with Georges Tessier (edd.), Diplomata Karolinorum. Recueil de reproductions en fac-similé des actes originaux des souverains carolingiens conservés dans les archives et bibliothèques de France (Paris 1936-1949), 9 vols.

2. I draw most of the information here from my memory of Peter Johanek, “Probleme einer zukünftigen Edition der Urkunden Ludwigs der Frommen” in Peter Godman & Roger Collins (edd.), Charlemagne’s Heir: new perspectives on the reign of Louis the Pious (814-840) (Oxford 1990), pp. 409-424. If the details are wrong, that will be my fault; this post was almost entirely written in airports or on aeroplanes and I didn’t have access to my notes.

3. On the Monumenta and its initially-imperial intentions see David Knowles, “Great Historical Enterprises III: the Monumenta Germaniae Historica” in Transactions of the Royal Historical Society 5th Series Vol. 10 (London 1960), pp. 129-150, repr. as “The Monumenta Germaniae Historica” in idem, Great Historical Enterprises. Problems in Monastic History (London 1963), pp. 63-97.

4. E. g. J. Jarrett, review of Reinhard Härtel, Notarielle und kirchliche Urkunden im frühen und hohen Mittelalter (Wien 2011) in The Medieval Review 12.06.21 (Bloomington 2012), online here (Härtel, I should say, being an impressive exception to the rule), or Jarrett, “Introduction: problems and possibilities of early medieval charters” in Jarrett & Allan Scott McKinley (edd.), Problems and Possibilities of Early Medieval Charters, International Medieval Research 19 (Turnhout 2013), pp. 1-18, DOI: 10.1484/M.IMR-EB.1.101674, at pp. 2-4.

5. One excellent demonstration of these possibilities is Shigeto Kikuchi, “Representations of Monarchical ‘Highness’ in Carolingian Royal Charters”, ibid. pp. 187-208, DOI: 10.1484/M.IMR-EB.1.101683, where Charles the Bald’s diplomatic strategies only really show up once you can see what Lothar and Louis the German were doing with their documents. Have I mentioned yet that you can buy this volume here? Just so you know…

In Marca Hispanica XXII: how hard can it be to get at an actual charter?

Not all of the apparently many things I did in May of last year were in Oxford, however much it might seem that way. I actually managed to squeeze a short research trip to Catalonia in between teaching as well! Because of the short time available, this had to be very targetted, and the strategic priority was the project on priests around Manresa, bits of which have already turned up here. In May 2013 I was set to give two papers on this project in the next two months, and you may remember that while it had become clear that I was going to need access to the original documents to do it properly, so that signatures could be compared, I was not going to be able to get this out of the abbey of Montserrat, where most of Sant Benet de Bages‘s parchments have wound up. So instead, I had to try and get pictures of all the rest, or at least, all the rest where scribes about whom I was suspicious might occur. That actually seemed fairly feasible in a two-day trip, but it meant starting with this place, about which you have heard my reservations before.

Entrance to the Archivo de la Corona d'Aragón

This is of course the Archivo de la Corona de Aragón. Despite its outward appearance, the ACA is actually quite a nice place to work. They have all the printed editions you might require, it is quiet, there are sufficient terminals to access all the digital resources and there are quite a lot of those, largely excellent, at which you can only get on the premises. There is also lots of desk space, but I don’t know why because the one thing they won’t let you do here is look at original documents. Sit with you and work through a useless microfilm, yes, talk you through the slightly arcane file structure of the digitised documents (based on the equally arcane eighteenth-century archival one, to be fair), but fetch up an actual parchment and put it in front of you, NO. (I subsequently discovered that they do in fact have to write to Madrid for permission to do this, so it’s not something you can achieve in a day at all.1) So I knew already that an order for reproductions was as good as I was going to manage, an order that was unlikely to be fulfilled in time, but which would hopefully stand me in good stead later. And they had actually simplified the process for doing this—there were now only four steps and none of them had to be approved in Madrid!—so I ordered digital reproductions of one charter from the Cancilleria, five from the Monacals d’Hisenda from Santa Cecília de Montserrat and, with some reluctance, one hundred from the Monacals holdings for Sant Benet de Bages, which was apparently the smallest subdivision of that collection one could order. I should have figured out why, but alas…

Archivo de la Corona d'Aragón, Monacals d'Hisenda, Pergamins de Santa Cecília de Montserrat, no. 6 recto

Archivo de la Corona d’Aragón, Monacals d’Hisenda, Pergamins de Santa Cecília de Montserrat, no. 6 recto, reduced from the much large image actually supplied to me. Here I was after Sunyer, whose signature you can probably distinguish at the bottom.

So, inevitably, these turned up way after the papers were given, but they did turn up, in an odd-shaped package that turned out to contain a CD-R and a roll of microfilm. The latter was why one could only order a hundred Sant Benet documents at once; the ACA are not, apparently, going to digitise whole microfilms for you on demand. But since I’d chosen and paid for digital images, this was extremely annoying; I was now going to have to digitise them myself, at my own expense. It damped considerably my delight at how good the digital ones they had been able to send me had been (and indeed always are, it seems). And worse was to come.

Archivo de la Corona d'Aragón, Monacals, Pergamins Sant Benet de Bages, no. 16 recto

Archivo de la Corona d’Aragón, Monacals, Pergamins Sant Benet de Bages, no. 16 recto, enhanced by me in software and shrunk for web

I’m pretty sure that on my original order form I’d ordered reels 1 & 2 from the collection (not realising that was what I was doing). The confirmation form that is part of the process however listed reels 1 & 8, and I didn’t stop to wonder why. Once I got the film onto a reader at Birmingham, however (because that’s how long this took, though on the other hand it turned out that the library here had just bought some software for digitising microfilm which they were keen to have tested) I found out: I had fifty documents from 1000 to about 1011, and then fifty more from the mid-twelfth century, all very useful I’m sure but sadly not to me. And while some of the relevant ones are like the above, unfortunately rather more are like the below:

Archivo de la Corona d'Aragón, Monacals, Pergamins Sant Benet de Bages no. 7 recto

Archivo de la Corona d’Aragón, Monacals, Pergamins Sant Benet de Bages no. 7 recto, after enhancement in software

Archivo de la Corona d'Aragón, Monacals, Pergamins Sant Benet de Bages no. 20 recto

Pergamins Sant Benet de Bages no. 20 recto, likewise after enhancement. The verso image here I just couldn’t distinguish to enhance, I’m still not sure the charter’s actually in it.

I haven’t seen the like of this for a while, because I’ve forgotten what badly-developed films look like. In the room where I was doing the digitisation, which suffers from too much daylight for imaging work, as said in the caption, I couldn’t tell in a couple of cases whether there was a charter in the photograph at all. But this is the official state of access to these documents. There are also several numbers missing in the sequence and two documents photographed twice. I don’t really feel that I got my money’s worth out of this, and it doesn’t seem that ACA did when they paid for the original photography. At least this may constitute an argument that gets me access to the originals next time I try…

Inside one of the reading rooms at the Biblioteca de Catalunya, once upon a time the fifteenth-century Hospital de Santa Creu

Inside one of the reading rooms at the Biblioteca de Catalunya, once upon a time the fifteenth-century Hospital de Santa Creu

But folks, it doesn’t have to be like this, as I found even that same day (because since they wouldn’t let me actually see anything, I was done at the ACA quite quickly). So I trekked across town (photos will follow) and got myself to this place, the Biblioteca de Catalunya, which I’d never used before, and it became probably my second-favourite research library within the hour. It was no trouble at all to get a reader’s card, a five-year one even, and then it was equally unproblematic to identify and order up the five documents I wanted to see. And there they were, within half an hour, in plastic folders on my desk. And after I’d been looking for about five minutes, the desk attendant whom I’d asked about photography came back to tell me that actually these documents were all on the website, if that would make things simpler for me?

Biblioteca de Catalunya, Pergamins 2201 recto

Biblioteca de Catalunya, Pergamins 2201 recto, shrunk for the web

The website’s lovely, too, another obvious point of comparison. The ACA has a portion of a larger state site, and the only means of electronic contact is a form that doesn’t work. The BC not only has all kinds of social media enabled but also a crowd-sourced transcription initiative.2 One could be forgiven for thinking they actually wanted people to use their collections. And it is a lovely place to sit and read, indeed, and I hope to do so more in the future. But the contrast between it and the ACA could really not be more sharply drawn!

1. The person who told me this also suggested that one would need to sacrifice a black goat under a full moon for this to achieve any actual result, but obviously I’d guessed that already. (This is sarcasm, by the way.) The more canonical strategy for Spanish archives beloved of English investigators, to wit, buying the archivist lunch until he decides you’re OK (this is not sarcasm, it’s well tried and tested), won’t work at the ACA because its staff is too large and rotates, and in any case my Castilian’s not up to it…

2. They currently have up requiring transcription an unedited, unpublished tenth- and eleventh-century charter collection from the Priorat d’Organyà, and I tell you, it is very very hard not to procrastinate with that…

Picturing Abbess Emma’s associations

Really long-time readers of this blog will maybe remember a debate that got going on this blog in June 2008, apropos of a paper in the Journal of Neurocomputing that was using medieval charter information to showcase visualisation of social networks data.1 I was initially sceptical but talking to two of the authors got me much more interested and I subsequently talked one of them into delivering a paper in the final Problems and Possibilities of Early Medieval Diplomatic session at Leeds, a paper that we did want to publish but which sadly in the end could not be included in the final publication.2 That’s still a shame as there was good stuff to think with there, but of course what any historian dealing with dense social data is going to want to know about such software and techniques is, ‘how will it help me with my stuff?’ And since answering that question usually involves a lot of data entry, it has tended to rest there.

"Representation of the medieval social network with force directed algorithm" from Boulet et al., "Batch kernel SOM and related Laplacian methods for social network analysis", fig. 1

There is also the question of how much a “Representation of the medieval social network with force directed algorithm” like this from Boulet et al., “Batch kernel SOM and related Laplacian methods for social network analysis”, fig. 1, can tell you by itself, which is why of course in that article they then spend a lot of time breaking it down

For my area of interest, this was changed in mid-2012 as the indefatigable Joan Vilaseca of the Cathalaunia website began to investigate applying such techniques to the database he maintains there, which includes quite a lot of the documents from which I ply my trade. Magistra et Mater, who was getting interested in the possibilities of these things around then too, wrote some initial thoughts about what Joan and others were doing at hers in December 2012, and I had already made a stub note to talk about it in October of that year but, well, it’s been queued ever since. There is still plenty to say, though!

The thing that particularly caught my interest was that Joan put up a post on his blog in which he produced a list of the best-connected people in his database, the ones who appear with the most other people, and once the kings who appear in dating clauses and their notaries were filtered out, pretty much top of the list was Abbess Emma of Sant Joan de Ripoll. Since there is perhaps no-one in the world who cares more about Abbess Emma than me,3 this seemed like a really good type-case with which to answer the quesion: does this kind of analysis actually tell us very much that we didn’t already know? And, weirdly, I think that my conclusion is that for me it’s perhaps most valuable for emphasising what we don’t.

Relationships of Abbess Emma in the Cathalaunia database coloured according to grade of connectivity

Relationships of Abbess Emma in the Cathalaunia database coloured according to grade of connectivity

To talk about this it’s necessary to get you the reader clear about exactly what Joan has actually done here, of course. As simply as I can put it, what we have above is a graph built in the following way. In Joan’s database Emma appears in 50 documents and in those 50 documents she occurs with an awful lot of people. Looking for only the most meaningful, Joan excluded from the count all persons with whom Emma turned up only once, which is a lot given that she orchestrated the Vall de Sant Joan hearing in which about 500 people swore testimony for her and then there’s still 48 more documents with her in. That still leaves 112 people with whom she is recorded associating more than once, in fact the total of associations still in the count is 1292. Many of these people also relate to each other and what you have above is a computer-aided display of all those links, with Emma at the centre and everyone else pulled out to where you can see the links. But you can already see from the way that some of the links are made with thicker bands of darker colour that some of these people dominate the sample much more than others. So, who are these people? Well, if you load up the SVG version of this graph on Joan’s blog you can just click straight through to his database records, which is marvellous, but in short the top five are two priests called Gentiles and Guisad, and then three laymen, namely Reinoard, Guimarà and Tudiscle.

Archivo de la Corona d'Aragón, Cancilleria, Pergamins Seniofredo 39

Archivo de la Corona d’Aragón, Cancilleria, Pergamins Seniofredo 39 (reduced-quality version), with Gentiles’s signature lower left centre

This all sounds more or less sensible to me: though I think only Gentiles and Reinoard, maybe Tudiscle, would have been in a top five I’d guessed, I can see why they’re all here. Gentiles was something like the chief scribe of Sant Joan: he appears in Emma’s first appearance as an adult, he went on appearing some six to ten years after her death, and in that time an awful lot of the documents of the abbey carried his scribal signature, even though as Federico Udina pointed out when he edited these documents, they’re not all in the same hand. This presumably means that he had subordinates signing stuff off for him and that his name was important enough that it still had to be there.4 Guisad was another frequent scribe for the abbey, apparently older, and he also appeared on the panel of a couple of the hearings in which Emma pursused people for her rights over their land.5 Reinoard was headman of one of the settlements in the Vall de Sant Joan and worked as court enforcer for Emma once as well as appearing in court when she called them, he was a collaborator of hers whom I’ve discussed elsewhere.6 Tudiscle and Guimarà present a more interesting case: these are two of the landowners whom Emma took to court, but in both cases those episodes were part of a longer relationship with the abbey which had here broken down. I’ve written about these two as well precisely because I think that in Tudiscle’s case the hearing was part of mending that relationship, as his importance seems not to have suffered subsequently, whereas Guimarà seems subsequently not to have worked with the abbess and in fact seems to have managed to shift quite a lot of property once donated to the nunnery onto Emma’s little brother, Count-Marquis Sunyer of Barcelona, Girona and Osona, as part of Sunyer’s campaign to clip his sister’s independently-ruled abbey’s wings.7 But before that he had worked for Emma, and these people certainly make good people to study if you want to understand how Emma worked, which is of course why I did.

Relationships of Abbess Emma in the Cathalaunia database, sorted by modularity

The same relationships now displayed according to their modularity, that is, by the size of the groups internal to the data

So, the first answer to the great question about whether this tells me anything looks like ‘no'; I had already found these people by older methods. But I’m arguably not the target here: the thing is that those methods were very like what Joan’s programming all but automates. I went through the documents, made note of the names who recurred most, assembled profiles of their appearances and decided who were the people I could tell the story with. Joan’s database and graphing together mean that I could, if I was starting again, do in about ten minutes the same exercise that took me weeks when I actually did it. I could do (and may do) the same thing now with Count-Marquis Guifré II Borrell, Sunyer’s predecessor and brother, for whom I haven’t done the same kind of background data-crunching, with far less trouble than I was anticipating. So in terms of research facilitation for others, this is a huge step forward even if it doesn’t help me. I can in fact only tell how much use it is precisely because I’d done it already by another means! (Whether Joan had to put fewer hours in to make it happen than I did for my research is another question of course…)

All the same, as I said above, what it now makes me think is how imperfect our data sometimes is for the kind of questions we might like to ask. If, on first principles, we asked ourselves who the principal contacts of an early medieval abbess was, we would probably presume that the main ones were her nuns. So indeed they may have been here, but as I’ve observed in a supposedly-forthcoming paper, while Emma was in charge of Sant Joan we know the names of only two other nuns, and those are only seen as they join the nunnery, we’ve no idea what Emma’s relations with them were like.8 If we then allowed ourselves to remember that this abbess was a count’s daughter, we might then think about her family as an important second string. But Emma hardly shows up with her family, and when she does it needs very careful reading: I think she only occurs alive and in person with brother Sunyer in the Vall de Sant Joan hearing where she was in theory taking him to court, for example.9 (She also turns up as a neighbour of land he was transferring twice, but of course she wasn’t actually there for that, though it gives us another reason to suppose they had other dealings.10) Also on the defending end on that occasion was their probably-elder brother Miró, Count of Cerdanya, who in his will named Emma one of his executors and had her called ‘my most dear sister'; I think she occurs with him once otherwise.11 She got Radulf to consecrate a church with her once, I think that’s it though.12 We can more or less see from this that this set of siblings were close collaborators even if not always very willing ones but the quantity of occurrences doesn’t really reflect what we can guess the importance of those relationships would have been.

The memorial stone for Abbess Emma in the abbey church of Sant Joan de les Abadesses

Abbess Emma’s memorial in the medieval church of Sant Joan de les Abadesses

The information we get from this, therefore, is not wrong but it is partial. Emma probably did see Gentiles and talk with him most days of her adult life. It’s not clear whether Guisad was also a priest of the abbey but if so, he also would have been a regular feature of her days. She placed a lot of reliance on Reinoard, and that relationship was probably important to both of them in raising Reinoard above his fellows and showing those fellows how Emma could reward her collaborators. Tudiscle and Guimarà, at least at first, were more of that sort of person and even if the relationships probably didn’t mean as much to Emma as that with brother Miró did, for example, they’re historically very interesting and anyone working on Emma would be well served by being pointed towards them. But there is also quiet and missing data that must have made up a great deal more of her life, and that we can’t really reconstruct. It’s not by any means the fault of this technology that it can’t bring that to our notice: it obviously can’t give us back information we didn’t put in. But that also means that the technology is no more than one of the tools we have to use to understand that information in its context, some of which context is simply what isn’t there.13

1. Romain Boulet, Bertrand Jouse, Fabrice Rossi & Nathalie Villa, “Batch kernel SOM and related Laplacian methods for social network analysis” in Journal of Neurocomputing Vol. 71 (Amsterdam 2008), pp. 1579-1573.

2. What final publication, you ask? Why, Jonathan Jarrett & Allan Scott McKinley (edd.), Problems and Possibilities of Early Medieval Charters, International Medieval Research 19 (Turnhout 2013). You could buy it here if you wanted!

3. See J. Jarrett, “Power over Past and Future: Abbess Emma and the nunnery of Sant Joan de les Abadesses” in Early Medieval Europe Vol. 12 (Oxford 2003), pp. 229-258; idem, Rulers and Ruled in Frontier Catalonia 880-1010: pathways of power (Woodbridge 2010), pp. 23-72.

4. Ibid. pp. 29-30; see Federico Udina Martorell, El Archivo Condal de Barcelona en los siglos IX-X: estudio crítico de sus fondos, Textos 18/Publicaciones de le Sección de Barcelona 15 (Madrid 1951), p. 205 for the argument.

5. Jarrett, Rulers and Ruled, p. 59 n. 162.

6. Ibid. pp. 39, 41-42.

7. Ibid. pp. 52-53 (Tudiscle), 53-57 (Guimarà) & 64-65 (Sunyer’s pressure on the nunnery).

8. J. Jarrett, “Nuns, Signatures and Literacy in late-Carolingian Catalonia”, to appear in a Festschrift for Rosamond McKitterick first planned in 2010.

9. The hearing is best printed in Ramon Ordeig i Mata (ed.), Catalunya Carolíngia IV: els comtats d’Osona i Manresa, Memòries de la Secció Històrico-arqueològica LIII (Barcelona 1999), 3 vols, doc. nos 119 & 120, though the palæographic notes of Udina, Archivo Condal, doc. no. 38, are still very useful.

10. Ordeig, Catalunya Carolíngia IV, doc. nos 103, 105 & 155. There are a few other cases where she and Sunyer both turn up as neighbours, but not of the same properties, so I don’t think that really counts here.

11. The will is only printed in Prosper de Bofarull y Mascaró, Los condes de Barcelona vindicados, y cronología y genealogía de los reyes de España considerados como soberanos independientes de su marca (Barcelona 1836, repr. 1990), 2 vols. I pp. 88-90. In Ordeig, Catalunya Carolíngia IV, doc. no. 57 Miró presided over a hearing where Emma was the plaintiff, but she was represented by a mandatory and not present herself.

12. Udina, Archivo Condal, doc. no. 73. The two also occur as common neighbours in Ordeig, Catalunya Carolíngia IV, doc. nos 155 & 419, but again that only tells us that they probably met at some other point.

13. Cf. Jarrett, “Poor Tools to Think With: the human space in digital diplomatics” in Georg Vogeler & Antonella Ambrosiani (edd.), Digital Diplomatics 2011, Beihefte der Archiv für Diplomatik (München forthcoming), pp. 291-302.