Library of Congress – Preservation Research and Testing Division (PRTD)

CLIR/DLF Postdoctoral Fellowship in Data Curation for Medieval Studies

The Preservation Research and Testing Division (PRTD) proposes a CLIR/DLF Postdoctoral Fellowship in Data Curation for Medieval Studies at the Library of Congress (LC). The CLIR/DLF Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Library of Congress will have a unique and challenging opportunity to work in a collaborative environment with leaders in preservation science techniques to render, capture and link previously unknown material and content data from Medieval collections, linking digitally rendered data and information with the original object through an integrated approach to data the data and software management and preservation. The fellow would work with staff at LC, supervised by the Chief of PRTD  Dr Fenella G. France, other scientific staff Drs. Lynn Brostoff and Eric Monroe (preservation chemists), special collections curators Mark Dimunation (Rare Books and Special Collections) and  Dr. John Hessler (Geography and Maps), with guidance from both a cohort of local and national medievalists, including former Mellon post-doctoral Medieval fellows and an international medieval studies researcher in Italy, Dr. Emiliano Degl’Innocenti (digital humanist and digital media expert. Dr. Degl’Innocenti is the lead researcher on CENDARI  (Collaborative European Digital Archive Infrastructure) which involves a broad collaboration between historians, research infrastructures and technical experts, many of whom have been working together towards the consolidation of e-humanities infrastructures in the context of DARIAH  (Digital Research Infrastructure for the Arts and Humanities). In CENDARI the emphasis for data tools is be on drawing together material from disparate sources and in various digital formats, into a consolidated environment for research. The Fellow will work with the project for the “Center for Library/Linked Scientific Samples – Digital” (CLASS-D) the underlying database infrastructure that will contain all the scientific data; and the visualization interface associated with this for data curation and linking of scientific data to items in the medieval collections.

Effectively linking a range of data formats back to an image of the original object provides a unique and necessary component for data curation – essentially a “scriptospatial[1]” approach – a global information system through mapping scientific data directly to the digital image of the collection item. The possibilities of this approach are ground-breaking in that for the first time the underlying database and interactive visualization provides a new model at the intersection of science and humanities to scholarly data to be linked and connected with the materiality of the object. This expands the traditional approach with an interactive capacity to link various data components. Examples of data that advance the knowledge and understanding of medieval collections include pigment and colorant analysis, paper construction and provenance through watermarks, text structure and analysis, early printing techniques, book bindings and tooling, geographic projections and early medieval nautical data (Portolan charts) early block books, potential parchment species and geographic location for manuscripts etc. In the history of cartography, the invention of the portolan chart is a major revolutionary moment in the history of mapping. This early map began as the workaday navigational tool of medieval mariners and later developed into a highly stylized and decorative art form. Yet the origin and development of the portolan chart is shrouded in mystery, and scientific examinations of one of the earliest from ca.1290 of the Mediterranean opens the door to a new understanding of creation techniques, content knowledge and discoveries. The Giant Bible of Mainz (ca. 1452-3) represents one of the last great handwritten giant Bibles in Europe, the culmination of hundreds of years of transmission of text through the handwritten manuscript. The Gutenberg Bible (ca. 1455) on parchment is an excellent example of early moveable type and printing where Gutenberg solving the many problems of finding the right materials and methods for printing. The Saint John’s Bible outlines early liturgy and rituals (Ghent or Bruges, Lessing J. Rosenwald Collection). Collections include an Encyclopedic manuscript containing allegorical and medical drawing (South Germany ca.1410), a vellum manuscript with a presentation similar to that in 15th century woodcuts and block books. These specific examples of unique medieval collection items represent a small selection of the rich medieval collection items that would benefit from the “object archeology” approach to creating new layers of content information. The expanded content knowledge enables collection items previously not known to be connected to be linked through provenance, printing location and other previously unrecorded and captured data to be effectively curated through focusing on the materiality of the object.

The underlying CLASS-D scientific database and the scriptospatial visualization interface are coordinated research projects that build upon an international research infrastructure initiative between the Library of Congress and other United States cultural heritage institutions. This international perspective is coordinated through the Embassy of Italy to develop a sustained global research infrastructure for assessing the potential to sharing and linking scientific and humanities data. The current data deluge requires effective data management and curation to mine through digital data using advances in imaging data computational technologies, while ensuring that the sustainability of the data thorough an interoperable infrastructure or platform is addressed. The underlying goal of this project is to address the weaknesses of linking scientific and humanities data through effective metadata, structured robust workflows and openly accessible software for global dissemination. The post-doctoral fellow’s research in data curation would bridge the chasm between science and the humanities.

[1] “Scriptospatial is a term coined by M.B. Toth and F. G. France to refer to the viewing of associated imaging and materiality data linked in precise locations on an image of a historic document – “scripto” in relation to text and “spatial” to assign the specific location of scientific, scholarly and provenance data points. The concept is similar to a “google map” of a document with active interactive data links as a user or researcher skims across the image of the document and pops up the linked data.

Major Duties and Responsibilities

  • Undertake and assess the capture of scientific data for integrated visualization at the Library of Congress with the potential to be used by partner heritage institutions to load and store medieval collection data through a web-accessible platform
  • Review and pilot software implementation for the visualization interface to create a “scriptospatial approach to interacting with linked scientific (physical, chemical and optical material characterization) and humanities data
  • Participate in regular meetings with identified collaborators within the US and overseas including the National Gallery of Art, George Washington University, the Smithsonian Institution, University of Padua, Italy, and University College London.
  • Develop software applications to expand functionality for incorporating range of scientific data formats and instrumentation
  • Engage with users (researchers, scholars) to assess needs and challenges with incorporating data from other institutions

Required Education and Experience

  • PhD obtained within five years of the postdoctoral fellowship in Medieval Studies, or related discipline.
  • Knowledge and experience working with database structures
  • Excellent communication skills including proficiency in writing research reports and/or proposals, developing technical documents, and interfacing effectively with researchers at other institutions
  • Interest in learning, assessing and adapting a variety of technical languages and tools such as the Oracle based Apex approach for developing CLASS-D

Desired Qualifications

  • A knowledge of scientific software and some familiarity with terminology would be extremely useful but not required, however a willingness to learn new software tools to create interactive integrated data is an essential component
  • The potential to write code and develop applications would be a great advantage

Institutional Guidance and Professional Development
This two-year fellowship would be situated with the primary work space in the Preservation Research and Testing Division (PRTD) at LC.  The Fellow will report to the Chief of the PRTD, with regular interaction with a wide range of personnel at LC including researchers, curators, information technology specialists, and scientists. The Fellow will also interface with other PRTD collaborators both within the US and abroad, expanding and gaining an international cohort of colleagues. Dr. Degl’Innocenti as a Professor at the University of Siena and Adjunct Professor at the University of Florence expands that network into an international realm with the opportunity to create an interoperable visualization project.

This project is focused on advancing the effective linking and data curation of scientific and humanities data to expand the potential for libraries past segregated datasets and developing a truly integrated approach to content knowledge of medieval collections. The fellow will gain unique experience in the development and integration of disparate data collection systems to advance the implementation of structured, linked digital research in Library systems.

Institutional Environment
The Library of Congress is the National Library of the United States and contains a superb collection of medieval materials. The scientific research laboratories at the Library contain cutting-edge instrumentation in many areas, leading new advances in technologies and preservation techniques. The capacity for non-invasive characterization of medieval collections greatly expands the ability to deepen the knowledge and curation of collections. The unique challenge of linking historic library collections with expanded scientific content knowledge advances the mission of the Preservation Directorate “to ensure long-term, uninterrupted access to the intellectual content of the collections in original or reformatted form” while providing a platform and location to redefine digital humanities research. Interaction with researchers and personnel in many fields makes this a truly multi-disciplinary project, with additional connections with partner institutions.

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