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  • Mapping Manuscript MigrationsDigging into Data for the History and Provenance of Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts
  • Toby Burrows, Eero Hyvönen, Lynn Ransom, and Hanno Wijsman

Mapping Manuscript Migrations is a new two-year project funded by the Trans-Atlantic Platform in the fourth round of its Digging into Data Challenge. The project is a collaboration between four international partners: the University of Oxford, the University of Pennsylvania, the Institut de recherche et d'histoire des textes (IRHT) in Paris, and Aalto University in Helsinki.

The project aims to combine data from various sources to enable the large-scale analysis of the history and provenance of medieval and Renaissance manuscripts. As new digital data sets continue to emerge—catalogs and databases as well as digital editions and digital images—and sources of [End Page 249] information continue to proliferate, there is a growing need for ways to harness all these data into a coherent framework. In these circumstances, carrying out manuscript research on a large scale is becoming an ever more complex and time-consuming process. Broad research questions about medieval and Renaissance manuscripts are very difficult, if not impossible, to pursue.

The project will bring together data from different sources into a consistent and connected framework. Manuscript research cannot be done satisfactorily in either North America or Europe alone. But there has been no systematic linkage between manuscript databases in North America and similar databases in Europe. The transatlantic collaboration in this project will bring together data about these manuscripts regardless of their physical location—a pool of data that has not previously been combined. Linking data sets from Europe and North America will provide an international view of the history and provenance of these manuscripts. In its initial phase, the project is aiming to link more than 450,000 records from four different sources.

The combined data will be made available within a software platform that enables searching and browsing across the whole body of evidence about manuscript history. Researchers will be able to navigate a single Linked Data graph to find connections and insights, from the level of individual manuscripts and actors through to exploration and analysis at regional, national, and international levels. The project will also make possible large-scale visualizations of the history of these manuscripts, incorporating geographical and chronological presentations as well as network graphs and maps. We will be able to show how these manuscripts have traveled across time and space to their current locations, where they continue to find new audiences.

The partner institutions are contributing a mixture of different skills, knowledge, and experience. In Oxford, the Oxford e-Research Centre is providing expertise in Linked Data and software design, while the Bodleian Libraries are contributing data sets and expertise in manuscript research. In Philadelphia, the Schoenberg Institute for Manuscript Studies in the University of Pennsylvania Libraries is contributing data, technical knowledge, and manuscript provenance expertise, drawn from the Schoenberg Database of Manuscripts. The IRHT is a national center of excellence in manuscript studies, and will also supply data from manuscript databases like Bibale and [End Page 250] Medium. The Semantic Computing Group at Aalto University is contributing its internationally recognized expertise and knowledge in Semantic Web computing and the development of Linked Data publishing services.

The results of the analyses made possible by the project cannot be definitive in a quantitative sense, given that the data do not cover all the surviving medieval and Renaissance manuscripts in contemporary collections. But the data sources being used by the project are sufficiently large and varied to form the basis for large-scale analysis of the kind envisaged. The project will be aiming to test the methodology and demonstrate the validity of this approach, and to lay the groundwork for further development and analysis based on increased coverage and the linkage of more data sets in the future.

The project is also addressing a group of research questions around knowledge representation: how to represent and process the inherent complexity of metadata relating to manuscript histories; the ontological modeling of this knowledge; publishing, aligning, and reconciling this knowledge through Linked Data; and developing appropriate methods for digital scholarship using this data. The...


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pp. 249-252
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