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  • Franciscan Studies and the Repercussions of the Digital Revolution:A Proposal
  • Bert Roest (bio)

Almost 22 years ago the Franciscan Authors Website: A Catalogue in Progress was published on-line for the first time. This internet site, which is a co-production of Maarten van der Heijden and myself, and which can still be found at its original internet address (, is meant to develop into a digital successor to the Franciscan authors catalogues of Lucas Wadding (Scriptores ordinis minorum) and Sbaraglia (Supplementum et castigatio ad scriptores trium ordinum S. Francisci). The site is by no means complete, but it does contain biographical information, bibliographical references, and information on the works produced by a large and growing number of Franciscan authors active between the early thirteenth century and the French Revolution. Although we try to keep abreast of the latest secondary literature on each and every author, the main emphasis is on the works written by the friars in question: both the manuscripts in which they can be found and the old and modern editions available to modern scholars.

At present, and in the foreseeable future, it is a simple html-based private website, as it has never been possible to interest any institution into hosting it as an open access research instrument for Franciscan studies, and to guarantee its continued existence. This has blocked efforts to transform the site into a fully searchable database. In essence, it was and remains a slowly growing alphabetical list of authors with as much information as possible, and with a series of additional bibliographies concerning the study of medieval and Franciscan historiography, preaching, exegesis en geographical studies, and with references to secondary literature on Franciscan libraries, convents in various provinces, and comparable topics of relevance.

At the very beginning, most of the information concerning manuscripts and editions of Franciscan authors was obtained by perusing manuscript catalogues, reference works such as Schneyer’s Repertorium of sermons, the Verfasserlexikon and the Dictionnaire d’Histoire et de Géographie Ecclésiastiques, as well as the bibliographical references in journals devoted to Franciscan life and learning, such as Archivum Franciscanum Historicum, [End Page 375] Studi Francescani, Collectanea Franciscana, Archivo Ibero-Americano, Wissenschaft & Weisheit, Il Santo, Franciscan Studies, etc..

While this type of systematic foraging still continues on a weekly basis, depending on the time constraints of the editors, more recently information is also obtained via third parties who share their information (which we try to acknowledge as much as possible). More importantly still, we find much of our information by working our way through a growing number of digital resources, which in a very speedily fashion make many manuscripts and old editions directly available. All scholars nowadays are users of Google Books, but there are many other initiatives relevant in this context, such as the digital collections of the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek and of the Universiteitsbibliotheek Gent, the Gallica portal of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, the Gutenberg Project,, and additional initiatives in France, Germany, Italy and elsewhere, such as the Manuscripta Mediaevalia portal, which provide access to old editions and complete manuscripts in formats that we could only dream about several years ago.

These new search options facilitate enormously the labor to chart the ways in which works of Franciscan authors have appeared over the centuries: the manuscripts in which these works or parts of these works can be found, and the many old editions made of these works until the nineteenth century. Beyond that, the sheer availability of manuscripts and many old editions of homiletic, theological, philosophical and scientific texts in digital formats opens up new ways to do research. It also brings up a number of important questions concerning the manner in which we can approach our sources, and what kind of sources we should use, now that many works can be accessed in multiple formats.

One of these questions pertains to the validity and usefulness of new critical editions. Since the nineteenth century, critical editions according to the criteria of Lachmann, Bédier or Noomen have taken much scholarly energy in the field of Medieval Studies, and the incredible time-consuming and expertise-related labor involved...


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pp. 375-384
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