DiDip – From Digital to Distant Diplomatics
Project Lead: Georg Vogeler
In the web portal “Monasterium.net”, one can find stories about fugitive robber barons, heroic deeds, aiding and abetting flight or religious splitting of families by keyword search or a few mouse clicks. But the portal with its more than 600,000 medieval and early modern documents is also a testimony to the uniformity and diversity of legal culture in Europe. To properly classify these histories, one must know what people in the past wanted to record in documents, how they did it and what they used them for.
“Diplomatics” is the scientific discipline that addresses these questions – and it has been around for over 350 years. However, the established methods are not sufficient to deal with the large number of documents that have been created in Europe since the 13th century. The project “From Digital to Distant Diplomatics” (DiDip) will therefore bring diplomatics into the digital present. It aims to enable anyone interested in medieval and early modern documents to make use of the latest developments in data science and artificial intelligence when dealing with the documents.
For this, the computers need many examples to “learn” – and they need people to interpret the suggestions they make. That’s why we need an environment where humans and machines work together: Humans contribute their creativity and the ability to “understand” other people, as well as to draw meaningful insights from their experience with objects, to tell something about the past. The machine can process large amounts of data quickly, applying rules as well as learning new ones. The DiDip project will develop such a “Virtual Research Environment”.
The project will test the usefulness of the research environment by investigating European trends and regional differences in the production and use of 14th and 15th century charters. What influence do pan-European political institutions such as the Roman Church have on regional practices? How do local and regional practices react to the spread of Roman law among European legal thinkers? How do the two widespread authentication practices, by seal and by notarial signature, relate to each other? These questions will be answered by the project team using computer vision and machine language processing to identify trends, breaks, unifications and diversifications. The observations thus made on the digital representations of the documents will be related to European “major events” such as the Western Schism (1378-1417) or the Great Plague (1348/49) and the economic crisis that followed it.
The project is funded by the ERC with an Advanced Grant (101019327, duration 2022-2026).