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Why Digital?

July 12, 2013

So far, most of my posts about this project have presented methodologies and preliminary results that are not unlike much traditional scholarship in medieval studies generally, and in Anglo-Saxon studies in particular. For example, I have posted about my initial endeavors, centered in one specific text; looking more widely to find related texts; collecting the data on these texts (and modern editions to consult); and tracing the evidence for material circulation of those texts in Anglo-Saxon England. This is all fairly straight-forward work, even if it is time-consuming. But at what point does the digital move projects like this forward?

First, digital archives of related texts have been a major benefit to scholarship, especially for medievalists. In Anglo-Saxon studies, the Dictionary of Old English Web Corpus is an exemplary case in point–an entire corpus of Old English, systematically organized, with good data about editions, and easily searchable in a variety of ways. While these are just the basic features, the benefits are apparent. Furthermore, several helpful tools for computer analysis of textual corpora have recently emerged. For example, we have Juxta, Voyant, and the emerging WordSeer. Text analysis tools are certainly a benefit for this project–a sort of computer-aided extension of philological methods. As I began to think about digital possibilities, I also began to see other ways that digital tools could help this project to branch beyond.

It was after I collected much of the data on these texts and started looking at evidence for their circulation that something popped out at me: geography. This is where I started thinking about the possibilities of using digital tools beyond text analysis tools. Specifically, I started to wonder what mapping manuscript data could reveal about their circulation, or for the availability of certain texts in specific centers. To do this, I imagined mapping both geography and temporality. For example, if we wanted to know which manuscripts (and, more specifically, which texts related to Judith) were available in Canterbury around the year 950, what could the map look like? Or, from another perspective, what would the geography of manuscripts containing Judith texts look like around the year 1005, when Ælfric wrote his sermon on Judith? Or, from another perspective yet again, what if we wanted to map the movement of a single text or manuscripts of that text (or just a single manuscript) across the space and time of Anglo-Saxon England? The technology of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) offers the ability to work out approaches these questions.

I will address which tools I ultimately decided on in a later post. For now, I offer a few examples of how data from texts and manuscripts might be mapped, geographically and temporally together. These are, of course, provisional examples, and the data provided is only a sample to show the possibilities.

Author: Anonymous

Text Title: Judith (Biblical)

Composition Date: c.150 BCE

Codex Amiatinus: Florence, Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, Amiatino 1 (s. vii ex. or viii in., before 716, Wearmouth-Jarrow): HG 825. (Complete pandect.)
London, British Library, Royal 1.E.vii + viii (s. x/xi, prov. Canterbury, Christ Church): HG 449. (Two-volume Bible.)
London, British Library, Royal + Canterbury, Cathedral Library, Add. 16 + Oxford, Bodleian Library, Lat.bib.b.2 (P) (s. ix1 or ix2/4 or ix med., S England; prov. Canterbury, St. Augustine’s): HG 448. (Presumably was once a complete Bible, now only gospels and fragments of Acts.)

Map & Timeline Data Points:
Alexandria, Egypt, c.150 BCE: composition of text
Wearmouth-Jarrow, UK, c.675-716: composition, Codex Amiatinus
Canterbury, UK, c.990-1010: composition, London, British Library, Royal 1.E.vii + viii
S England, UK, c.800-850: composition, London, British Library, Royal, etc.
Florence, Italy: modern location of Codex Amiatinus
London: modern location of London, British Library, Royal 1.E.vii + viii, London, British Library, Royal
Canterbury, UK: modern location of Canterbury, Cathedral Library, Add. 16
Oxford, UK: modern location of Oxford, Bodleian Library, Lat.bib.b.2 (P)


Author: Ambrose (c.340-97)

Text Title: De officiis ministrorum

Composition Date: c.391-2

Oxford, Bodleian Library, Bodley 92 (s. xi/xii, prob. Normandy, or England?): HG 543.

Map & Timeline Data Points:
Milan, Italy, c.391-2: composition of text
Normandy, France, c.1090-1120: composition of Oxford, Bodleian Library, Bodley 92
Oxford, UK: modern location of manuscript


Author: Ælfric (c.955-c.1010), at Cerne Abbas

Text Title: Libellus de ueteri testamento et nouo

Composition Date: c.1005-6

Oxford, Bodleian Library, Bodley 343 (s. xii2, West Midlands): NRK 310.
Oxford, Bodleian Library, Laud Misc. 509 (s. xi3/4 or xi2, Canterbury?, Christ Church?): NRK 344; HG 657.

Map & Timeline Data Points:
Cerne Abbas, UK, c.1005-6: composition of text
Canterbury, UK, c.1050-1100: composition, Oxford, Bodleian Library, Laud Misc. 509
West Midlands, UK, c.1250-1300: composition, Oxford, Bodleian Library, Bodley 343
Oxford, UK: modern location of both manuscripts


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