Tag Archives: Nathalie Villa-Vialaneix

Conferring in Naples, III: a full day’s talking

So, term started, and there was a short hiatus, for most of which this post was in draft. But, it’s actually a little hard to work out how to address the papers given at the Digital Diplomatics 2011 conference briefly. I don’t want to go on at the length of the previous post, and ordinarily therefore I’d start by listing the programme, but since it, the abstracts and indeed the slideshows from the papers are all already online, it seems as if you’d already have gone there if you wanted. Still, I can’t think of another structure, and maybe the few things I want to say will spark your interest, so I’m going to use my usual one anyway, but with a cut at the halfway mark because, well, this goes on a bit.


  • Jeroen Deploige & Guy de Tré, “When Were Medieval Benefactors Generous? Time Modelling in the Development of the Database Diplomatica Belgica
  • Žarko Vujošević, “The Medieval Serbian Chancery: challenge of digital diplomatics”
  • Richard Higgins, “Cataloguing medieval charters: a repository perspective”
  • This first session had been supposed to feature Christian Emil Ore, but he had now been moved to a slot later in the program, and Mr Vujošević moved up to compensate because of a later speaker not being available as planned. The organiser were keen on keeping papers together that could talk to each other. Dr Higgins’s was however, I think, always going to be an outlier: hailing from Durham University Library, which has a charter or two, although his primary concern was as most others’ getting stuff on the web so it could be used, he was trying to do so as part of a much larger project of which very little else was charters, and much of what he said of trying to find data schemes that would do it all struck close to my old experiences. It helped explain to the more hardcore audience, I think, why libraries so rarely seem to do things with charters the way that digital diplomatists might wish. The paper by Deploige and de Tré, meanwhile showed the kind of thing that we should be able to do with large-scale diplomatic corpora—things like, for example, did people give more to the Church when they were rich and there was peace, or when the Black Death was right around the corner?—but was actually more about quite how difficult it is to digitise medieval dates into something computers can actually compare. They had the compromise of a reference date, computer-readable and therefore unhistorically precise for the most part, and a text field always displayed with it showing the range of possible dates, but this is a kludge, I know because I do it myself, it leads to sorting of documents that may be completely awry, and they had a range of improvements they were hoping to try. And Mr Vujošević, meanwhile, spoke almost as a voice in the wilderness, because although Serbian medieval charters are plentiful they are very variably edited, if at all, and much of his work had turned into battles to simply get the texts out of archives and into a single uniformly-featured database. All the speakers were therefore giving work-in-progress reports on fairly intractable technical and archival problems, but I’m not sure this was the theme the organisers had expected to emerge.

Coffee, however, restored our spirits, and I was able to swap stories as well as some useful software tips with Dr Higgins, so the sessions resumed in good order.

  • Pierluigi Feliciati, “Descrizione digitale e digitalizzazione di pergamene e sigilli nel contesto di un sistema informativo archivistico nazionale: l’esperienza del SIAS”
  • Francesca Capochiani, Chiara Leoni & Roberto Rosselli Del Turco, “Open Source Tools for Online Publication of Charters”
  • François Bougard, Antonella Ghignoli & Wolfgang Huschner, “Il progetto ‘Italia Regia’ & il suo sistema informatico”
  • The latter two of these papers were given in Italian, or so my notes suggest, whereas the first one, with an Italian title, was presented in English! Figure that one out. Anyway, I don’t speak Italian, and though I was surprised by how much I could muddle out of it by reading the English abstracts at the same time as they spoke, nonetheless I didn’t get much. I will just note that the second paper was actually presented by all three authors, in segments, whereas the last was presented by Ghignoli alone, a pity as I’d like to have met M. Bougard, he does things that interest me. The first paper, although I did understand it, was essentially a verbal poster for this SIAS program, which is slowly chomping through Italy’s national archives and cataloguing them all. Since some 20-25% apparently don’t have indices for their charters at all, some exciting stuff will doubtless come out of this but that wasn’t what the paper was about. The second paper I could follow more or less because it was essentially a how-to guide on publishing such material, a presentation that may have missed its audience here. The third was where my language really just wasn’t up to it and I don’t know if what was being said was a demonstration of a remarkable project or just another one, but the project is a digital database with images of all Italian royal charters, seventh to twentieth centuries, and if you wonder as do I about what the later end of that might even be I guess we can go look

By now we were running some way behind, and there was a brief attempt to cancel the next coffee break, which had already been over-run. This was largely ignored—punctuation for the day, as I had that morning been told—but with some grumbling things were got going with some time clawed back, and we continued.

  • Camille Desenclos & Vincent Jolivet, “Diple, propositions pour la convergence de schémas XML/TEI dédiés à l’édition de sources diplomatiques”
  • Daniel Piñol Alabart, “Proyecto ARQUIBANC. Digitalización de archivos privados catalanes: una herramienta para la investigación”
  • The former of these papers was notable for containing more acronyms and programming languages I think than any other at the conference, but this was partly because it was trying to explain the sheer variety of data schemas in use for charter material out there. By the end of this conference I think it was fairly clear to us all how this was happening: either new researchers don’t realise that there’s a toolset and a set of standards available to them and build their own, or, much more frequently it seemed (but then the former sort largely wouldn’t know about the conference, either…) they are aware of the tools but find them inadequate for their precise enquiry or sample and so modify them for their own purposes. The presenters argued that the widespread use of the TEI standard (explained last post but one) was making this easier for people to do, but that it also made it easier to link things back up again. The other paper, meanwhile, gave me great glee because it had my sort of material in it, documents in happily-familiar scripts and layouts, but what it also alerted me to was that for the period from when records begin in Catalonia to now, as a whole, a full 70% of surviving documentary material (of all kinds) is in private hands. Getting people to let the state digitise it, the point of the ARQUIBANC project, thus presents a number of problems, starting with arrant distrust and moving onto uncatalogued archives and getting scanners into somebody’s attic. Where this has been done, medieval material does come out, as indeed I knew from reading of the Catalunya Carolíngia for Osona and Manresa, where four of the tenth-century documents were revealed precisely by going and knocking on the doors of really old manors, but the size of the project as compared to the resources makes their considerable successes seem puny.

Biblioteca Universitària de Barcelona, Pergamins, C (Sant Pere de Casserres) núm 20

Not this document! But documents like it! Hurray!

You will also imagine that I had much to ask Senyor Piñol, in shaky Catalan, afterwards on the subject of private archives, and he was helpful, but before very long we were being shuffled off to lunch, where I ate more pizza margarita than even I would have thought plausible in excellent company and felt pretty good about both these things on returning for the poster session and the last six papers. Continue reading

Leeds 2011 Report 4 and final

[Written offline on the same trip to Birmingham as previous.]

The last day of Leeds was made extra-special for me, as had the last day of Kalamazoo been both this year and the last—it’s stopped being funny now and my have something to do with my decision not to present at either next year—by having to be up first thing in the morning after the dance to make sure my sessions ran OK, including, you know, my own paper. Basically the whole of the rest of Leeds for me was the Problems and Possibilities of Early Medieval Diplomatic sessions and then missing booksellers with whom I’d reserved stuff, and finally goodbyes. So, the latter two need no discussion here and the former is quickly dealt with, thus!

1507. Problems and Possibilities of Early Medieval Diplomatic, I: royal charters and royal representatives

Portrait of Charles the Bald in the so-called Vivian Bible

Portrait of Charles the Bald in the so-called Vivian Bible

  • Alaric Trousdale, “Some Thoughts on the Charters of King Eadred, 946-55”
  • Shigeto Kikuchi, “How High the King? Monarchical Representation in Carolingian Royal Charters”
  • Jonathan Jarrett, “Taking it to the March: Carolingian justice in 9th-century Girona”
  • Attendance was surprisingly good given the circumstances; even Alaric turned up eventually… But seriously folks: this was a pleasant mix of new and old because, well, you know, I was there at the start of these sessions and presented in every one of the six years they ran; Alaric was an early adopter; and Shigeto had only just met us all. Alaric showed indisputably that there is more that can be said about the politics of Eadred’s rule of England than what’s in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (though even there I think he shows up pretty well, consistently defeating all comers); Shigeto used both charters and art history to demonstrate that Carolingian kings or their clerks probably really did have a policy about what titles they used in describing their power in their documents, which was excellent—diplomatic and art history should meet more often—and then there was mine. I’ve already said I didn’t think much of mine: it was a game attempt to make something of a research question that didn’t come good, and I had to try and argue a trend from three instances of my chosen phenomenon (shifts in the representation of royal power at court hearings in Girona) because that was all there were. But hey, it made for a couple of good blog posts.

1607. Problems and Possibilities of Early Medieval Diplomatic, II: members and margins

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

  • Julie Hofmann, “Women and Witnessing under the Carolingians: a reappraisal”
  • Arkady Hodge, “When is a Charter not a Charter? Documents in Non-Conventional Contexts in Early Medieval Europe”
  • Fabrice Rossi and Nathalie Villa-Vialaneix, “Exploration of a Large Database of Charters with Social Network Methods”
  • This session was, in all ways, a bit less traditional in its modes. Julie was raising difficult questions about the assumptions people have made about what women were and weren’t allowed to do, in terms of dealing with property and being generally legally active, and even beginning to answer them using her forthcoming database of the material from Carolingian-period Fulda. Then, you may have occasionally heard, especially if you work on Ireland, Scotland or Bavaria, of property transfers being written into Gospel books or similarly solemn but non-documentary contexts. But wait: Scotland… and Bavaria? And in fact more widely than that, which is what Arkady was showing: he argued strongly that when you have this many instances of a weird oddity, we probably have to stop thinking it’s odd, which will mean actually thinking about it! And lastly Fabrice, who was the one of this pair actually giving the paper (though weirdly I met Nathalie at the next conference I went to), made a complex system with lots of maths in it understandable to a lay audience and I think left them fairly excited that they could probably get something new out of their datasets, however large, using this kind of technology. This is not easy to do, and he did it well, even though he was speaking in his second language, so I was impressed. And, of course, that this paper even exists is ultimately down to this blog post, and it may the most academic impact this blog’s ever had (unless stories of students printing posts for study purposes are actually true, which would be worrying). So it closes a circle or two to have ended with it.

Because that was the end of the Problems and Possibilities sessions, and I think it genuinely is the end. We certainly aren’t running any next year, whoever `we’ would be, and I don’t think it’s needed. Though we’ve managed to rally every time, it’s often been a struggle to get speakers for these, but this year that was because a lot of people who might have been interested were already presenting in other related sessions. There were other sessions dedicated to being clever about charter evidence. It would be nice to think we’d started a trend—maybe we did, maybe we were just on one—but at the very least it is no longer up to us, and specifically me, to keep it trending. So, for now, Problems and Possibilities of Early Medieval Diplomatic ran from 2006 to 2011, inclusive, and thankyou to all who helped it do so.

But it doesn’t end with the sessions, folks! The reason that blogging has been so sporadic of immediate late is actually exactly the opposite of that. After the peak year in 2007 when we had nine papers and a tremendous audience, my co-organiser Allan Scott McKinley observed, “If people want to hear this stuff we should really think about publishing it!” and he was of course right, as I have found he usually is. It has just taken us a while, for various reasons, to get round to it.1 But the other thing that happened at this Leeds was that we got given a deadline to come up with a book by our prospective publishers, and that deadline was December 31st. Yowch! It is of immense credit to our planned contributors that only one of the seventeen of them did not agree to try and meet this, and all but one have in fact managed it at time of writing despite immense odds against in several cases. I owe them each a considerable debt. I typed this on the way to and from meeting with Allan, now my co-editor as well, and as a result of that meeting I can say that I’m pretty sure this thing is going to happen, and that it will be pretty damn good. There’s two chapters here I already wish I could set for my students, they’re so helpful, and a bunch of other interesting things too. I won’t plug it in detail yet: firstly it has to go through full review still, and secondly it’s not yet clear exactly what the running order will be, but as well as the last two blog posts I wrote two thousand words of introduction today while perched on Allan’s sofa and this reaffirms in me the conviction I’ve had every time I pile this stuff up and look at it; this will be an exciting volume, which I think may be an unusual boast about something to do with charters. So look out for more as we have it. And that will have been the final upshot of my Leeds 2011 conference experience.

1. And I believe I still owe Kathleen Neal several drinks (or one big drink) for helping dispel one of those reasons without offence to anyone.