Tracing the Steps of Medieval Writers


So far, traditional manual writing style analysis has been carried out by experts in a tedious and time-consuming process.

“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 CreativeMedia/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.

Using artificial intelligence and machine learning, the sheer number of pages can be analysed 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.

Collaboration between Humans and Machines

“We take machine learning and human expertise and combine the best of both worlds”, says Seidl. The machine suggests a certain scribe to the palaeographers – the researchers of historic writing. The experts 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. 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”, emphasises Martin Haltrich, head of the monastic library in Klosterneuburg.

Project Scribe ID

The project receives funding from the Gesellschaft für Forschungsförderung NÖ (the research promotion agency of the province of Lower Austria; GFF, formerly NFB) within the framework of the FTI Call 2018 for digitalisation. Partners in the project are Klosterneuburg Monastery and TU Wien.

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