Professor Anders Winroth talks about Gratian's Decretum.
Professor Jessica Brantley and an image from a Book of Hours.
Professor Alastair Minnis, Meg Bellinger, and graduate assistant Eric Weiskott
Barbara Shailor examines the Hengwrt Chaucer at the National Library of Wales
Imaging setup with target for studying medieval manuscripts
Multispectral camera showing filter wheel for studying medieval manuscripts
The Advisory Committee meets to review manuscript selections.
Leaf from a Book of Hours or Psalter, England.

Digitally Enabled Scholarship with Medieval Manuscripts

Medieval manuscripts are windows to the past and their study leads to important literary, historical, and social insights. However, using medieval manuscripts has always been challenging -- they are distributed in collections throughout the world and access to them often is limited because of their age and condition. Scholarship has relied upon physical examination and an expert eye trained over many years to analyze text, graphical and artistic elements.

In September 2012, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation awarded Yale University a $650,000 grant to support scholarship with medieval manuscripts by using new digital tools to facilitate access and to use new approaches to pursue answers to long-standing questions in the field. The rapidly evolving fields of digital technology can assist scholars of the Middle Ages in a variety of new ways – ways that can add a quantifiable and replicable dimension to the research, and ways that can advance and disseminate a scholar’s research that were not before possible. Digitally Enabled Scholarship with Medieval Manuscripts at Yale University is a 27-month project to introduce innovative tools for digital cultural heritage studies.

Yale is an ideal environment for this work. Yale faculty and graduate students are eager to explore new methods in working with manuscripts. The Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library houses exceptional medieval manuscript collections. The Yale Digital Collections Center (YDC2) hosts a world-class Digital Content Platform and provides support for research into digital collections.

The grant entails four faculty projects that will analyze digitized medieval manuscripts within an interoperable technical platform.

  1. Alastair Minnis: An analysis of inks and pigments used in hand produced copies of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and other contemporaneous Middle English works.  Read more.

  2. Jessica Brantley: A study of variations in textual and visual elements in copies of English Books of Hours produced in England and for the English market.  Read more.

  3. Anders Winroth: The preparation of a new edition of the First and Second Recensions of Gratian’s Decretum.
    Read the project overview.
    Visit the project website.

  4. Holly Rushmeier: The development of an image analysis tool for the purpose of “comparison” of medieval manuscripts. Read more.

The four Yale faculty projects will utilize the Canvas Viewer/Mirador for image comparison and lightweight annotation. This tool, developed by Stanford University as part of a companion grant for Digital Manuscript Interoperability funded by the Andrew W. Mellon foundation, is an image viewer designed for the study of manuscripts. Researchers can select and view multiple pages from one or more manuscripts and study high-resolution images side-by-side using zooming and panning tools. Researchers can also display and compare various images of the same page, such as multispectral bands. The tool also supports the ability to view images with annotations, including transcriptions. Please visit this page to learn more about the Canvas Viewer/Mirador and to try the tool. You can also visit this page to learn more about the Image Study Service. The Image Study Service was developed by YDC2 with funding from the Andrew W. Mellon foundation. The Image Study Service is accessed via a web interface and represents the back-end support for serving and storing access controlled annotations via an application programming interface (API). Note that access to the Image Study Service and project annotations is currently restricted to named project participants. All other users have open access to the manuscript images here.

Several manuscript repositories have cooperated with the Digitally Enabled Scholarship with Medieval Manuscripts project and have generously permitted the download of existing images and/or have digitized manuscripts for the project. Some manuscripts also have selected folios that have been multi-spectrally imaged. Any applicable rights metadata is displayed with the manuscript along with a link that describes the license or rights statement under which the manuscript is being used.

Meg Bellinger, Director of YDC2, and Barbara Shailor, Deputy Provost for the Arts and a former director of the Beinecke Library, will serve as principal investigators. The YDC2 will coordinate Yale’s effort over the twenty-seven months of the project and work to extend and implement the digital manuscript tools and services developed at Stanford University over the last four years. Implementing the interoperable environment at Yale to support the research projects will contribute to the ongoing technical development at Stanford University. The YDC2 will support each of the four Yale researchers and their respective projects.

The project will leverage Yale’s strengths as a leading center for the study of medieval history and culture with significant manuscript collections. In addition to the expertise of scholars in Literature, History, and Computer Science, the project will draw on the expertise and resources of the Yale Digital Collection Center on West Campus and the Institute for the Preservation of Cultural Heritage, as well as the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library.

Thanks to the generous support of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Digitally Enabled Scholarship with Medieval Manuscripts at Yale University project will realize the potential of new information technology to transform research in the humanities and humanistic social sciences.