Monasteries have extensive collections of medieval manuscripts. In most cases, there is no information on how many scribes were active in any one monastery, whether they travelled between monasteries, and how the scriptoria were organized.
A new research project – called Scribe ID AI – from St. Pölten University of Applied Sciences will make use of artificial intelligence to identify copyists of manuscripts from the 12th century in the library of Klosterneuburg Monastery.
Located in eastern Austria, Klosterneuburg Monastery was founded in 1113 and remained an important monastic site throughout the Middle Ages. Its library contains 1250 medieval manuscripts.
Den Schreibern des Mittelalters auf der Spur 📜🧐
Niederösterreichs Klöster verfügen über umfangreiche Sammlungen mittelalterlicher Handschriften.
— FH St. Pölten (@fh_stpoelten) December 1, 2022
So far, traditional manual writing style analysis has been carried out by experts in a tedious and time-consuming process. By using artificial intelligence and machine learning, pages can be analyzed faster. The purpose is not to identify individual scribes as persons or by name but to ascertain whether different texts come from the same or different scribes.
“There are approaches to identifying the manuscripts of medieval scribes with the help of machine learning. However, these cannot be applied to large collections of texts. We’re talking about tens of thousands of pages”, says Markus Seidl from the Institute of Creative\Media/Technologies at the St. Pölten UAS, who heads the project and has, together with his team, developed a procedure that makes it possible to apply automatic analysis to large volumes of manuscripts.
“We take machine learning and human expertise and combine the best of both worlds”, adds Seidl. The machine suggests a certain scribe to the palaeographers, who can either accept or reject the suggestion or make an alternative suggestion. The computer model is gradually improved through the experts’ assessments.
“This project does not just help us to interactively work on a significant desideratum of historical research,” comments Martin Haltrich, head of the monastic library in Klosterneuburg.”It also creates new possibilities and tools of analysis that enable a deeper knowledge of all other medieval scriptoria in the area that is now Lower Austria. Based on the study of the scriptorium of Klosterneuburg Monastery in the final third of the 12th century, we can answer bigger unresolved questions regarding the organisation of the written word in high medieval (Lower) Austrian monasteries.”
Top Image: Medieval Gospel at Klosterneuburg Abbey – image © Klosterneuburg Abbey