- Manuscripts Online
Manuscripts Online: Written Culture 1000–1500 is a meta-database apparatus developed by the Universities of Sheffield, Leicester, Birmingham, York, Glasgow, and Queen’s University Belfast and funded by Jisc (the former Joint Information Systems Committee). The website operates as a specialized search engine that provides integrated access to electronic content already online; it performs three basic functions: first, it allows broad searchability across many databases specifically covering later medieval English literature and culture; second, it gives background information for each of the resources to which it is linked, painlessly introducing users to what is available online and linking users to those sites; finally, it creates an online platform for both individual and collaborative work. The project overall is a useful and exciting development in digital manuscript studies, though in its early stages it still has a few technical hiccups to work out.
The foundation of the website is currently its expansive and seamlessly integrated access to twenty-one online manuscript and medieval text resources available through either the thumbnails at the bottom of the home page or through the “Resources” tab in the menu at the top of each page. The “About” page indicates that several new resources are being added in the summer of 2013, though mention is not made of what those resources are or specifically when they will be available. For more detail on the extant resources, the “Resources” tab in the navigation bar brings users to a hotlinked table of contents that lays out in three columns the name of the resource, a brief description, and a “source type” specifying what kind of document the resource contains. Indeed, there are a wide variety of source types—ranging from manuscripts to official documents, printed books (in Early English Books Online), maps, and works of art—so it is worth taking the time to point out what Manuscripts Online brings together for users.
For the most part, source types seem intuitively associated and the site contains a sufficient breadth of these. “Official Documents” are usually historical archives tracking church and government documents. The “Manuscript” category varies the most widely and includes: the single source Auchinleck resource; resources that access categories [End Page 307] of manuscripts determined by space (e.g. the West Midlands), by library (the British, Australia, and Parker libraries), or by text (Pseudo-Bonaventuran Lives of Christ or Blake editions of the Canterbury Tales); databases that access pieces or aspects of objects broken down by codicological information (Late Medieval English Scribes); or full texts online (TEAMS). There are, however, several resources classified as “Literary Manuscripts” that seem to actually be corpus resources for linguistic information, such as the Middle English Dictionary, the Middle English Corpus of Verse and Prose, and the Middle English Grammar Corpus; creating a “Lexical” category might better reflect what users are actually accessing through links to these sources. More detail on the contents and methods of each resource, and its URL, can be found on each one’s descriptive page, accessible by clicking the name of the resource.
The primary function of this accumulation of resources under one virtual roof is to facilitate broad-spectrum searches in a single online location, thus allowing for a rich and practical cross-referencing of keywords, works, or authors throughout manuscripts, the lexicon, historical documents and early printed books. Users can conduct searches refined in a myriad of different ways including by date, type of source, and even resource all while being able to search all the Middle English variants for an entry by selecting “include variants” on the search menu. For a more specific or filtered search, the “Custom Search” page allows a user to conduct complex Boolean searches and restrict results by dates, categories, resources, formats, and access type.
Search results are organized by resource and provide options to view the top five or all sources from a particular resource. The “view all” option, however, has the inconvenient flaw of not allowing the user to access beyond the first twenty sources returned since it lacks a corresponding button. Selecting any source from...