Digital Palaeography between Manuscripts and Epigraphy Workshop

By Nora White, Corinna Salomon, Patricia O Connor and Megan Kasten

On 15 November, 2023, the ‘Digital Palaeography between Manuscripts and Epigraphy’ workshop took place at the Royal Irish Academy in Dublin. The aim of this hybrid workshop was to bring together interrelated projects working on palaeography, of both manuscript and epigraphic material, and to hear from others who have developed and used digital tools for palaeography, in particular Archetype (earlier DigiPal). Overall, twenty-two people participated, either online or in-person. 

The day began with a welcome from the workshop organiser and OG(H)AM project Irish PI, David Stifter, followed by a round of introductions.  

The workshop’s in-person attendees

The first session was dedicated to presentations by invited speakers on the free and open-source digital palaeography tool, Archetype (as well as its customisation), a framework for manual, structured annotation of graphical communication images. Peter Stokes (Biblissima+ project) opened the session with an introduction to Archetype, the motivation behind it, its structure and the process involved. He explained how the idea for Archetype developed from the core question posed by Albert Derolez: “How is it possible to proceed in such a way that the description of a specimen of handwriting is as clear and convincing to its reader as it is to its author?” (The Palaeography of Gothic Manuscript Books 2003). This central aim drove the decisions to design Archetype – with a focus on providing tools to enable palaeographic analysis, and tools to communicate those insights consistently to other specialists. 

Simona Stoyanova (Crossreads project) followed with a presentation on the customisation of Archetype (originally designed for manuscript material) for epigraphy. Her research focuses on the relationship between Greek and Roman epigraphic practices in Thrace, primarily the mutual influences in the epigraphic palaeography of the region. She explained how a palaeography tool based on Archetype has been built specifically for epigraphic and multilingual palaeography and the code, the transparent development process, etc are all accessible on GitHub

Joanna Tucker (University of Glasgow) and Stewart Brookes (University of Oxford) talked about Archetype case studies (medieval manuscripts), primarily the Models of Authority project at the University of Glasgow. Stewart Brookes also highlighted the potential to collect and analyse not just letter forms but other types of visual representations, such as birds, heads and medieval women! 

The remainder of the workshop comprised of presentations on the various projects represented by those participating and how a digital tool like Archetype might be useful to them. Pádraic Moran (University of Galway) and Nicole Volmering (Trinity College Dublin) talked about their respective projects on manuscript material: GLOSSAM and Early Irish Hands. Epigraphic projects were represented by:  

  • Corinna Salomon (Maynooth University) Celtic Language and Identity in Northern Italy and the Alpine Region (CLINIAR) and Lexicon Leponticum 
  • Coline Ruiz Darasse (Université Bordeaux Montaigne) Recueil Informatisé des Inscriptions Gauloises (RIIG) 
  • David Stifter (Maynooth University) OG(H)AM  
  • Megan Kasten (University of Glasgow) Ogham Palaeography (OPal+)  
  • Nora White (Maynooth University) Early Medieval Irish Script on Stone – the Origins and Early Development of Irish Epigraphic Culture (EMISoS). 

The presentations were followed by questions and discussion around the capabilities and challenges of Archetype and related digital tools, as well as the potential for further development and customisation, and incorporating Linked Open Data. As suggested by Peter Stokes, perhaps the method and conceptual model (e.g. graphical annotations) of Archetype are more important, useful and sustainable than the software itself. 

The day concluded with OG(H)AM Co-I Deborah Hayden presenting the Book of Ballymote – though the manuscript has been fully digitised by Irish Script on Screen, it was a special treat to see the physical book in person. As observed by David, the event appropriately took place under the watchful eyes of R.A.S. Macalister, grandmaster of ogam. 

R.A.S. Macalister overseeing the proceedings.

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