DALME: The Documentary Archeology of Late Medieval Europe

The goal of this project is to lay the groundwork for a documentary archaeology of things from later medieval Europe. An enormous quantity of records, many millions of pages, has survived from this period. Scattered across this imposing mass are innumerable references to ordinary household things, ranging from cooking pans and crockery to beds, chests, and garments. The objects found in these sources are the textual counterpart to tangible things found in museum collections and archaeological sites. But although museum websites and other resources have made archaeological and art historical objects increasingly accessible to the world of scholarship and teaching, no comparable database yet exists for the objects found in archival records. When it comes to reconstructing the daily lives and habits of ordinary individuals, textual things are important counterparts to tangible things.

“The Documentary Archaeology of Late Medieval Europe, 1250-1500” seeks to develop a virtual collection of textual things from late medieval Europe. Over a period of four years (2014-2018), the project will take form as an online collection of sources, a database, and associated apparatus. All in all, the project will present: 1) a Collection of Inventories in the form of digital images of unique archival documents, along with transcriptions and English translations of the inventories; 2) a Database of Textual Things; 3) a Glossary of Latin and vernacular terms and translations in English and other major European languages; 4) an Image Database; and 5) Teacher Resources. By virtue of presenting textual things via their folk taxonomies, the collection as a whole will complement archaeological and museum collections and amplify our understanding of Europe’s material horizons on the eve of modernity. Potentially including over 50,000 objects, the collection will be of value to many fields of humanistic inquiry, ranging from the literary anthropology of material culture and fashion history to archaeology, art history, and religious studies. Over the four years of the project, the project team will target cities and regions all over Europe, beginning with the south and extending north in later phases of the project. By establishing a set of protocols for the practice of documentary archaeology, this project seeks to inspire the formation of similar collections from other times and places.

The first phase of the project (2014-16) is to test the protocols and methodologies we have established for collecting the materials and entering the records into a database. This will be done by assembling a small collection of one hundred new inventories from two different regions to add to the collection of one hundred that we have already assembled. In addition, we will use the next two years to design the architecture of the web portal we will use to present the collection to the scholars, teachers, and the general public. A major feature of the planning year (2015-16) will be a workshop convened at Harvard University, consisting of historians, archaeologists, art historians, curators, digital librarians, and data specialists, where we will refine the protocol for recording textual things.