CENDARI Summer School Day Five: CENDARI and Final Discussions

The final day of the CENDARI summer school perpetuated the concept of interoperability that was introduced by Dr Toby Burrow’s paper the previous day. Emiliano Degl’Innocenti described the current situation of today’s medieval digital ecosystem as being fragmented or “full of walled gardens”.

Emiliano’s description recalled the closed nature of traditional research methods; the current practice of storing information within closed files and databases. This emphasised the overall lack of interoperability in medieval studies and stressed the importance of developing a more open and share-focused mentality towards our own research. Resources such as the CENDARI Virtual Research Environment are perfectly positioned to realign our perceptions towards our research within a more open and networked framework, as it enables researchers to work within an environment that is specifically designed to be collaborative.

After brief student presentations on our own experiences with researching within the CENDARI Virtual Research Environment infrastructure, participants of the CENDARI summer school volunteered to share other digital tools and resources that they found benefiting their own research. I found this session of the day especially useful as it introduced further relevant resources that could be use to me in the future. The first resource to be presented was Regesta Imperii, a large international database of valuable articles and periodicals spanning from late antiquity to the early modern period and encompassing a number of disciplines including, archaeology, literary studies and history. This will undoubtedly be an invaluable resource for supplementing my bibliography.

I was also introduced to William Whitaker’s Words, a simple yet accurate online Latin to English and English to Latin online dictionary. I am expecting to undertake an undergraduate Latin module when term resumes in Autumn, a resource such as this will be of great assistance while familiarising myself with a new language. The fact that this resource has now been made available as an iPhone or smart phone application makes it more accessible and therefore more appealing to researchers such as myself.

Another useful database that was recommended was BREPOLiS, the online database for all material belonging to Brepols Publishers and their partners. Again, this will be another beneficial resource for augmenting my bibliography.

Interestingly, a researcher explained how we could use the styles in Microsoft Word to fully exploit the embedded XML tagging in the .docx file format. When you create a Word document, you are unconsciously writing in XML, hence the x in the .docx file format. The becomes obvious when you open a saved Word Document with Open Office, convert it to a zip file, extract the file and open it in XML Editor; the XML tags that are embedded in the Word document will show up. By using a Clean Up Style Sheet, you clear out the superfluous XML tags from Open Office and are left with the XML of the saved Word document. Since XML continues to reoccur as an important tool for the purposes of my research, and since I have not got a strong basis in coding, I and several other researchers interested in using XML found this revelation incredibly exciting.

Digitised Medieval Manuscripts app or DMMapp is another online resource that was put forward to the CENDARI summer school. This particular resource links researchers to more that three hundred library institutions that have digitised medieval material such as maps and manuscripts.

The final resource that was commended was DigiPal a digital resource which was developed by the Digital Humanities department in King’s College London to assist researchers in the study of palaeography and manuscript studies. As an Anglo-Saxonist with a strong research interest in Anglo-Saxon palaeography and manuscripts I was already aware of this valuable resource, but I was surprised to learn that one of DigiPal’s recent developments is the Virtual Machine which allows users to download the DigiPal framework onto their own machines to work with their own images from manuscripts that they are researching.

Ultimately I found the CENDARI summer school to be a thoroughly engaging and rewarding experience. Attending the CENDARI summer school benefited my research enormously as it introduced me to a range of innovative digital tools and technologies, but more significantly, it was instrumental in helping me make important international and national research connections within the digital humanities discipline.

CENDARI Summer School Day One: XML, TEI, T-Pen and Tradamus.

CENDARI Summer School: Day One

CENDARI Summer School: Day One

The CENDARI summer school commenced with an introduction to the CENDARI project and a general discussion of the burgeoning trend in digitisation by Jakub Benes. The morning’s discussion highlighted important concerns that would resurface throughout the week, namely who decides what gets digitised and more worryingly, how our decision to digitise certain materials subsequently creates “blind spots” or casts shadows over non-digitised items, causing them to fall further from notice.

The first workshop of the day was lead by Roman Bleier from TCD, who demonstrated how using XML (Extensible Markup Language) and adhering to the TEI (Text Encoding Initiative) could make medieval material relevant for today’s digital audience by transcribing medieval documents into a language that is machine-readable.

Roman Bleier discussing XML and TEI

Roman Bleier discussing XML and TEI

In his workshop Roman explained that this is currently being achieved through XML, which is a Descriptive Markup Language that adds semantic value to the data by allowing the user to describe the content.

XML adds semantic value to the content

XML adds semantic value to the content

The advantage of using XML documents over creating a basic text file is audience. Creating XML documents for medieval materials extends their reach considerably as the content preserved in these items can be understood and searched by computers. Incorporating this digital language into our research not only reinvigorates our methodologies but increases accessibility to the resources themselves.

The advantages of embracing digital technology resumed with Kathleen Walker-Meikle from CERL (the Consortium of European Research Libraries). Kathleen’s workshop introduced two free online transcribing softwares, T-Pen (Transcription for Palaeographical and Editorial Notation) and Tradamus (the software which supports T-Pen). The T-Pen software allows researchers to upload images from the manuscripts that they are studying and to add a transcription to each line of the manuscript. The website provides a video tutorial on how to use T-Pen, which can be viewed by clicking on the following link: An Introduction to T-Pen.

I found T-Pen incredibly useful, the software allowed me to rearrange the columns on the folio I was transcribing as well as readjust the lines so that I could accurately transcribe each line. I was impressed with the flexibility of the software, one of the functions of T-Pen enabled researchers to add additional special characters by inputting the Unicode number. I found this aspect of the software particularly appealing as an Anglo-Saxonist, since I will need to be able to transcribe Latin, Old English and runic characters for my own research.

Kathleen Walker-Meikle guides the CENDARI summer school participants through T-Pen.

Kathleen Walker-Meikle guides the CENDARI summer school participants through T-Pen.

It was an auspicious start for me at the CENDARI summer school, the first day alone introduced me to two tools that would benefit my research enormously. Conforming to the TEI standard for XML would make my research machine-readable and accessible to a wider audience, while using T-Pen would facilitate my research by allowing me to transcribe online and to export my transcriptions in PDF or XML format. The remainder of the summer school promised to be just as beneficial.

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