Digital Humanities: Humanities research in the digital age
Digital Humanities: Humanities research in the digital age

Start this free course now. Just create an account and sign in. Enrol and complete the course for a free statement of participation or digital badge if available.

Free course

Digital Humanities: Humanities research in the digital age

3.1 Seeing through machines

Crucially, this matters because when we make sense of digital data we are always doing so through a machine and not directly with our own senses. Metadata matters because what it records may result in bringing the text into sharper focus, blurring it, or hiding it from view. If readers can only retrieve what is in the library catalogue, and can never browse the shelves, then metadata becomes a gatekeeper and not simply a set of observable ‘facts’ about a text.

Medieval scholars developed a practice designed to guide them in asking sets of standardised questions to enable rigorous interpretation of texts. The accessus ad auctores preceded editions and commentaries of classical authors. As in our digital world, the accessus functioned as a kind of metadata standard which helped establish the provenance and reliability of the text and facilitated the traceability of the content across different media and locations, sometimes over hundreds of years.

An extract from a medieval medical textbook.
Figure 4 Example of Accessus questions at the beginning of a medieval medical textbook, the Pantegni Theorica compiled by Constantine the African.

Activity 4 Medieval metadata

Visit a version of the accessus ad auctores [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] . Find an item of digital content online (such as a webpage, an online video, a digital book or report). Can you answer these questions?

  1. Who (is the author) (quis/persona)?
  2. What (is the subject matter of the text) (quid/materia)?
  3. Why (was the text written) (cur/causa)?
  4. How (was the text composed) (quomodo/modus)?
  5. When (was the text written or published) (quando/tempus)?
  6. Where (was the text written or published) (ubi/loco)?
  7. By which means (was the text written or published) (quibus faculatibus/facultas)?
To use this interactive functionality a free OU account is required. Sign in or register.
Interactive feature not available in single page view (see it in standard view).

Discussion

If you chose a digitised version of a material book or document look again at the questions, did you answer them for the material or digital version? Are there any differences? Would being aware of these differences change your interpretation of the contents?

OOC_1

Take your learning further

Making the decision to study can be a big step, which is why you'll want a trusted University. The Open University has 50 years’ experience delivering flexible learning and 170,000 students are studying with us right now. Take a look at all Open University courses.

If you are new to University-level study, we offer two introductory routes to our qualifications. You could either choose to start with an Access module, or a module which allows you to count your previous learning towards an Open University qualification. Read our guide on Where to take your learning next for more information.

Not ready for formal University study? Then browse over 1000 free courses on OpenLearn and sign up to our newsletter to hear about new free courses as they are released.

Every year, thousands of students decide to study with The Open University. With over 120 qualifications, we’ve got the right course for you.

Request an Open University prospectus371