Joshua  Westgard

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  • Title / Position: Manuscript Specialist
  • Organization: UCLA, Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies
  • Website: stgallplan.org
  • Twitter: @westgardja

I am a medieval historian and a manuscripts specialist on the Virtual Libraries of St. Gall and Reichenau (phase two of the digital St. Gall plan project), a digital initiative now based at UCLA, but which has roots at UVA. Similarly, though I currently work at UCLA, my family ties are to Silver Spring, MD, which is where I normally work, and which explains my interest in attending a THATCamp on this side of the continent.

I have over 15 years of experience working on various digital initiatives. I was a web designer while in grad school at Western Michigan University in the 1990s, where I also did some of the original SGML tagging for The Medieval Review. Later I was Teaching Technology Coordinator at the UNC-CH History Department, where I also did free-lance database design and worked for Content Management Services as they converted the University's departmental webpages to a Plone-based CMS. My current position is mainly focussed on the creation of metadata for manuscript images using XML and TEI.

  • Discussion Session Proposal: A Worldcat for Manuscripts?

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    I am a medieval historian by training, and also a THATCamp newbie. I currently work as a manuscript specialist on a grant-funded DH project called “The Virtual Libraries of Reichenau and St. Gall” (www.stgallplan.org), now based at the UCLA Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, but which in an earlier phase of the project (before I came on board) was based at UVA’s IATH.  In a nutshell, this phase of the project reconstructs the intellectual landscape of two of the most important intellectual communities of Carolingian Europe.  We have digitized or purchased the rights to use images of about 170 Latin manuscripts that are or were owned in the Middle Ages by the Benedictine monasteries of St. Gall and Reichenau in what is today southwestern Germany / north-central Switzerland.  My work on the project mostly entails describing these manuscripts and creating TEI XML metadata for our page-images of them.

    Outside of my work on the St. Gall project, I also have used DH applications in my own scholarship, which focuses on the Venerable Bede (672/3-735) and the manuscript transmission of his works.  My work in this area has mostly focussed on database development, and so in that connection I would be very interested in a discussion of some aspects of linked data and what it means for the future.  Specifically, I’m interested in whether linked data will be the answer to what for me has become an old conundrum: namely, whereas to do serious research on medieval textual transmission you used to need to access, say, 1,000 pretty specialized books; since the digital revolution took hold you now need to access 700 pretty specialized books (half of which you might be able to find online if you look hard) and 300 different websites, one by one.  In short, access has definitely been increased dramatically, but I think there’s still a lot of room to improve in terms of leveraging technology to reduce the amount of labor expended in accessing this type of information (I’m talking essentially about eliminating busy work; obviously the hard thinking bits will always be done by scholars).  Or, to put it another way, will the growth of linked data technologies make it feasible to build a equivalent of Worldcat for medieval manuscript collections (or for that matter other types of archival/special collections)?  Can others point me in the direction of projects that have done or are attempting to do this sort of thing for other fields of study?  What would need to be done to make this happen?

    Joshua Westgard

    UCLA / Silver Spring, MD

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