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Nota Bene

Making Digital Marks on Medieval Manuscripts


Edited By Tamsyn Mahoney-Steel

We stand at the cusp of an exciting moment in digital medieval studies. The advent of ubiquitously available digitized manuscripts alongside platforms that host encoded medieval texts has democratized access to the cultural heritage of the Middle Ages, and gives us the potential for greater understanding of that era. Seen through the lens of late medieval French literature, in particular the Roman de la Rose and the works of Guillaume de Machaut, this book exhorts us to be optimistic about what we can achieve. Challenging the pessimism inherent in views that see our historical situatedness as a barrier to truly understanding the medieval era, Tamsyn Mahoney-Steel argues that digital networks of manuscript images, texts, and annotations, can not only aid us in comprehending medieval literary culture, but are, in fact, complementary to medieval modes of thought and manner in which manuscripts transmitted ideas. Using her teaching of Guillaume de Machaut and her work with the Roman de la Rose Digital Library, Mahoney-Steel envisages a future in which the digital humanities can enable us to build transhistorical relationships with our medieval objects of study.
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This book began as a book on annotation. I started by thinking about annotation in relation to critical theory. How we use it, why we use it. But the results were not satisfying. This is not a book about what we have done, but a book about what we can and will do. In writing use case scenarios for the Roman de la Rose Digital Library, I began considering a potential future in which users of the Library could tag manuscript images with information and create interconnections between that information, turning the Library from a one-way street in which scholars come to us for static information, into a two-way collaborative experience in which users continuously build upon the information, creating ever richer interconnections. It is a grand vision for the resource, but one I hope to realize some day. Indeed, other academic projects are exploring the potential of these kinds of holistic research environments, The Ten Thousand Rooms Project at Yale being just one excellent example ( There are two questions I ask myself when envisioning a use case scenario. The first is of course how this will benefit our users: how their research and teaching will be enabled by a resource with increased functionality. The second is how this will allow us to understand how medieval people used these texts and manuscripts. I am not looking for a medieval mindset per se, I believe it is ← xiii | xiv → too crude a move to place the entirety...

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