Posted by: kljolly | September 7, 2012

liturgical database

One of the tasks I set for my recently completed sabbatical was digitizing the Durham Cathedral Library A.IV.19 additions and making them available on the web as the beginning of a liturgical database for Anglo-Saxon studies.  But I have felt stymied in that effort by a number of technical difficulties.

The additions to Durham A.IV.19 made circa 970 by a group of Chester-le-Street scribes (Aldred and Scribes B-F) are in the appendix of my recently published book, The Community of St. Cuthbert in the Late Tenth Century, available in a cd version as well as print from Ohio State University Press.  In the book, I mention the difficulty of sourcing some of the liturgical texts and the need for a full text database.  Right now, we can search incipits in print volumes of service books published by the Henry Bradshaw Society or others presses, google odd phrases and get random hits from out of copyright editions that happen to have been scanned, search the PL (if you happen to have a library with access to the electronic version) for what may be in there, or scramble through the composite volumes of the Romano-Germanic Pontificals, sacramentaries, benedictionals, and the like.  The incipit searches in printed editions are the most reliable in the sense of metadata (you know what manuscript and text you are searching in, unlike Google) but many of the prayer texts in Durham A.IV.19 are hybrid or composite such that material in the middle of a prayer is unidentifiable without a full text search.  The trouble with Google is you don’t know what you are searching in, that is, you don’t know what is not there.  I have had surprising hits (who knew that odd phrase was also buried somewhere in that missal?), but no hits doesn’t tell you what texts were scanned (or not) unless you search for every known manuscript edition to see which ones are there (someone needs to do that).  Also, of course, Google metadata is notoriously unreliable, not to mention scan errors and out-of-date editions.

So my thought was to revive a project initiated by Sarah Keefer (DILS) but using more recent developments in technology.  Sarah and I came up with a project name, Two Languages @ Prayer, to define our common interest:  Anglo-Saxon service books (broadly defined) that include Latin and Old English materials.  Our conversation started, literally, over Durham A.IV.19.  I never got past that point but got sucked into the manuscript, re-editing the additions.  Now I am wondering whether I should forge on with the digitization project, starting with Durham A.IV.19, or not (perhaps wait for other initiatives and teams to emerge).  I do have a blog set up called 2 Languages @ Prayer for that purpose, but am not sure how to proceed.  My thought was to create a gateway website that would serve first as a guidebook for the Anglo-Saxonist trying to figure out what books and resources to use to look for liturgical materials and second as a site for building a database of searchable liturgical texts.

Here are the things hanging me up:

1.  Format.  I have the additions from my book in pdf as well as Word format, but the footnotes are delinked.  My older Word drafts (before copy editing) would need to be updated to show things caught by the copy editing process.  I could go the fast route and just upload to my website or the blog the text “as is” in Word or pdf, with our without the footnotes.  Or, I could take the slow route and re-edit each text in a website with hyperlinks, et. al.  This brings the second issue.

2.  Text encoding.  If I do re-edit, what are the protocols for making it searchable and usable, especially for special characters (of which there are many in the Old English texts particularly)?  I am aware of text-encoding initiatives, most associated with big grant projects, but I am out of my depth.

3.  Team effort?  While I can do Durham A.IV.19 in some fashion, it will take a team of people (and money) to get other Anglo-Saxon service book materials online.  Others projects out there:  Geographies of Orthodoxy wiki; crowdsourcing example and ThatCamp both sponsored by the George Mason Center for New History and Media; and the Interpreting Medieval Liturgy project of Helen Gittos and Sarah Hamilton.

4.  Copyright.  Many of the manuscripts included in this database sweep are available in print through HBS; others are in out date editions, some scanned by Google books.  Then there are the synthesized editions of  service book material by Deshusses, Vogel, and Andrieu.  The outdated but still usable Monumenta veteris Liturgiae Alemannicae of Martinus Gerbertus is available but I haven’t tested its searchability too far.

Any advice, suggestions, or volunteers?


  1. Well, much of my dissertation focused on the liturgical context of Ælfric’s preaching and in my day-job I’m a database programmer. We should talk…

    • Thanks, Derek–maybe we should connect via email. I enjoy your haligweorc posts, especially on ways of reading the Bible.

    • Hi Derek, I don’t suppose you know anything about text-encoding initiatives? Let me know if you think this project has some potential worth pursuing. I have not yet opened the new blog, 2 Languages @ Prayer, to the public because I am still dithering about taking the plunge. Karen Jolly

  2. Definitely send me an email–I put up a post on the blog as an initial reflection on a project I’ve had in the back of my head for a couple of years.

  3. […] Jolly of Revealing Words wrote about a liturgical database she has been working on in conjunction with her last academic […]

  4. […] Our university library has an open access policy with a dedicated site called ScholarSpace that allows faculty to upload their publications into collections.  The publisher of my book, The Ohio State University Press, takes a liberal view of copyright and has allowed me to upload the critical edition from the appendix “as is” in its pdf format from the cd (as long as no one is charged for access).  For more info on the book and project, see my previous post. […]

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