By Fran Alvarez
InScribe was conceived and developed at the heart of the SAS as a tool for researchers of different fields and members of the general public with an interest in medieval manuscripts. Its aim is to allow them to acquire basic palaeographic skills so that they are able to extract as much information as possible from relevant documents. InScribe provides this in an easy, relaxed and interactive way.
The study of Palaeography has for some time had a somewhat unfair reputation, but recent developments and the application of digital technologies to the field of Manuscript Studies have not only greatly enhanced access to manuscript sources but also made the whole ‘Palaeography experience’ much more user-friendly. InScribe must be understood within that new wave of resources springing up under the generic umbrella of Digital Humanities. Besides offering comprehensive but accessible textual content presenting the essential principles and features for a Palaeographical (and shortly Diplomatic too) analysis, it also features a newly-developed transcription tool that allows users to put those acquired notions into practice.
The raison-d’etre of InScribe is to provide its users with the basic competence required in order to interact with medieval manuscripts and documents. These skills may be required in a variety of circumstances. We may need to read and transcribe a given text in order to produce a successful translation. Similarly, identifying the type of script used by the scribe, may allow us to date it. What is more, it would not be uncommon to be able to locate the production of the manuscript or document by looking at some of the scribe’s idiosyncrasies.
With this in mind, InScribe has already released two modules, while a final third one is currently being prepared. Module 1 (‘Palaeography: an overview’) offers a free introduction to palaeographical terminology and provides its user with some manuscript contact (via digital images, of course) and the chance to try their hand at transcribing some English medieval manuscripts both in Latin and, occasionally, in Old English. On the other hand, Module 2 (‘Script’) offers a deeper study of the evolution of writing in Western Europe during the Middle Ages, with particular emphasis on the English context. This second instalment is certain to equip its user with an advanced knowledge and (transcription) practice that they will find useful when faced with virtually any manuscript text written in England in the medieval period.
Therefore, InScribe presents itself as a perfect tool for a wide range of researchers in the Humanities. Even though one may initially be inclined to consider it more relevant to medieval historians with no palaeographic background, the truth is that it will prove just as useful for local historians, art historians, archivists, archaeologists and even historical linguists. Anyone with no formal training in the ‘art of reading and understanding medieval writing’ will certainly benefit from a few hours’ work and some exciting online transcription in InScribe.
InScirbe was developed by the Institute of Historical Research, Institute of English Studies, the Warburg, Kings College London, Exeter Cathedral Archives, and Senate House Library. To access the tutorials go to PORT.