Category Archives: Non classé

A glimpse at the coverage of extant inventories

Last week, I was in Graz, talking about “Automated indexing of medieval manuscripts: the HIMANIS research project and the registers of the French royal chancery” at a Lunchtime Lecture of the Zentrum für Informationsmodellierung at the University of Graz.

For this lecture, I prepared a small slide which I had ever wanted to do: just give an idea of the coverage of the inventories at a glimpse. Well, it is easy and difficult at the same time.

The Virtual Reference Room of the National Archive indicates many inventories for the fonds JJ. Not fewer than 42!

But, if you simplify a bit, then, you have the systematic printed inventories from JJ 37 to JJ 79 (1300-1350), then you have handwritten unpublished inventories for the years 1350-1364 (JJ 80 to JJ 95), and, besides some particular text editions, esp. regarding the Poitou region, some geographic inventories for JJ 35 to JJ 266, covering the provinces of Gascogne, Blésois, Orléanais, Chartrain, Languedoc and Rouergue.
In the map above, there are of course some catches: I’ve avoided the question of the exact limits of the older provinces by using a map with actual departements. But I hope this gives a good idea of how much we have to discover in the Chancery registers 😀

Update on the inventories of the Chancery registers

Inventory of Archives Nationales, JJ 84 (11v-12r)

On December 5, during our second plenar meeting, held in Valencia (Spain), we discussed (among other topics) various issues that we have encountered with the inventories of the French royal chancery registers. Until the HIMANIS project, those were the only tools available to find particular information in those registers. They exist in different formats: printed or handwritten; some are already converted in EAD (in different flavours), but, despite the efforts of the Archives Nationales, not all available for the general public yet.

As we intend to use these inventories in the project in order to collect correct identifications for place and person names, as well as to evaluate the precision/recall of indexing, we need to have them in a interoperable electronic format (TEI / EAD).

The oldest inventory which we will use, and the only one covering the entire corpus, is the three volume manuscript inventory made in the nineteenth century by A. Longnon and A. Coulon, providing very short Latin summaries for each document. This inventory was retyped by the Archives Nationales and converted in the EAD format.

A second series of inventories encompass the geographical inventories which were elaborated for Gascogne; Languedoc and Rouergue; Berry, Blésois, Chartrain, Orléanais, Touraine. They cover the whole corpus (JJ 35 – JJ 266), but not all the acts in the corpus as they are limited by the region that they are interested in. It is also a short summary with index. We converted the OCR made by Gallica and converted them into TEI as already mentioned a year ago in our post on Named entities and ground-truth: progress report

Modern systematic inventories elaborated by the Archives Nationales come in different formats: printed, typed or are still at manuscript stage (Registres du Trésor des Chartes, Inventaires analytique, 6 vol. in 3 t.).

  • T. I: Philippe IV (1300-1314) [JJ 37 – 50]
    • OCR by AN; EAD with subjects index coded
    • Index (place names + persons) : TEI by IRHT
  • T. II: Fils de Philippe le Bel (1314-1328)
    • T.II.1 : Louis X, Philippe V (1314-1321) [JJ 50 – 60]: EAD by AN
    • T.II.2 : Charles IV (1322-1328) [JJ 61 – 64]: TEI by IRHT
    • No index existing
  • T. III: Philippe de Valois (1328-1349)
    • T. III.1 1328-1349 [JJ 65A – 69]: OCR by IRHT; TEI
    • T. III.2 1336-1346 [JJ 70 – 75]: OCR by AN; EAD
    • T. III.3 1339-1350 [JJ 76 – 79B]: OCR by AN; EAD
    • Index (subjects, person, place names, chancery notes): OCR by IRHT; TEI

Typed unpublished inventories have been retyped by the Archives Nationales (AN) :

  • Jean II and Charles Dauphin
    • JJ 80 – JJ 81: OCR by AN; plain text converted to TEI
    • JJ 83: OCR by AN; .xls to be converted to TEI
    • JJ 82 – 95: Ms. Index on cardboard files (persons and subjects) about 30.000 files; re-typed by AN
    • JJ 96 – 97: Ms. Index on cardboard files (persons, place names, subject): 4.500 files; retyped by AN
  • Charles V (1364-1366)rc
    • JJ 96 to JJ 98: abstracts and index in .xls to be converted to TEI

Last but not least, our main concern were with the 12 inventories that  were still in handwritten stage (JJ84-95 or about 1400 pages). Those where remained in the manuscript (JJ84-95 for the reign of Jean II and a part of Charles V). We therefore asked our partner A2ia if they can perform HTR on those. But how did we proceed to achieve this task?


First, the AN provided us with high resolution reproduction of those 12 inventories, or 1429 pages, at 300 dpi in tiff format. We then produce ground truth, which consisted of the 4 first pages of each inventories (1079 lines of text). Then A2ia trained and performed HTR. We were lucky as the inventory have only one hand and as the layout is very stable from one inventories to the other. Using a standard French model and lexicon from the printed inventories, this operation was able to be carried out quickly in less then 4 weeks and produced results that went beyond our expectations with a very high recognition rate and transcript almost usable as is.

Inserted acts and vidimus copies in the registers of the French royal Chancery: Originals without originality?

During the colloquium L’acte original, entre conceptions médiévales et concept diplomatique (Nancy, 6-7 oct. 2016), we presented a paper about the practice of “insertion”, which consists in transcribing an earlier document into the body of another act. This practice is used, according to the Vocabulaire international de diplomatique (International vocabulary of diplomatics), either to give legal support to this act (for example, by transcribing the powers of prosecutors or commissions), or to confer authenticity to the transcribed act, known as “vidimus”. This double practice is massive in the registers of the French Royal Chancery, going as far as to produce vidimus of vidimus.

Using the materials accumulated so far in the HIMANIS project, encompassing several text editions and all available inventories (despite the differences in structure),  we quantified this practice and documented its evolution from the reign of Philip IV (1286-1314) until Louis XI (1461-1483) and were able to show diachronic variation (with a maximum under the reigns of Philip IV’s sons and a sharp decrease under Charles V and his successors) as well as geographic differences.

We also studied the diplomatic features (beneficiaries etc.) and indications of collation (becoming quasi systematic under Philip VI) and mise en texte within the registers.

On the usefullness of Scholarly Digital Editions

During a workshop at the University of Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines on digital text editions, we had the pleasure to make a provocative pun. Scholarly Digital Editions, a concept largely defined by our friends James Cummings and Franz Fischer (cf. their “Criteria for Reviewing Scholarly Digital Editions” online : and Elena Pierazzo (cf. her book DIgital Scholarly Editing: Theories, Models, Methods, available on HAL-SHS), are not only thought for the Humanists, but also for the machines. Indeed the better the edition is, the better it is to teach computer to read reading skills on medieval documents to beginners, i.e. Computers. We demonstrated that and how electronic editions can have a second life as a teacher for Artificial Intelligences, far from their original intent. In fact, our “ground-truth” is mostly based on the electronic edition by Ecole de Chartes of chancery documents published by Paul Guerin more than a hundred years ago: but to be good teachers, they need to be enhanced and upgraded to a more elaborate scholarly level.

Of course, this is not all. They also serve, along with indexes and inventories, to measure the accuracy and recall, and we all have to think about what it means to index (and not to edit) for the remnant parts and what conclusions we can draw from uncertain questions. That was the rest of our talk 😉

Old and new tools for retrieving information in a massive textual corpus

Seeking information in the registers of the French royal chancery was never an easy task. During the conference Administrer par l’écrit au Moyen Âge held at the IRHT in Paris on June 1st, 2016, our colleague Olivier Canteaut pointed out during our joint paper, it also applied to medieval researchers. Indeed, even in the Middle Ages, reading registers cover to cover was not excluded for retrieving a particular document because tables of contents and rubrics were more than often not sufficient to find the information that was needed. And to avoid such a tedious task, the king was sometimes gathering living witnesses of his predecessor’s act rather than searching for a copy in his registers! Still today, making research in those registers is daunting, especially for the time period following the reign of Jean II (1350-1364) where modern inventories are either partial or difficult to access.

A list is provided in the Virtual Inventory Room of the French National Archive [direct link to JJ inventories]

Screenshot of the list of inventories to access the JJ series in the French National Archive
Screenshot of the list of inventories to access the JJ series in the French National Archive


Therefore, as the main technological challenge of the HIMANIS project is to develop effective new tools for retrieving information in a massive document corpus like the chancery registers, how about merging ancient and new technologies?

Auto-indexation of the chancery register will provide keyword spotting across all the documents kept in the chancery registers. Combining this with all the existing materials (converted to electronic format), we aim at allowing simultaneous browsing between the auto-indexed digital images, document level segmentation, existing inventories, edited documents and indexed places names and persons.

IRHT's interface proposal to access the Chancery corpus: aligning and merging early modern inventories (tables of contents), 20th c. inventories and indexes, partial editions, and the result of automated indexing performed in the HIMANIS project
IRHT’s interface proposal to access the Chancery corpus: aligning and merging early modern inventories (tables of contents), 20th c. inventories and indexes, partial editions, and the result of automated indexing performed in the HIMANIS project


Text-Image Alignment: from alignment to enhancement

The first batch of our ground-truth and images has been processed. That are 489 pages, 7100 lines, 132’700 words! All on HD images provided by the French National Archive and based on the text edition by Paul Guérin. We now are able to see the text on the image :
Aligned text and image at word level on Paris, Archives Nationales, JJ 35, fol. 18v

From then on, we are now working on
1) the validation/correction of the alignment or segmentation… and here we have to acknowledge that our “ground-truth” was far from being 100% accurate (some links to images were wrong, some text paragraphs were omitted by Paul Guérin, and all sorts of funny discoveries)
2) the enhancement of the text edition, esp. by enriching it with the abbreviations as to create better models and a better ground-truth. For that, we have played with a little tool, which indicates which abbrevations are possible for a given word :

Web interface to select which abbreviations are present in a given word


Manuscripts are among the most important witnesses to our European shared cultural heritage. In recent years, large quantities of historical handwritten documents are being scanned and made available through web portals. Yet, the wealth of information conveyed by the text captured in these images remains largely inaccessible. General users and researchers more and more expect to query handwritten resources in plain text like printed books, but current handwritten text recognition technology is still far from offering sufficiently accurate transcripts on historical documents. This situation raises the need of searching approaches specifically designed for text images. HIMANIS aims at developing cost-effective solutions for querying large sets of handwritten document images. To this end, innovative keyword spotting, indexing and search methods will be developed, tested, adapted and/or scaled up to meet the real world conditions required. HIMANIS associate Computer Science (A2iA, UPVLC and RUG), Humanities (IRHT) and Cultural Heritage (The European Library, the Archives Nationales of France and Bibliothque Nationale de France) institutions and produce technology to generate new, research-based knowledge from historical manuscripts. As a challenging and particularly interesting case study, the large collection of registers produced by the French royal chancery (14th-15th c.) will be used as a test bed. This will allow sustainable use and management of this important cultural resource. Implementing user feedback will also increase our understanding of the meanings that it holds for people and how they perceive, use and interpret it, thereby meeting societal challenges in promoting its use and re-use. The expected outcomes of this project are: a) a new indexing/searching technology for historical manuscripts, brought to the market by A2iA; b) a new paradigm to study our historical heritage, as conveyed by manuscripts, by using full text search technology. c) a new vision of the raise of nation states in Europe via a new study of the corpus under this paradigm.