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Medieval Language Collection In the 21st Century: To Be or Not To Be

Medieval Language Collection In the 21st Century: To Be or Not To Be

Everyone agrees that the 21st century is all about data visualization - images, videos, 3D photos, maps etc. A lot of effort has been also done to digitize old books. But compare these two pictures below:


On the left you have a scanned page from a Medieval Provencal poem and on the right you have an image from a digital art gallery. Can letters compete with this new era of visualization?

My answer is YES! And to prove it, here are some examples from ANNIS - corpus visualization gallery:



This is what I am working on - annotating and visualizing a very old book: the 13th century Romance of Flamenca written in Old Occitan. I started this project as a linguist. That is, my main interest was just a syntax. Then I immersed into the world of digital visualization and I saw that behind percentage and frequency of words there is another aspect of Medieval data that the 21st century has not seen yet - visual data.

My current project is still far from being completed. It is designed as an interactive reading with glossary, translation and footnote links and as a search database for data mining (ex. select one of the sections (left bottom) and type inside the box (left top): speaker="Flamenca" )

At present, I have various annotated layers: syntax, morphology, discourse (speakers) and parallel English-Old Occitan alignment. In the future, I am trying to develop a story time visual annotaion and emotion visualization of characters. After all, it is a very intriging love story!



Olga, I think your project sounds very fascinating. As a student of literature, I am particularly interested in the story time visual annotaion and emotion visualization of characters -- I would have loved to have something like this while studying Ariosto's Orlando furioso!

This question you pose is very interesting, and something that I think about a lot. I am teaching Computer Science courses and try to orient my students to the idea of looking at technology with a long view -- that is, we begin with the abacus and the Antikythera mechanism and move forward.

To address the book as technology, I would describe the history of it -- a handheld book with indices and contents is certainly indicative of an evolving technology from earlier books that were large and chained up and only allowed certain people to have access (access being another point I would bring up, especially when we look at the web and how access to texts overlap with the literacy of various groups). 

Another aspect of the book that struck me, when I was taking a Latin Paleography course, was that the abreviations used by scribes remind me of the abbreviations used in text messaging (and earlier on instant messenger and chat rooms). 

I think that this can begin to orient student to digital collections of old books, but from there we would have to begin thinking about materiality vs. the digital, etc.


Lisa, thank you for your insights on digital collections and book technology. I certainly see that the increase in digital collection and manuscript visualization techniques may bring back interest to diachronic and historical studies among new generation.


How do you see a Digital Collection of Old Books in the Future? Not all the books have illustrations and images to make them more "attractive". How would you teach material from Old Manuscripts to a "digital-native" generation?