13. Studientag der Gallia Pontificia conference report

In this year, the Studientag der Gallia Pontificia hosted at the German Historical Institute in Paris (GHIP) and organised in cooperation with the École des Chartes, was devoted to the theme of (digital) regesta, their conception, their contribution, and their use. The program questions, among others, were whether they lose their value through full editions, or are they preserved by their retrospective or immediate digitization. What options exist behind the choice of language in which the regesta and their comments are written? Are regesta and editions in competition with each other, or do they complement each other? Do they lose their value through the now common recourse to lexicographic analysis, or does a specific space remain for them – especially for indexing, precise identification (people, places, glossaries…)? What usage is emerging, and what users?

Gallia Pontificia Online

The day began with an engaging presentation by Rolf Große and Sebastian Gensicke on the Göttinger Papsturkundenwerk’s digital edition of papal charters and regesta, Gallia Pontificia Online (GPO). The project, founded in 1896 by Paul Fridolin Kehr, seeks to systematically index all papal charters up to the papacy of Innocenz III in 1198. The GPO concentrates on the curial contacts of French churches and holds a unique position within the project. Since 1981, publication of four volumes on the archdiocese of Besançon and the ecclesiastical province of Vienne has been delegated to the GHIP.

Applying AI in Research

Victor Westrich then presented “Applied Artificial Intelligence: Large Language Models for the Regesta Imperii.” He discussed the implementation of Generalized Pre-training Transformer (GPT) models for structured data and the utilization of linguistic analysis tools such as Spacy and NLTK. Despite some limitations, including suboptimal lemmatization for Medieval German and an overreliance on commercial providers, he concluded that AI models could be specialized for such tasks.

Nicholas Vincent’s presentation, titled “The British ‘Calendars’: the Good, the Bad, and the Less Than Perfect”, focused on editing of chronicles and other narrative sources, the publication of a series of Calendars, in particular for the extensive documentary record for English medieval central administration, the various roles kept in the National Archives in Kew. Despite some issues with reliability and comprehensiveness, he emphasized the ongoing significance of these resources and the large amount of work still to be done.

Regesta pontificum Romanorum

After a brief pause, Julien Théry spoke about the revitalization and incorporation of Potthast’s Regesta pontificum Romanorum into the APOSCRIPTA Database. Théry elucidated on the function of regesta and the opportunities afforded by APOSCRIPTA as a platform, as opposed to a finished resource. He concluded his presentation by discussing the project’s future, concentrating on the normalization of Potthast’s inventory and the incorporation of additional sources.

Archival Description Practices

The afternoon session, moderated by Ghislain Brunel, explored the usefulness of regesta in contemporary archival description practices. Jean-Francois Moufflet discussed the conflict between the archival analytic description (“analyse”) and regesta as well as the evolution of archival inventory practices, whereas Thomas Roche questioned whether the summary inventories of departmental archives can serve as effective regesta. Both presentations highlighted the need for more accurate and uniform archival descriptions.

Innovation and Multilingualism in Archives

Antonella Ambrosio and Paola Benussi gave presentations during Olivier Canteaut’s session entitled “Creating Something New from Something Old”. Ambrosio discussed the use of abstractions to reconstruct archive muniments in Southern Italy, emphasizing the significance of regesta in managing the complexity of documentation. Benussi’s presentation, on the other hand, centered on the Codice Diplomatico Poliano (Marco Polo), illustrative of the difficulties and potential solutions associated with creating multilingual regesta.

Regesta and Artificial Intelligence

Dominique Stutzmann and Virgile Reignier shared their pioneering work on the use of artificial intelligence (AI) in indexing regesta. They demonstrated the ability of AI to execute complex tasks such as act recognition, zone segmentation, and inventory linking. However, they also identified potential obstacles, including OCR issues and the need to convert compressed entries into a data model. Daniel Luger and Tamás Kovács discussed the need for alternative regesta formulations and closed-source models to improve the possibility of their automatic translation (see the presentation slides and the abstract). The session concluded with a lively discussion highlighting the dynamic interplay between digital humanities and AI, as well as the thrilling opportunities and challenges presented by this symbiosis.

What can we learn from the event for our project?

Firstly, both the machine learning (ML) applications and the large language models (LLM) are adaptable to the requirements of medieval studies. Despite the fact that ML and LLM offer significant potential for Medieval Studies, there are unquestionably drawbacks that must be acknowledged. Complex cultural, social, or linguistic nuances present in medieval texts may be oversimplified or misinterpreted by algorithms, leading to incorrect conclusions or overgeneralizations. In addition, certain cultures, regions, or points of view may be underrepresented in the data sets used to train these models, which can lead to a biased understanding of the medieval period.

Secondly, it became clear that there are obviously very different ideas, forms and traditions of writing regesta in Europe, which are nevertheless looking for comparable solutions in the digital world. An important question for the future of digital regesta techniques will be that of document analysis, i.e., the investigation of the external characteristics of charters such as sealing, writing, etc., up to and including the classic question of authenticity. Even beyond the pure document text, one should continue to think about the possibilities, and limits of the digital environment.

Audio recordings of the event are available at https://www.dhi-paris.fr/fr/publications/enregistrements-audio/2023-gallia-pontificia.html

Tamás Kovács, Daniel Luger, Georg Vogeler

Cite this blog post
ktamas (2023, June 16). 13. Studientag der Gallia Pontificia conference report. DiDip. Retrieved April 24, 2024, from https://didip.hypotheses.org/2060

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