In the autumn of 2010, a team of both medieval historians and IT-specialists at Ghent University and at a number of partner institutions, amongst which most notably the Belgian Royal Historical Commission, started the project “Sources from the Medieval Low Countries (SMLC). A Multiple Database System for the Launch of Diplomata Belgica and for a Completely Updated Version of Narrative Sources” (Hercules Foundation Flanders, 2010-2015).
SMLC will enable medievalists to gain free integrated online access to two different and completely up-to-date data collections: (1) Diplomata Belgica containing descriptions (and often full text and photographs) of some 33,000 charters composed in the Southern Low Countries before 1250, and (2) Narrative Sources, which offers a survey of all narrative sources written in the Low Countries before c. 1500.
Diplomata Belgica will become the most relevant component of SMLC for scholars of diplomatics. A primitive version of it is already known today as the CD-ROM Thesaurus Diplomaticus (Turnhout 1997). However, Diplomata Belgica will contain approximately a threefold number of descriptions of charters as well as a totally new relational database structure. This custom-designed software will allow us to handle our data in a way which coincides perfectly with our current research interests and needs and which offers the potential to develop more advanced methods of data mining and information retrieval in regard to future research questions.
With this paper, we have three aims. We will first briefly present the project and its challenges. Then, in order to illustrate one of the many advantages of our new database technology, we will focus on procedures of time modelling of fuzzy information based on “possibility theory”. The information historians have about the dates of the charters they are studying, is often marked by uncertainty, inaccuracy, vagueness, inconsistency or the lack of concrete data. By developing a semantic modelling approach, we will offer historians new means to undertake advanced searches for charters dating from specific periods. In the third part of our paper, we will explain how this technology might enable us to conceive new research questions about the promulgation of large numbers of medieval charters in relation to the different periods within the (liturgical) year. In brief, when were medieval benefactors especially generous?
Prof. dr. Jeroen Deploige
Department of History, Ghent University
Henri Pirenne Institute for Medieval Studies
Prof. dr. Guy De Tré
Department of Telecommunications and Information Processing, Ghent University
In collaboration with Drs. Ing. Christophe Billiet (Ghent University – Department of Telecommunications and Information Processing), Philippe Demonty (Royal Historical Commission, Belgium) and Drs. José Enrique Pons Frías (University of Granada – Department of Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence)