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Digital Resource and Database of Palaeography, Manuscripts and Diplomatic

Final Report Summary - DIGIPAL (Digital Resource and Database of Palaeography, Manuscripts and Diplomatic)

The Digital Resource and Database of Palaeography, Manuscript Studies and Diplomatic (DigiPal) was a four-year project based at the Department of Digital Humanities at King's College London. It aimed to bring new methods in Digital Humanities to the study of medieval handwriting by combining digital catalogues, descriptions of handwriting, and images of the writing with annotations that allow complex searches for particular features of the script. To achieve these goals, the project produced three main outputs:

1. New web-based software to analyse handwriting and the books, documents or other objects that contain it, allowing researchers to annotate images and then to explore the visual and verbal data in sophisticated ways and to communicate it to others.
2. The application of this software to test-cases in medieval handwriting. The core application was to writing in English produced during the eleventh century, and a second smaller application was to manuscripts written in Sweden and Norway from the same period.
3. A series of print publications about English Vernacular minuscule of the eleventh century, in which we used the website and data to analyse the material and answer some key questions about the script of this period and its production and historical context.

The web-based software is now freely available in open source at from where it can be downloaded and run. The application to English Vernacular minuscule is also freely available online at where we have provided over 900 images of medieval handwriting from the period, marked up with over 60,000 annotations to allow searches ranging from 'show me all examples of the letter a' through to 'show me all of the examples of letters with ascenders attributed to scribes from Worcester Cathedral which were written in the second quarter of the eleventh century, and then let me post the link to this online via Twitter'.

The software and website have both proven extremely successful. The software is now being used in seven different projects, including one at the Bibliothèque nationale de France, in a major project in collaboration with Exeter Cathedral in the UK, and in another major project with collaborators in Scotland. It has proven effective not only for writing in the Latin alphabet but also for Hebrew and Greek, and is being applied to stone inscriptions and coins as well as manuscripts, and also to manuscript decoration. The software is still being extended and improved and will continue to be at least until 2017 as a result of the two further grants. The website was launched in early October 2014 and currently receives visits from about 1,000 distinct users every month. It has proven of interest not only to academic researchers but also to students and others, such as authors of medieval fiction and calligraphers, not to mention people who are simply interested in medieval manuscripts and in the way that our handwriting has changed over the last thousand years.

The project has also produced important scholarly results. Perhaps the most important of these is an entirely new methodology for studying handwriting, including a new way of describing writing with a formal model that can be represented in a computer and which allows much more precise description and therefore more powerful searching and analysis than has been possible before. We also now have a much better understanding of English Vernacular minuscule from the eleventh century, particularly regarding regional and chronological variation as well as the relationship between this writing and that in Latin (for which a different script was used). As well as the software and website, we have also been very active in scholarly and non-academic dissemination. We have organised four conferences, delivered around seventy lectures or talks, and published or have forthcoming a monograph on English vernacular minuscule, an edited collection on digital approaches to palaeography, eleven peer-reviewed articles or chapters in books, eight working papers, short articles, posters or reports, nine videos of conference papers or lectures, thirty blog posts discussing various aspects of digital methods in palaeography, and eighty-seven short announcements of news from the world of palaeography.