De Paermentier, Els: Diplomata Belgica: analysing medieval charter texts (dictamen) through a quantitative approach

Posted by GV in Linguistical Statistics, Paper, Proposals, Thursday |

In my doctoral study on the charters and chancery of the count(esse)s of Flanders and Hainaut (1191-1244)[1], I applied a combined methodology of diplomatics, palaeography and prosopography. However, in the recent availability of the digital source collection Thesaurus Diplomaticus (nowadays called Diplomata Belgica[2]), I saw an opportunity to extend the existing diplomatic method elaborated by L. Delisle and Th. Von Sickel, and refined by Walter Prevenier in the early 1960s, with a whole new dimension, namely that of a quantitative word approach (‘word statistics’) within a corpus of over more than 17,000 charters issued between 1191 en 1244 by all kinds of secular and religious authorities from within the area of present-day Belgium and northern France. The existing method of diplomatic analysis had been limited to a ‘manual’ comparison of the Latin protocol formula, and only juxtaposed the text of the charters issued by the count(esse)s with other texts from the archives of their recipients. The new research criteria and standards I worked out, gathered into a so-called ‘three step action plan of determination’, made it possible for the first time also to draw the dispositive text parts into the analysis, and to examine them from a much more comparative and ‘creative’ perspective. Consequently, this ‘modern’ methodology was not only elaborated in order to find out the editorial origin of the comital charter texts. Gradually, it also offered new insights on the editorial traditions and ‘innovations’ within the chancery of the count(esse)s, on the extent to which this chancery tended to differentiate itself from other secular or ecclesiastical editorial centres during the period 1191-1244, and on the direct influence some important chancery clerks had on the organisation and the editorial customs within the administrative entourage of the count(esse)s. Furthermore, the results of the dictamen analysis turned out also to be very valuable for digital discourse analysis, in order to determine in what way the charter texts drawn up in the comital chancery were used by the count(esse)s as an instrument to strengthen their legal authority and power towards their subjects.

Dr. Els De Paermentier
Ghent University – Dept. of History (Middle Ages)

[1] Defended in November 2010.

[2] Diplomata Belgica is a source disclosure project that in the 1970s was initially set up, by order of the Royal Historical Commission (, to gather a digital version of charters issued by or destined for all kinds of secular and ecclesiastical persons and institutions situated within the area of present-day Belgium until 1200 (cdrom Thesaurus Diplomaticus, Brepols Publishers, 1997). Currently the database Diplomata Belgica is being incorporated into the larger project ‘Sources of the Medieval Low Countries (SMLC). A Multiple Database System for the Launch of Diplomata Belgica and for a Completely Updated Version of Narrative Sources’ (director: prof. Jeroen Deploige, Ghent University) that is supported by the Hercules Foundation (2010-2013, and by the Belgian Royal Historical Commission. The SMLC-database will be launched online within a few years.

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