THE DARKNESS OF THE MEDIEVAL ARCHIVES, the shadows of the library stacks: too vast for countless lifetimes of scholarship to exhaust? And yet, in our internet era, the accelerating machine-processing of centuries of collected medieval materials and data is yielding ever more detailed, extensive maps of the archive’s extent and features. The goal of completely surveying the archive, down to every folio and character, is not only increasingly viable but irresistible – and at a time when competence in its languages, diplomatics and palaeography is contracting; for this same process promises new revelations, of unprecedented richness and detail, about the medieval world itself.
Yet the great irony is that on our new map, the Dark Archives, the medieval unread and unreadable, dwarf all that we currently know, and indeed threaten to paralyse fresh research. In quantity, they encompass the great majority of the millions of known folios and associated records, that remain unread, unscanned and scattered across the world. Who will fund their expensive digitization? What should be prioritized? And to what end, when the mass-transcription and record-creation technologies needed to explore them remain unequal to the task? Most challenging of all may be owning the shift in perspective that the Dark Archives are forcing upon us: the unsustainably small extent of what we term ‘the medieval’, and the uncertainty over what might succeed it.
This conference aims to crystallize and advance the field, both conceptually and practically, by bringing together its likely academic and commercial key-holders, from archivists and intellectual historians to machine-learning researchers.
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