Monday, 23 January 2012

Medievalists on the making and the digital

For the past few years I have been lucky enough to be involved in a wonderful training course, MMSDA, i.e. Medieval Manuscript Studies in the Digital Age. This course is offered for free to UK PhD students which have to work with medieval manuscripts and are interested in the digital stuff. We have now run the course for three years with an exceptional success which we mesure in the number of applicants  (65, in the first year, 42 the second and 28 the third) and their enthusiasm and commitment. The main brain behind this initiative is Peter Stokes (yep, my Peter Stokes).
The course was initially funded by the AHRC, so we were forced to offer it only to UK-based students, but, from the very first time we run it, we were aware of a much larger interest out there. This is the reason why we have sought alternative funding and we were finally lucky enough, thanks to the hard work of Charles Burnett form the Warburg Institute, to secure some substantial funding from a COST Action project,   IS1005, 'Medieval Europe - Medieval Cultures and Technological Resources'.

So we have opened the application to European Countries. Results? we had 90 applications (yes 90!!) from 18 countries for 20 places. The quality of the applicants where outstanding, I have never had to make more difficult choices, really! We have just been through them all and sent the list of successful candidates to the COST office for approval, then we will communicate the results.

This experience is telling me a few things:

  1. There are some amazing young researchers out there, we will have some stiff competition quite soon.
  2. Many people that have to engage with manuscripts lack appropriate training. Even at PhD level for many a manuscripts is little more than a support for a text. 
  3. Young researchers are desperate to acquire essential digital skills (we teach XML, TEI, imaging, so nothing very sophisticated, but very desirable, as it seems)
  4. We (i.e. the organisers) have willingly left out from the course soem essential topics: Greek, Hebrew, Arabic, Glagolitic, Cyrillic... all of this languages and scripts and traditions and manuscripts are part of our common European culture, but we tend to, quite conveniently, forget it... In our case it was mostly due to lack of time (there are just so many things you can fit in 5 days, you know), still there is something to keep in mind here, I think
Food for thought...

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