A second conference from the project HIMANIS (Historical Manuscripts for user-controlled Search), about handwriting recognition by computers of the ancient writings, is held on Tuesday, May 29, 2018 at the Archives Nationales (Paris site – Hôtel de Soubise, chambre du Prince).
Since 2015, the Archives Nationales became an associated partner with the IRHT-led HIMANIS (Historical Manuscripts for User-controlled Search) research project, which goals were to study the records of the French Royal Chancery of the 14th and 15th centuries. The major technological challenge was to carry out computer recognition of medieval writing that was sufficiently reliable to provide the community with a full-text search engine of the registers, many of which were not yet covered by inventories or index. A web interface, combining access to images, transcripts and archival analyzes, has also been developed.
To celebrate the achievements and the end of the HIMANIS project, the Institut de Recherche et d’Histoire des Textes (IRHT) is organizng a conference on Friday, 27 October 2017, to present, explain and discuss the impact of handwriting recognition technologies for medieval studies and heritage institutions.
The European project HIMANIS (HIstorical MANuscript Indexing for user-controlled search), led by the IRHT, brought together several research teams in engineering sciences, both private (A2iA, France), and public (PRHLT-UPVLC, Spain and Alice-Groningen Univ., The Netherlands), with the support of the National Archives and the National Library of France.
The main result of this project is that it is now possible to carry out keyword searches in the corpus of registers of the French royal chancery of the 14th and 15th centuries. For the moment there are 167 volumes of the National Archives series, JJ 7 – JJ 209 and 20 volumes of the Bibliothèque nationale de France. The interface (still preliminary) can be accessed at the following address: http://prhlt-kws.prhlt.upv.es/himanis/. It is a test interface, which will evolve in the coming months, with additional manuscripts and new functionalities, notably to
navigate between the results, to display the regests and editions. HIMANIS also aims at computer-assisted analysis of the different hands involved in each volume, to study the functioning of the royal chancellery and the progressive construction of the centralized state of the French monarchy.
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.
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 : http://www.i-d-e.de/publikationen/weitereschriften/criteria-version-1-1/) 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 😉
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.
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.
HIstorical MANuscript Indexing for user-controlled Search