MESA: Creating An Online Portal Into The Medieval World

18/6/12 .-

Perhaps it is fitting that students and scholars interested in the medieval world have to grapple with fiefdoms in order to find information dating to the period – though that doesn’t make it any less frustrating. But the days of searching through scattered online resources will soon be history.

Researchers are in the process of pulling together a website bringing together scores of electronic resources on medieval subjects, including literature, history, theology, architecture, art history and philosophy. Creation of a centralized search engine for medieval materials would be a big step forward. At present, for example, those interested in studying the medieval era may have to visit dozens of different sites to search for documents related to their research topics, from King Arthur to church history to the Hundred Years’ War. And that’s assuming they know how to find those sites in the first place.

The new site, which is part of a larger project called the Medieval Electronic Scholarly Alliance (MESA), will allow users to search all of these sites at once – streamlining the research process and hopefully bringing to light resources a scholar may have otherwise missed. The site is scheduled to launch by the end of the year, and will initially cover Europe and the Mediterranean world from roughly 450 A.D. to 1450 A.D.

MESA is the brainchild of Tim Stinson, a humanities scholar at North Carolina State, and Dot Porter, a librarian at Indiana University. Stinson and Porter were recently awarded a three-year grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to launch the online resource. They will be collaborating with scholars from Texas A&M University and the University of Virginia, where similar portals for 18th- and 19th-century studies already exist.

One of the challenges in getting MESA, and the web portal, off the ground was to find a way to address intellectual property concerns. While medieval works were never copyrighted, photographs of those manuscripts may have been. Stinson and Porter needed to find a way to represent the interests of lending institutions, scholars and programmers – without hamstringing MESA’s attempt to search all of the available online resources.

Their solution was to centralize the search function on the MESA site, allowing users to find the material – but not to post the manuscripts themselves on the site. Instead, the site provides links to the manuscripts and other materials on library, museum or university sites. This allows each institution to retain the intellectual property rights they may hold on various materials. Users will also be able to collect, annotate, and tag digital objects, and to build online exhibitions using them.

“We’re starting out with 12 projects that meet our technological and scholarly standards,” Stinson says. “These cover issues ranging from works of medieval music to in-depth collections focusing on specific works of literature. This is a great resource for researchers, but it will also serve as a starting point for anyone interested in exploring the medieval world.” MESA will be available to the public early in 2013.

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