Dark Archives 20/20: A Conference on the Medieval Unread and Unreadable

Woman looking at dark room filled with books. Writing states Registrations Open

A Voyage into the Medieval Unread & Unreadable

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This year, medieval primary materials have become physically inaccessible to researchers – and their archives literally dark – to a degree unknown since medieval studies first developed. And yet 2020 also caps a decade of huge growth in online images, scholarship and other data for such sources, albeit still only for a tiny fraction of the whole. This burgeoning digital availability is already fuelling a great new ambition of medieval studies: to scan, transcribe and assemble all of its materials, enabling thereby a range of transformative new disciplines and insights.

Dark Archives 20/20 is therefore delighted to welcome dozens of experts, from around the world, to address a basic challenge underscored by our current physical isolation: If we no longer have access to the original sources, only to (overwhelmingly digital) copies, what of the medieval do we still possess, & what more might we thereby uncover?

On Day 1 - 'Macrocosms' - we survey the still-unmapped vastness of the medieval graphosphere - the collectivity of its written materials, extant (read and unread) and destroyed, from Nordic runes to originally Greek texts surviving solely in Syriac translations. How can we quantify the destroyed? What fraction of medieval writing does our current scholarship therefore inhabit, and how did this come to be?

On Day 2 - 'Microcosms' -  we turn to the inner worlds of the medieval written artefact. Which of its facets can or indeed can only be represented digitally? Participants will explore the scope of the latest technologies, from CT scanning, to mass machine transcription of written contents, to protein and DNA analysis. On the other hand, what facets can never be represented digitally? Are there dangers in researching medieval manuscripts in the absence of the physical originals?

On Day 3 - 'Futures' - we look to the opportunities and challenges that such endeavours pose for medieval studies. Is the future Archive to be an assemblage of the increasingly vast collaborative scanning projects of the world's repositories, or something more? What is the potential of the new scholarly disciplines that are resulting, or might do so - from 'distant reading' to crowd-sourcing? What skill sets will medieval studies require?

Make Medieval History

To bear fruit, however, these enormous opportunities will require hugely increased participation and collaboration in medieval studies. Whether or not you are delivering a paper, come and help us realise this future at Dark Archives 20/20:

• participate in the live question-and-answer sessions that will accompany each panel. We will be releasing recordings of talks the themselves to registered participants several days ahead of the conference, precisely to maximise the scope for live discussion and audience involvement on the day, wherever you are in the world.

• contribute to three extended open debates that will take place during the conference: on ‘Bias’, ‘The Future Archive’, and ‘The Future of Scholarship’.

• meet and network with medievalists from all backgrounds - from palaeographers to computer scientists - in one of the multiple side-sessions and break-out rooms that will be operate throughout the conference.

• Finally, we are delighted to invite you to compete for the brand-new #PolonskyGerman Blogging Prize (see #bloggingmss on Twitter, and also TORCH. To demonstrate what you can do in the most important new medium for 'medieval outreach' to have emerged in recent years, simply:

  1. 1) Pick a manuscript digitised by #PolonskyGerman, from https://hab.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/en/digitized-items/
  2. 2) Write a blog of 500-750 words
  3. 3) Send it directly to andrew.dunning@bodleian.ox.ac.uk by 22 August 2020

Live presentations of shortlisted #bloggingmss entries will take place on Day 1 of DA20/20 (8th September). This will be followed by a popular vote of conference delegates, with the winner announced and the Prize awarded at the conclusion of DA20/20, on 10th September!

See the website for details. 

Please submit abstracts of up to 500 words by 31st July 2020, at the latest, to Dr Stephen Pink, Executive Officer, SSMLL, at ssmll@history.ox.ac.uk 

For more medieval matters from Oxford, have a look at the website of the Oxford Medieval Studies TORCH Programme and the OMS blog