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"Digital Textuality & Tools" - Join the discussion!

Digital Textuality and Tools

A HASTAC Scholars Discussion Forum, open now at

The Global Middle Ages Project (GMAP), spearheaded by Geraldine Heng and Susan Noakes, is an effort to bring together scholars from many disciplines to see what insights and visions of the medieval world appear when collaboration and interconnection become key. One important facet of GMAP is the search to develop revolutionary tools to provide scholars, teachers, and students better access to artifacts such as digitized manuscripts. In this respect, it is one of many current efforts to make classical, medieval and other rare manuscripts available to a wider audience. These efforts confront multiple challenges, such as securing funding, finding effective and helpful ways to deploy new technologies, and publicizing their work widely, among others.

Given that scholars of all levels regularly must deal with texts of all sorts, the next generation of database interfaces--tools that enable advanced cross-referencing, collaborative research, and sophisticated visualizations of data--can apply to digital manuscripts as well as less insistently physical works like contemporary academic journals. Further, the questions raised by GMAP are relevant to any similarly interdisciplinary, interconnected work in other periods.

This HASTAC Scholars Discussion Forum, hosted by Angela Kinney and Michael Widner, will focus on the questions raised by the efforts of GMAP and similar projects:

  • How can we handle the sheer amount of data produced by digitization projects?
  • How can we advocate for the continual upkeep of (now stagnated) digital resources, which are in danger of becoming so obsolete as to be useless?
  • How can we stimulate funding for high-quality digitization of manuscripts and digital scholarly editions in an environment where palaeography and textual criticism is not esteemed as ?original? scholarly work?
  • Is it worth investigating the implications of digitization on a sociological level?
  • To what extent are we ignoring the significant gap between a digital image of a manuscript and the manuscript itself?
  • Will widespread digitization efforts change the way we do research? How?
  • What sorts of tools and initiatives do we need to improve the ways we research and learn?

Come join the discussion!

Angela Kinney is a PhD student in the University of Illinois (Urbana-Champaign) Department of the Classics and the Program in Medieval Studies. She holds an MA in Classics from the University of Illinois. She is spending the academic year 2008-2009 at the University of Bristol (UK) to work with Professor Gillian Clark on Augustine's use of satirical techniques in his De Civitate Dei (City of God). Her current research projects include arguing for 6th-century authorship of the Vita Apollinaris Valentiniensis and a comparison of the physical description of the Greco-Roman goddess Fama (Rumor) with descriptions and iconography of angels in Judeo-Christian texts. Her digital interests include the digitization and accessability of pre-modern manuscripts, as well as website/graphic design and online instruction. Her favorite ways of procrastinating include message boards, UNIX scrabble, and Google Books.

Michael Widner is a PhD candidate in the Department of English at the University of Texas at Austin. He received his MA from Southern Methodist University. His dissertation focuses on the relationships between genre, identity, and bodies in medieval English and French literature. Though his research leads him to read about knights, saints, and hot pokers, he also closely follows technology news and current pedagogical practices and theories that attempt to deploy technology in relevant and effective ways. He currently teaches "The Rhetoric of Cartoons", a class in which he attempts to suck all the joy out of reading graphic novels like Alan Moore's Watchmen and Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis. Many years ago, he was a UNIX Systems Administrator for SBC; he doesn't regret quitting that career, but is grateful for the technological expertise with which it left him. He is currently struggling with Facebook addiction.



1 comment

Thanks for setting up this discussion forum and the very interesting questions posed in the first contributions, which I'm pondering. In the meantime, I'm posting a very practical concern. It's been my recent experience that, in Italy at least, the cost of purchasing digitized copies of manuscripts is extremely high, and it's pushing up the cost of microfilms, since the libraries would prefer to digitize now. For example, the cost of getting a digitized copy of a complete glossed manuscript of the Aeneid was about $600 (at least when the euro was really high), and the cost of microfilming it was $400--much more than I had been expecting. I'm assuming that, as was the case earlier with microfilms at many locations, that once a digitization has been done on request for a scholar, any other scholar who wants a copy can get it more cheaply, though I'm not sure of this. I would be interested to know if those working in other locations have found costs to be roughly similar.

There are so many surviving manuscripts that the decisions about what to copy will probably be a combination of what has been popular and what individual scholars are willing to subsidize for their own research. It might be advantageous to work out overlapping areas of research so that we can share resources and expenses.