17.177 Durham Liber Vitae project: press release

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk)
Date: Tue Aug 05 2003 - 01:21:18 EDT

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                   Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 17, No. 177.
           Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                         Submit to: humanist@princeton.edu

             Date: Tue, 05 Aug 2003 06:11:32 +0100
             From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk>
             Subject: Durham Liber Vitae Project


    Press release, August 2003. Please recirculate.

    A major project to produce an innovative computerised edition of the
    medieval Durham Liber Vitae, with full supporting scholarly material, is
    now underway in partnership with the British Library. The project is funded
    by the Arts and Humanities Research Board.

    This Liber Vitae, or "book of life" was one among several put together in
    Europe during the Middle Ages. As the name suggests, these books were
    modelled on the one envisioned in the biblical book of Revelation, hence to
    be inscribed therein was, at least originally, a highly meaningful act. The
    Durham Liber Vitae originated in the mid-ninth-century as a list of several
    hundred names of persons associated with a Northumbrian church, probably
    Lindisfarne, but possibly Monkwearmouth/Jarrow. (These names, written in
    alternating gold and silver, are arranged according to the status and
    functions of the persons who bore them and have the potential to provide
    remarkable insights into a 'dark age' of English history.) In the 10th and
    11th centuries a few more names were entered. Then, around the year 1100,
    the book began to be used to record the names of all the monks of Durham,
    as well as a very large number of lay people, some great persons, others so
    humble that nothing else is known of them. Family groups also appear,
    especially the families of the last monks of Durham before Henry VIII
    dissolved the cathedral monastery in 1539, when the book ceased to be used.

    The kinds and arrangements of these names raise several important
    historical questions. Why, for example, were the names listed in this way?
    What light can they shed on the political, social and cultural history of
    medieval England, e.g. the emergence of Scandinavian and Norman names in
    the eleventh century? What can be learned from the innumerable examples of
    handwriting which the book contains? What patterns are discernible in the
    development of the languages (Old English, Middle English, Scandinavian,
    Britonic, Irish) in which the names are written?

    Despite its great historical importance, the book has not been as widely
    studied as it deserves because access to the manuscript itself has been
    limited, and it has been impossible to edit by conventional means. Hence
    the current project to design an electronic edition that will not only
    provide high-definition images of all pages but also make possible complete
    representation of all that is known about the manuscript and its contents.
    The edition will represent a major step forward in the computer
    representation of medieval manuscripts.

    The Durham Liber Vitae project is led by Prof. David Rollason and Mr Alan
    Piper (AHRB Centre for North-East England History, University of Durham)
    and by Dr Willard McCarty and Mr Harold Short (Centre for Computing in the
    Humanities, King's College London). The major part of the work is currently
    being undertaken by the project's researcher, Dr Andrew Wareham (King's
    College London) and by the technical officer (Dr Gabriel Bodard, King's
    College London). A second researcher will be appointed to start work in
    November 2003 at the University of Durham.

    Dr Willard McCarty | Senior Lecturer | Centre for Computing in the
    Humanities | King's College London | Strand | London WC2R 2LS || +44 (0)20
    7848-2784 fax: -2980 || willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk

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