Medieval studies experts want to use technology to make it easier to study the past.
Ironically, medieval studies scholars were among the first to use modern technology in their research. Rev. Roberto Busa used punchcards back in 1949 for his research on St. Thomas Aquinas. To date, scholars have created more than 100 electronic resources for medieval research. The problem is, the archives aren’t connected.
That’s something Tim Stinson, a humanities scholar at NC State, and Dot Porter, a librarian at Indiana University, want to change. They’re working with a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to explore creation of a federation of electronic medieval studies projects.
That would allow scholar seeking information about the bubonic plague to search multiple archives simultaneously, rather than having to search in dozens (or hundreds) of different places.
One of the major obstacles Stinson and Porter face involves computer language itself. What needs to be done to allow a single Web site to access existing electronic medieval resources that were developed with a variety of computer codes and protocols? Stinson thinks solving this problem will be “time consuming, but relatively simple.”
The second problem deals with humans and is, therefore, trickier. Many electronic resources were established in partnership with private interests that have intellectual-property concerns.
“Needless to say, medieval works are not subject to copyright,” Stinson says. “But photographs of those works can be copyrighted. We need to handle this in a way that represents the interests of lending institutions, scholars and programmers who work on these projects.”
Stinson and Porter are organizing a meeting of medieval scholars, librarians and technologists May 2-3 at Johns Hopkins University, where they will plan how to establish the Medieval Electronic Scholarly Alliance (MESA).
This may be the future of going back in time.