Stanford team receives grant to support digital analysis of medieval manuscripts

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Part of the leaf of a manuscript kept at Cambridge, Corpus Christi College 367, folio 80v. Image courtesy of Elaine Treharne.

 

An international research team led by ELAINE TREHARNE, a professor of English at Stanford, has received a “Digging into Data Challenge” grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH).

Treharne’s project, “Global Currents: Cultures of Literary Networks, 1050-1900,” received close to $125,000 to employ visual language processing tools and social network modeling to examine manuscript images from English books produced in the Early Middle Ages.

“Global Currents” is one of 14 projects to receive funding from the third annual Digging into Data Challenge grant. In all, the NEH awarded close to $5.1 million to international research teams representing Canada, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and the United States.

Designed to motivate the research community to help create new methodologies for the 21st century, the Digging into Data Challenge encourages the development and application of new techniques for searching, analyzing and understanding “big data” or large bodies of material.

Building on Treharne’s ongoing interest in using digital technologies, the “Global Currents” team will employ visual language processing tools and social network modeling to examine manuscript images from English books produced in monastic environments.

According to Treharne, her project will help determine “what kinds of visual features of the book are the most important, the most consistent, the most datable and the most comparable or distinct.”

Treharne said she’s willing to roll up her sleeves and take on this challenge because of the invaluable potential it offers.

“Our work with these tools should certainly be a valuable research endeavor in its own right, assisting subsequent sets of scholars in what the best ways might be to link technologies with textual materials,” she said.

In addition to her international collaborators, Treharne also will work closely with the following Stanford faculty: MARK ALGEE-HEWITT, an associate research director at the Stanford Literary Lab; BEN ALBRITTON, digital manuscripts program manager in library technology; and ZEPHYR FRANK, associate professor of history and director of the Center for Spatial and Textual Analysis (CESTA).

 

— BY TANU WAKEFIELD, The Humanities at Stanford