What is Diplomatics in the Digital Environment?

Diplomatics has changed fundamentally in the last few decades due to dramatic developments in information technology. While consolidating itself as an autonomous science with its own centuries-old theory, methodology, analytical processes and tools, focused on research on medieval and early modern legal documents, it has also grown into an interdisciplinary field, expanding its area of inquiry to all kinds of textual traditions, documentary forms and creation processes through the use of sophisticated digital tools. “We shape our tools, and then our tools shape us”– said Marshal McLuhan. This is especially true with regard to diplomatics. The easy reproduction and publication of charters makes large fonds accessible to historical research and gives the opportunity to reconstruct dispersed fonds. Text analysis tools allow researchers to dig deeply into the data in the documents, extracting information on the distribution of phrases or legal concepts, and creating resources for statistical and network analysis of content. The possibility of developing data models beyond the material restrictions of a printed book inspires rethinking the traditional ways of editing charters. The access to huge image collections fosters historical research on the semiotics of documents as visual signs. At the same time, the comparison between documents on traditional media and those born digital has shown that classic diplomatic knowledge can be used to address issues related to documents created, managed and preserved in the digital environment.

Many of the advantages of conducting any kind of documentary research in the digital environment were clear to diplomatists when they began creating online portals of archival material, doing digital editions of medieval documents, analysing linguistically charter corpora or applying to them visual analysis or visualization technologies. Additional opportunities they identified were the ability to make automatic or semiautomatic annotation to the content of documents, and the application of diplomatics concepts for the identification of digital records and the assessment and protection of their authenticity in a variety of information systems. However, a scholarly reflection on how these new directions taken by diplomatics affect its nature as a field of study concerned with a systematic critical analysis of documents has just begun.

Following the two conferences on Digital Diplomatics that took place in 2007 in Munich and 2011 in Naples, this conference has the goal to further the scholarly reflection on the way in which diplomatics has developed as a result of both the opportunities offered by digital tools to study historical documents and the challenges presented by born digital documents and by the need to understand their structure and of the complex digital environments in which they reside.

We invite proposals for papers addressing the manifestations and effects of what appears to be a paradigm shift from a classic humanistic science to a cyberscience (Nentwich).

Examples of issues that could be considered are:

  • Changes in scholarly editing of documents when using digital methods
  • Diplomatics as a hard science, a social science or a humanisties discipline
  • Measuring versus understanding as the main method of diplomatics of the documents (e.g. automatic author identification versus ‘Diktatvergleich’)
  • The focus of diplomatics: a single documents or aggregations (corpora, files, series, fonds)?
  • Digitized charters as images, texts, or meaning?
  • Can the whole meaning of a charter be represented digitally?
  • Comparing creation of trusted documents in the traditional and the digital environment
  • Signatures and seals in the traditional and the digital environment: are they comparable?
  • Are digital forensics and its tools related to diplomatics? How?
  • Diplomatic tools for analyzing digital and non-digital documents
  • Teaching diplomatics in the digital environment (both in traditional classroom and through eLearning)
  • Using diplomatics to build a virtual archives

Each submitted proposal will be peer reviewed by at least three members of the Program Committee to ensure that the program provides significant, timely, and authoritative information.

Proposals can be submitted for individual papers (for a 20 minutes oral presentation followed by a 5 minutes discussion), for a traditional session including three papers (1 hour of presentation time and 15 minutes of discussion time), or for a panel of speakers (1 hour and 15 minutes total).

Proposals should include:

  • a 500-word abstract that clearly identifies the working title and the content of each paper.
  • a 50-word biographical sketch of each author
  • mailing address, phone, and email for the primary author

Proposals can be submitted via the conference website at or sent to

The deadline for proposal submission is April 15, 2013 (extended!)

You find all the organisational details of the conference at

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