IMC 2017: Sessions

Session 439: Using the New Schoenberg Database of Manuscripts: A Workshop on Provenance Research in an Open-Access, Crowd-Sourced World

Monday 3 July 2017, 19.00-20.00

Sponsor:Schoenberg Institute for Manuscript Studies, University of Pennsylvania Libraries
Organiser:Lynn Ransom, Schoenberg Institute for Manuscript Studies, University of Pennsylvania
Moderator/Chair:Lynn Ransom, Schoenberg Institute for Manuscript Studies, University of Pennsylvania

As many medievalists who depend on manuscript evidence for their research know, understanding the provenance of a book or document has meaningful ramifications in the interpretation of that evidence. Understanding how a manuscript is passed down from one generation to the next or moves from one location to another provides a framework for the interpretation of the historical, cultural, social, and economic value of manuscript books, their texts, and their contexts. Loss of physical evidence, the destruction of archival materials, and inadequate record-keeping can make provenance research seem impossible at times, but new tools are being developed to help researchers fill in the gaps. One of these is the Schoenberg Database of Manuscripts (SDBM). With data drawn from auction and sale catalogues and other sources dating back to the 15th century, the Schoenberg Database of Manuscripts assists researchers in locating and identifying pre-1600 manuscript books from Europe, Asia, and Africa, establishing provenance for these books, and aggregating descriptive information about them. Thanks to a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the SDBM has been redeveloped into an online, collaboratively-maintained, open access, provenance research tool and universal finding aid for the world’s manuscripts.

This workshop will focus on the research potential of the New SDBM and related projects. It will begin with four 7-minute presentations of three projects currently using the New SDBM. Laura Cleaver (Trinity College Dublin) will discuss how the New SDBM is helping her to reconstruct Sir Alfred Chester Beatty’s collection; Lisa Fagin Davis (Medieval Academy of America, Massachusetts) will discuss using the New SDBM in the classroom; and Toby Burrows (University of Western Australia) will present his re-use of the New SDBM data in his project to locate the manuscripts owned and sold by Sir Thomas Phillipps. For comparative purposes, Hanno Wijsman (Institut de Recherche et d’Histoire des Textes (IRHT), Paris) will present Bibale, another provenance research database, as a both an alternative and complementary research tool for the same projects. Participants in the workshop are encouraged to bring laptops to work alongside presenters or start a project of their own.

In demonstrating how to use the New SDBM and Bibale, this workshop will simultaneously consider a number of issues related to manuscript description practices in an open-access and crowd-sourced environment, looking specifically at the changing – or unchanging – nature of crowd-sourced scholarship. The issues include but are not limited to: how to maintain good description standards that will enable searching and access without intimidating the non-specialist who may have access to data that scholars do not? How do you ensure that good data is entered? What is sufficient data for good manuscript description? What is an acceptable level of ‘bad’ data? When is it appropriate to lower standards? How do you manage user expectations when your data isn’t perfect? When does the perfect become the enemy of the good?