Medieval historians currently have several Digital Arts and Humanities initiatives designed to aid research at their disposal. However, these initiatives, while useful, are not coherent; they offer disparate, individualized, and uncoordinated efforts to support scholarly research. In a similar vein, those studying Observant reform of religious life in the Middle Ages—despite its impact as “one of the most important religious movements of the middle ages, if not all of European history”[1]—find that much of the scholarship on this vitally important subject is also disparate, individualized, and uncoordinated. For example, scholars wishing to address a current lack in the field by creating a coherent synthesis of all medieval Observant houses can access interactive databases of monastic foundations, such as the Kloster in Bayern project of the Haus der Bayerischen Geschichte (Center of Bavarian History) [www.hdbg.eu/kloster] or the Monastic Matrix resource for the study of women’s religious communities from 400 to 1600 CE, housed at The Ohio State University [www.monasticmatrix.osu.edu], but they cannot easily search those together, nor easily integrate their findings. Those interested in working with digitized manuscripts produced by Observant houses—essential primary sources that are difficult and expensive to access in person—may comb through individualized libraries’ digitalization efforts, but the metadata for such offerings often ignores the Observant context. Moreover, pursuing such a project remains time consuming and inefficient. Finally, scholars in other areas of medieval history have been able to take advantage of the GIS and digital mapping offerings of projects such as the Digital Atlas of Roman and Medieval Civilizations housed at Harvard [http://darmc.harvard.edu], but Observant reform is invisible in these visualizations.

To address both this practical problem and this research problem, the proposed project aims to establish an international, interdisciplinary Digital Arts and Humanities research network of Observant reform scholars (Digital Observance). The long-term goal of this network is to create an integrative digital portal that will bring innovative, publicly available medieval DAH resources into concert with the latest research on medieval Observant reform. This portal, entitled VORsight: Visualizing Observant Reform in the Middle Ages, will incorporate present public-access medieval DAH projects and Observant reform scholarship into one place via three dynamic, interconnected features: 1) an interactive database of Observant houses; 2) a robust mapping visualization tool employing GIS technologies; and 3) a digital manuscript library.

The short-term goal of the Digital Observance network is to initiate the design of the VORsight portal by bringing international scholars of Observant reform together with experts in Digital Humanities project design in a series of three meetings between February 1, 2016 and August 31, 2016.

The benefits and importance of the creation of this international research network and digital portal far exceed their substantial contribution to Observant reform studies via creating tools to address the lack of synthesis in the field. They would also set a standard for future integrative DAH projects that seek to move beyond the simple “digitized document website” model that currently dominates medieval DAH projects. Finally, by involving undergraduate and graduate students at every stage of the planning process, and by providing a K-12 educational outreach element within the digital portal, this project can contribute to college and institutional proposals to national and international funding bodies.


VORsight: Visualizing Observant Reform in the Middle Ages online research portal. Plan for the VORsight portal, which will take the form of a written report containing a flowchart for the structure of the portal; sketches of the initial visual design; a cost analysis and budget; and a full project roadmap for the next steps to be taken. We will also produce an article on the methodology of using DAH technologies together with interdisciplinary approaches to the study of Observant Reform. The anticipated article will be submitted for publication by January 15, 2017.[1] Mixson, James, and Bert Roest. 2015. A Companion to Observant Reform in the Late Middle Ages and Beyond. Leiden: Brill.

Principal Investigator: Kathryne Beebe, Assistant Professor, Medieval History

Co-Investigator: James D. Mixson, Associate Professor, History, University of Alabama