Lucas Vaughn is is a senior undergraduate student at the University of Georgia. He will graduate in Fall 2019 with a B.A. in English and Linguistics. Lucas is planning to attend Valdosta State University to pursue a Master’s degree in Library and Information Sciences, after which he hopes to return to the University of Georgia as a librarian in the Research and Instruction department. Lucas’s interests include medieval manuscripts, Victorian literature, and the field of digital humanities.
For his Digital Humanities project, Lucas will be analyzing digitized medieval manuscripts in search of possible biases affecting which manuscripts, and which parts of manuscripts, tend to be digitized more frequently. These biases could include content, location, physical material, or even the social and economic status of the original owner of the manuscript. Lucas’s interest in medieval manuscripts was sparked in Dr. Cynthia Camp’s “Hargrett Hours 2.0” class, in which he participated in creating a partial digital edition of the Hargrett Hours, housed in the Hargrett Rare Book and Manuscript Library.
When researching Voyant Tools to determine its usefulness in my project, I discovered this handy dandy guide to using Voyant. The project being discussed in this article is political, but their methodology seems like it will be a useful framework for my research. For instance, they used Voyant to separate their documents by political leaning, allowing them to compare word usage between parties. I believe I can approach my research in a similar way, by comparing word usage between manuscripts from the same locations. I will then see if there are any commonalities between manuscripts from the same location that do not exist, or are less prevalent, in manuscripts from different locations.
This article by Julie Hotchin details Lisa Davis’s reconstruction of a medieval manuscript, starting with only a single leaf. Davis, through her “digital fragmentology” and a bit of sleuthing, was able to find an additional 17 leaves belonging to the same manuscript as the leaf she started with. From these leaves, she was able to identify key factors about the manuscript — its owner, another medieval reader, and a location of origin. Details in the manuscript depicting childbirth give valuable insight into the struggles of its medieval owner, as these depictions suggest that this manuscript acted as a sort of amulet of sorts for women approaching childbirth. Without the ability to digitize manuscript leaves and quickly access them, these discoveries never would have been made. This highlights the impact that the digital humanities have had on manuscript studies, and it also reminds me that there will likely be leaves missing from manuscripts that I analyze. I might have to do some sleuthing myself if I find any key leaves missing.
The Medieval Bestiary is a (very thorough) collection of animals and beasts popular in medieval Europe. As any medieval scholar will tell you, medieval manuscripts tend to be chock full of beautiful (and sometimes graphic, unsettling, or downright strange) depictions of fauna, some real, and others not so much. I myself have come across a few that I could not identify, so having an exceptionally large searchable database of medieval beasts could be very helpful to my research. Not only does the site list beasts with scans from manuscript illuminations, but it also provides useful allegory and information on characteristics of the illuminations common across manuscripts. There is also information on different types of stones and alchemical purposes referenced in manuscripts and medieval lore.
The Fragmentarium is a collection of manuscript fragments from all over the world, with the goal of facilitating fragment research and possibly even assisting in the search for missing leaves from incomplete manuscripts. It has a browse and search function that allows for searching for tags. When browsing, it is possible to select a century, language, script type, document type, and many other criteria. The Hargrett Hours is known to be incomplete, so when I come across missing leaves/sections, there is a possibility of locating missing quires, especially if the missing fragment has been digitized.
The Dictionary of Middle French will likely be useful for my research, as the rubrics and some other material in the Hargrett Hours are in Middle French. The dictionary, while being in modern French, has an outstanding number of entries. Its search function is rather forgiving as well, as it accounts for orthographic variation. This feature is key, as medieval manuscripts tend to have a lot of spelling variations. I believe that when I run the transcription through Voyant, it will be best to translate the rubrics into Latin, as the rest of the document is in Latin, and it will provide more consistency when analyzing the Hargrett Hours in conjunction with other manuscript transcriptions.
Harvard’s Digital Atlas of Roman and Medieval Civilizations is just that — a digital and highly interactive map utilizing multiple selectable layers for tracking medieval civilization in Europe. Using this atlas, it is possible to track the rise and fall of kingdoms, cities, and bishoprics, as well as border changes over time. Depending on where my research on the Hargrett Hours goes, I believe that this could prove very useful in gathering background data on the manuscript and finding connections between it and other manuscripts.
While most of my previous delves into medieval manuscripts were through the British Library, the Hargrett Hours is a French manuscript. Since my plans are to discover possible connections to other manuscripts, the manuscripts held by the Bibliothèque Nationale de France could come in handy. They have a handy advanced search function allowing users to pick specific criteria like date range. They also have a setting that will only show digitized manuscripts, although their non-digitized manuscripts include thorough descriptions and bibliographical information.
The University of Nottingham has a wonderful guide for manuscript studies. Of particular note is the guide on medieval handwriting and abbreviations. Using cropped images from digitized manuscripts, they guide users through different scribal conventions and abbreviations. The abbreviations used by medieval scribes don’t make a lot of sense to modern readers, so it is good to have a guide to work from. I am sure this will come in handy in my analysis of the Hargrett Hours and other possibly adjacent manuscripts.
The Medieval Academy of America has put together a curated list of medieval digital resources with both a browse and search function. It is rather extensive, and since I am not exactly sure where my research will take me, it will be a good site to keep on hand. All of the resources included in their database are peer-reviewed and comply with the strict web publication standards of the Medieval Academy of America. They also display recently added resources on their browse page, so users always know when a new addition has been made.
MESA is a compendium of digitized manuscripts, all linked to the online library that they are hosted at. It allows users to tag manuscripts, which allows for easy searching for certain terms or themes. I have a feeling that MESA will be invaluable once I have generated a word cloud of the Hargrett Hours, since I will then be able to search an enormous list of manuscripts for these words, which will help with identifying commonalities.
Update: June 24
We are now about midway through the program, and there has been a LOT of fine-tuning. I’ve narrowed my original research pursuit, on the biases of digitization of medieval manuscripts, to the relation of literacy to the use of imagery in the medieval Office of the Dead (OotD). I want to know why some manuscripts’ Offices of the Dead contain images that seem to tell a story. In pursuit of this question, I’ve developed the following hypothesis:
Some medieval Offices of the Dead contain story-telling images because this section was crafted for a person who was unlikely to be Latin-literate.
To pursue this hypothesis, it is necessary to define a few things:
Latin-literacy: In this case, this is the ability to fluently read Latin script. Very few people in medieval Europe could fluently read Latin, and Latin-literacy was generally contains to the aristocracy and clergy. More wealthy lay-people (the commoners) could achieve Latin-literacy, but this was relatively uncommon.
Story-Telling Images: This is actually a bit difficult to define, as I am not entirely familiar with the stories that would have been told. In deciding whether an OotD contained story-telling images, I look for common themes or characters. One particular character that is easy to spot and associated with the OotD is Job. His story is commonly associated with the OotD, and he can be recognized by what appears to be a skin affliction, and his torture by the devil, allowed by God:
I have surveyed 18 manuscripts so far, and they generally confirm my hypothesis. The problem, however, is that there is more access to manuscripts crafted for the aristocracy and clergy. This is likely because they tended to be the only people who could afford to commission them. Besides this disparity in availability, the two manuscripts I have found that are likely to have been made for lay-people have confirmed my hypothesis. So far I have only surveyed manuscripts held by the British Library (due to their easy-to-use document viewer), but I have over a hundred more manuscripts held in different libraries available to me, so we will see whether this trend continues with manuscripts held by other libraries. Stay tuned for more updates!
Tools I am Using
Google Sheets: I am using Google sheets to collect my data, because the column and row structure makes it easy to sort different types of data. I am logging the manuscript name, owner, class, whether story-telling images are used, literacy-likelihood, date, and notes. See below a screenshot of what I have so far!
Gimp: Once I have collected more data, I would like to string together some of the story-telling images (particularly from Egerton MS 2019) to better demonstrate their story-telling ability and running themes. I don’t have access to Adobe Photoshop, so I have chosen a better alternative: the GNU Image Manipulation Program, or Gimp for short. I can use it efficiently on my Chromebook without all the OS manipulation that would be required to run Photoshop, which would run slowly due to how resource-heavy it is.
Palladio: This is a web-based FREE software for mapping spreadsheet data. I had originally decided of GeoBatch, but it only has a thirty-day free trial, after which it is $99 a month. GeoBatch also doesn’t seem to have the timeline function that is available on Palladio, which will also be useful for noticing trends in my data. I had originally not thought to map the locations associated with my data, but after finding out about this software, I think it will be really useful in my research.
Update: July 16th
I have started to create my website using Scalar. I am still working on it, but it can be found here.