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Mapping Manuscripts

Image credit: Schaffhausen, Stadtbibliothek, Ministerialbibliothek, Min. 14 [Public Domain]

Mapping manuscripts project, headed by Mateusz Fafinski, seeks to find new ways of spatially presenting Early Medieval manuscript production. Density mapping and inclusion of fuzzy data analysis can provide us with invaluable information about the hotspots of medieval book copying. The project will make it possible to generate static and interactive maps that take into account the often imprecise character of the Early Medieval manuscript data, especially in location and dating. The resulting database and maps will form not only a useful research and teaching tool but also provide a springboard for network visualisation of Early Medieval manuscript and scriptoria networks.

One of the major challenges for the spatial branch of digital humanities is dealing with inexact dating and inexact location of data nodes. This problem is particularly acute in manuscript studies. While a palaeographical analysis often provides us with approximate estimates of manuscript production date and place, this information tends to be difficult to present ona a map. For example, the standard chronological convention of Bernhard Bischoff’s catalogue of ninth-century manuscripts operates within quarters and sometimes thirds of a century. Spatial distribution is even more vague and employs regions as large as ‘France’ or ‘South Germany’, spanning hundreds of thousands of square kilometres. This poses a two-fold problem: first, the descriptions are too imprecise to be individually mapped; second, distribution maps of manuscript production have to include both detailed and vague information at once.

The main aim of this project is to explore the options for the spatial presentation of manuscript metadata. Reliable maps of manuscript production have been difficult to produce due to the vague nature of available information, but they are an invaluable resource both for research and for teaching. Investigating the possibility of the geospatial presentation of metadata would be a great supplement to any manuscript-related digital humanities endeavour, but especially for codicological projects. Such maps might be of invaluable help in provenance research and for reconstructing the connections between manuscripts, scriptoria, libraries and international collections. Manuscripts are ‘objects of knowledge’ par excellence, and the ability to investigate their production distribution might greatly enhance our ability to understand the connections between objects and the context in which they were written, copied and received. Mapping Manuscripts will allow us to better understand the networks of Early Medieval knowledge.