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Ioculator seu mimus. Performing Music and Poetry in medieval Iberia

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - MiMus (Ioculator seu mimus. Performing Music and Poetry in medieval Iberia)

Reporting period: 2020-03-01 to 2021-08-31

In the Middle Ages, poetry and music were promoted by nobles and royalty and disseminated in the courts. Payment records and royal letters held in the Archive of the Crown of Aragon (Barcelona) contain a large amount of data on the presence of minstrels and their participation in public or private events associated with the Crown.
Early 20th century historiography did not take long to realise the importance of the documents in this archive as a source for explaining cultural life in the past. Major studies are available for a number of musical traditions in the north of Europe, especially the Flemish, English and French ones. But what do the documents in the Archive of the Crown of Aragon tell us about the minstrels who thrived in medieval Iberia?
The MiMus project aims at editing and analysing a large corpus of documents on the artists involved in musical life at the courts of the kings of the House of Barcelona (Crown of Aragon) from the mid-13th century to the mid-15th century (1235-1435). This research is complemented by the analysis of a select corpus of contemporary lyric and prose texts that will be reinterpreted in the light of the documents, including a digital Thesaurus on the Language of Performance and Music, in collaboration with OVI (Opera del Vocabolario Italiano, Firenze). Given the characteristics and size of this corpus, the collection will be a source of answers to some of the questions raised by scholars regarding the production of music and poetry in the Middle Ages, the ways in which these were performed and disseminated and what their function might have been in the cultural system of medieval courts.
The main objective of the project in this period was the design and implementation of the MiMus Database (MiMus DB). In order to achieve this goal, a conceptual DB model matching the specific needs of the project has been completed and tested.

Field work: constitution of the corpus of documents – In the first place, massive field work at the Arxiu de la Corona d’Aragó (ACA, Barcelona) has been fulfilled. Our corpus has grown to 6,000 documents, 60% of which approximately are unpublished. All the documents have been transcribed and revised according to the editing criteria that will provide the texts with the definitive form required for processing in the database.

Development of the MiMus Database – The MiMus DB is an instrument conceived to facilitate access to a specific corpus of documents referring to artists and promoters involved in the musical life of the medieval Crown of Aragon. All archive documents, transcribed and edited in text files, have been processed using an XML annotation program, which organises the information into fields, marks significant corpus content with semantic tags and stores all this information in an SQL database. This data processing and storage system enables us to go further than the traditional static corpus presentation, where information can only be viewed document by document, as is the usual approach for paper collections of archive documents on a given topic. The conceptual model for the database creates a semantic layer over each document so that categories common to different documents can be identified, extracted and related. This enables cross-document access to the corpus, thus focussing not on each individual document but on categories contained in and shared over several documents.

The team is now working on the MiMus DB query interface (work completion expected in June 2021), which will enable information in the corpus to be accessed in different ways. In short, search will be possible for different types of categories: 1) By document date; 2) By document subject matter; 3) By entities. This will enable users to fine tune and limit their query parameters.
One of the primary purposes of project MiMus is to allow the academic community to access a body of historical evidence which may corroborate the elements emerging from the complex network of intertextual borrowings and allusions (intertextuality) that characterises Romance medieval poetry. Through the consultation of the archival documents gathered in the MiMus DB, it is possible to get an overview of the context of production and reception of the lyrical texts, which in the case of medieval Catalan poetry are almost always preserved without music. In the first place, these documents reveal the presence at the Catalan-Aragonese court of a significant number of minstrels and musicians, partially filling the void caused by the rarity of manuscripts provided with musical notation, whose scantiness is one of the most puzzling issues faced by the historiography of medieval Catalan music. This is a real progress beyond the state of the art, and it will permit to advance in two directions: 1) towards new editions which enable a better comprehension of the texts and their transmission; and 2) towards a reassessment of already-known pieces in the light of novel documentary or historiographical information in order to establish the place that befits them in fourteenth-century Catalan poetry, including the intertextual networks that place them in specific contexts of production and reception.