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Holistic Analyses of the Handwritten: An International Manuscript Technologies Forum

Holistic Analyses of the Handwritten brings together colleagues at Stanford (Professors Treharne and Dr Ben Albritton), Cambridge, and other institutions globally (UBC, Texas, Berlin, Glasgow, Leeds, Exeter) to apply multidisciplinary methods to handwritten texts from all periods (c.2500BCE to 2016), though principally focusing on the long Medieval era from 400-1550. This group works together in pioneering research linking the Humanities with a broad academic and non-academic audience; and combining technology, science, textual studies, and art. We shall be seeking large external research grants, in addition to those already awarded, to fund path-breaking scholarship into the manuscript and its interpretation. The group will coordinate and run experimental projects to triangulate scientific investigation, arts and digital media practice, theory and conceptualization of the real and the digital, and outreach beyond the institution into the public sphere of museums, archives and publishing. This egalitarian collective will thus engage in deep research about manuscripts expansively, and the potential of technology to investigate, test, evaluate, and present the significance of textual communication through the ages, including asking how much can be learned from early books and fragments by applying innovations in science and imaging techniques. Involving faculty, senior undergraduates and graduates, we shall focus on major research questions generated by the group’s intellectual interests and individual projects. Questions we might ask would include how Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence can be utilized in the study of manuscripts (see the "Global Currents" and "CyberText Technologies" Projects); what new information can emerge by the application of new modes of looking minutely at manuscripts, such as multispectral imaging, 3D presentation and display, and annotation and online discovery tools. The group's work will be summarized in peer-reviewed publications (including digital venues), where appropriate, and will form the basis for multiple collaborative initiatives.

Current Goals

  • The enormous global audience of digital manuscripts is both varied in terms of skills and experience. This coalition of scholars will investigate how digital manuscripts can be made most meaningfully accessible to all levels of users, foregrounding and opening up collections currently online and suggesting new ways forward for future digital resources.
  • We shall engage in Holistic Analyses of Manuscripts, utilizing investigative techniques from disciplines as varied as Chemistry, Computer Science, Mass Spectrometry, Historical Linguistics, and Palaeography to determine how we can maximize the interpretative potential of manuscripts--whether these are fragments or whole codices, paper or membrane, medieval or later.
  • The group will work as a coalition, each scholar investigating their own pressing manuscript research questions or working in small groups, while feeding back to the group as a whole to brainstorm theories and practices: problems that are difficult for one scholar to solve in isolation can be collaboratively discussed, analysed and moved forward. All research questions will coalesce into a set of solutions and suggestions to advance the field of manuscript studies.
  • All participating scholars, each of whom is an accomplished manuscript specialist, will conduct their research using materials that are available through Stanford’s Digital Repository as well as manuscripts that can be scrutinised through the Open Access policies of major virtual repositories, such as the British Library and e-codices.
  • In the group’s preliminary meetings, we shall develop robust, measurable and realizable goals for explaining digital manuscript material and developing new resources for scholars, students and interested browsers.
  • Individual research questions will focus on issues of imaging, close investigation of manuscript materials, interpretation and display and in discovering the potential of the digital environment in advanced original scholarship.