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Paper: A Data Model for Visualising Textuality – The Würzburg Saint Matthew

Rehbein, Malte, Würzburg University,


This short paper presents the ongoing work and the considerations behind the project “Visualising Textuality – New Interfaces to Historical Texts”.

The project, supported by the EU FP7 Marie Curie Scheme, aims at implementing a “knowledge environment” (Siemens et al) to explore and understand better early medieval textual practices and pre-scholastic Christian scholarship. The project starts from a manuscript from the University Library of Würzburg (, dated back to the second half of the 8th century AD and most likely of Irish provenance. This is a parchment manuscript with 34 leaves containing a text of Matthew’s gospel along with extensive interlinear glossing and 30 cedulae (parchment slips) containing commentary material bound between the pages (Fig. 1).

Fig. 1: Excerpt from with comments on parchment slips.

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It is also an intriguing object of historical studies: its numerous glosses (interlinear and marginal) as well as commentaries (on parchment slips) allow insight into practices of compilation and use of this manuscript (cf. Fig. 1). However, it poses many challenges to editors and researchers: different layers of writing (strata) have been identified; the arrangement (mise-en-page) of glosses and commentaries in relation to the Gospel text and to each other conveys important information but is not easy to follow; the “intertexts” cross the logical segments of the text and the physical boundaries and dimensions of the document pages; the texts themselves, especially the commentaries, have their own history of transmission; and they recite, vary from and refer to other commentaries such as Eusebius, Jerome or Isidor, who also refer to other commentaries and biblical texts etc. Cahill summarizes that the Würzburg Matthew is “a complicated jumble and not a tidy bundle” and requires further research (2002:25). His statement applies to all levels of investigation: the physical (document), the logical (texts and contexts) and the level of space and time (cf. Fig. 2).

Fig. 2: Model illustration of the complex network of relations based on the Würzburg glosses (not complete).

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It is the aim of this research project to find adequate means for representing such a complicated network of information, for visualising these relations and for allowing the researcher to navigate through this data in form of a “knowledge environment”. The fact that this all is a “complicated jumble” has to be seriously taken into consideration. The data that is outlined here consists of numerous combinations – of semantic relations, chronological dependencies, spatial transmissions, topological information – each of which may carry an important detail for research. What serves for the first time for an in-depth and comprehensive research, has its risk in getting lost in information. Thus, it seems to be crucial for the scholar to focus his or her attention up on what (s)he is interested in. Support for this needs to be provided by the knowledge environment.

The project is in the first year of its three years implementation plan. At the time of the DH conference (June 2011), most of the textual work on the manuscript shall be completed, so that preliminary considerations about the setup of the envisaged knowledge environment and what is more important about the underlying data model will be discussed and presented. This data model is an abstraction of document, text and context and encompasses entities of different types (such as segments of texts, zones in a document, time, space, scribes, sources, metadata) and relations among them (such as “origins from”, “uses”, “was written by”) as well the interface to external data (such as the Patrologia latina database) to link to text variants and contexts.


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