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From Parchment to Cyberspace

Medieval Literature in the Digital Age


Stephen G. Nichols

From Parchment to Cyberspace argues the case for studying high-resolution digital images of original manuscripts to analyze medieval literature. By presenting a rigorous philosophical argument for the authenticity of such images (a point disputed by digital skeptics) the book illustrates how digitization offers scholars innovative methods for comparing manuscripts of vernacular literature – such as The Romance of the Rose or texts by Christine de Pizan – that reveal aspects of medieval culture crucial to understanding the period.

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Without the Internet, I would have had no reason to write this book. As it happens, though, shortly after this revolutionary technology came into its own, like many colleagues, I recognized that it offered a powerful new tool for changing medieval scholarship. With its capacity to transmit exact images, the Web could open new horizons for the study of manuscripts.

As with any new technology, the early years witnessed a broad variety of initiatives seeking to make medieval manuscripts more accessible to students, scholars, and the public. In one mode, individual scholars teamed up to create sites dedicated to manuscripts of a particular work, author, or genre. Undoubtedly, however, the most innovative and far-reaching initiatives—and the ones that most profoundly affected digital studies in academia—were those undertaken by research libraries such as the Sheridan Libraries at Johns Hopkins University, the University of Virginia, Stanford University, and the Bibliothèque nationale de France.

Recognizing that digitization of their collections permitted effective preservation, while also enhancing public awareness and access to their holdings—two previously conflicting mandates—research libraries began to develop new websites offering unprecedented access to their rare collections. At the same time, leading academic libraries began developing digital tools and functions that would allow scholars to study, search, and compare digitally accessible documents in new ways. ← xxi | xxii → They then invited scholars to assist in identifying tools and functions that could make the digital resources more effective. And suddenly, a...

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