Author Archives: Polly Duxfield

The conference is this week!

The final conference is almost here, friends and colleagues from afar are already on the plane, those based closer to Birmingham will be arriving tomorrow and Tuesday morning, and although we can hardly believe it ourselves, the edition is ready to launch. You read that correctly. I know!

I did wonder many times whether I was a complete crazy lady to give up a full time permanent job that I enjoyed to do something very different, something so unlike anything I had ever done before, something fixed term, without set hours or holiday, and let’s not even think about the salary-to-student stipend fall from grace that my bank account endured. But I am so glad I did it. Without running the risk of sounding prematurely and hideously self-congratulatory – after all, my thesis is still far from complete thanks to my deciding to have two babies whilst writing it, the conference hasn’t actually taken place yet and any number of ‘issues’ could take place (and I don’t just mean we run out of custard creams at coffee break, although that would be bad enough) and although it’s ready, we haven’t actually launched the edition yet – I am so glad I made the leap and joined a great team of people to be part of the project. I have met so many people off my bibliography – how many PGs can say that? And through the project I have made some real friends for life. I will also always be grateful to Aengus, our esteemed leader and my fantastic PhD supervisor, for offering me such an opportunity. It has been so fun, so fulfilling, and not really like working for a living at all.

Here’s hoping we can finish our project with a successful edition launch and an enjoyable conference. That really would make for a lovely Christmas, wouldn’t it. I’ll deal with the thesis at a later date (honest).

The Edition launch is fast approaching!

There is not long to go until we launch our digital edition of the Estoria de Espanna, which we have been working on for the best part of four years now, and which Aengus was preparing and envisioning for many years before that. So what’s going on as we make the last few tweaks and preparations? Far from winding down, we are cranking up the pace and everyone is working really hard to get everything ready on time. The whole team is involved in checking that the transcriptions we have been working on display correctly on the edition website. At the same time, Aengus and Ricardo are making sure everything is as it should be with the collated and regularised version, and Fiona is sorting out the onomastic index to make sure that is working as it should and showing what we want it to. We are also preparing various bits of supplementary material for the edition, such as an explanation of the editorial decisions we have taken, and background information to the Estoria de Espanna so that users of the edition who are unfamiliar with the text and its history can find out what they need to know to be able to use and enjoy our edition. All this is going on while we all carry on with the day jobs of writing theses and post-docs, sorting out the exhibitions for next year and working on the impact activities with scholars from the University of Sheffield. We will definitely have earned seconds at the Christmas dinner table this year.

We will be launching the edition in the final session of our upcoming colloquium in just six weeks‘ time. The colloquium will take place at the University of Birmingham between 13th and 15th December, and the launch will take place on the Thursday after lunch. Anyone interested in all things Estoria de Espanna, Alfonso X, medieval history and historiography and digital editions is welcome to join us to hear the papers our friends and colleagues will be giving, to meet some of the key scholars in this area, and to partake in eating, drinking and making merry to celebrate the launch of the edition. All you have to do is register online here. All are welcome. If you would like to join us at the conference dinner on Wednesday 14th you will need to register by this Friday (4th November), but registration just for the papers and all important networking coffee breaks will be open right up until the start of the colloquium itself.

October Update

Things are starting to get really busy here at Estoria Towers. We are now within two months of launching our digital edition, and four years of work, plus countless years of preparation put in by Aengus before the start of the project, are all coming to fruition.

Enrique has been working really hard on both the teaching materials for schools and also our exhibition, which will be at the Biblioteca Nacional next year. You can read about it here.

Zeth is still working on the front end of the edition, and the rest of us are continuing to beaver away in the background sorting out all the nuts and bolts of the edition.

Don’t forget, there is still time to register to join us at our 4th annual colloquium and the launch of our digital edition. This will be taking place on 13-15th December at the University of Birmingham. If you register before 4th November you will be able to select the option to join us at our conference dinner on Wednesday 14th December. You can register here. We hope to see you there!

Preparing the reader’s edition and planning the colloquium

August has been as busy as ever here at Estoria Towers, especially as we are now moving into the last semester of the project before the launch of the digital edition – yes really! Everyone is working on their own part of the project. Aengus is busy collating the witnesses ready for the reader’s edition, as well as flying here, there and everywhere giving talks and lectures on the project and issues related to it. Zeth has been working towards the visualisation of the final edition. Fiona is continuing to work on the table that will allow users to find out more about the people, peoples and places in the edition and Enrique is preparing materials for the public engagement arm of the project, which Lauren is busily translating. Meanwhile, Ricardo, Christian and I have been working through Aengus’ collations and regularising the text ready for the reader’s edition version of the text which will appear alongside the transcriptions, manuscript images, diplomatic and expanded versions of the text.

At our stage of the task, regularising means we are bringing some of the punctuation and capitalisation more into line with what modern readers of Castilian might expect to see and changing some spellings to be more modern. To many purists this is just plain crazy – we are messing with Alfonso’s original text and purposely changing it! Gasp. It does grate at first to modernise and regularise when previously we had been working so hard to transcribe the manuscript text as closely as we possibly could, but the fact is that some readers will prefer a slightly modernised version of the text. Some might choose to use it as a stepping-stone until they get used to reading (semi-)medieval Castilian and choose to move to the versions of the edition that are closer to the original, and some people might be reading only for content so might choose not to read the ‘older’ versions. You could even think about it as a sort of extension of what scribes and readers (remember how many medieval readers would annotate as they read) have been doing for centuries – making a new version of the text and making some changes to the text as they go. We are working hard not to change any content, but we are making some changes to some of the spellings. Part of the regularisation task still makes me want to shudder, but there you have it. As Aengus always reminds us, the reader’s edition will, however, come with strong government health warnings.

As always in the Estoria project, as in Academia in general, there have been long debates in the office as to where is the line where our regularising becomes too much? Here is a simple example: in modern Spanish we are used to word division using good old finger spaces between each word. Not so much in the time of Alfonso – they often had a different idea of where one word ended and another began. When transcribing, our policy was to respect the word division in the image, so if the scribe has written daquel, we wrote daquel. We did not change it to de aquel, as we would write it nowadays. Daquel also has the e of de missing – it has been eaten up to form a contraction. Our policy when regularising is if the contracted vowel is different from the vowel that is still there we add an apostrophe to represent it, so we are regularising to d’aquel. We are not, however, adding an apostrophe where the contracted vowel is the same as one that is still there, such as dellos (de + ellos). Other editors do put an apostrophe here (d’ellos). Cue much debate with many cups of tea and frankly far too few biscuits, but the final decision was the one taken above. Some editors or users of the edition may disagree with some of the editorial decisions such as these – this is an unavoidable occupational hazard of the textual editor.

In other news, the December colloquium arrangements are continuing. We had hoped to be able to open registration by now, but we have faced some administrative challenges with this which coincided with holiday time, so they won’t be sorted out until September. We are really hoping to get registration open by the early autumn, and when we do we will be promoting it left, right and centre, so you will be sure to find out. If you are unsure you are welcome to drop us an email and we will let you know what you need to do and when in order to join us in December! We are hoping to see as many people as possible there. The programme is looking great, lots of interesting papers are planned, and you can read most of the abstracts here already. There are also a few people who we already know are coming but are not speakers, and we are hoping for many more, so the question and answer sessions for each panel and also the coffee breaks and dinners are sure to include lots of lively debates and questions to really make you think, as well as (hopefully) of lots of mulled wine and mince pies, it taking place at Christmas and all (I mean at the dinners, not during morning coffee break…)

As there really is no rest for the lowly PhD student I will leave this post there and return to my ever-looming thesis. Ah who am I kidding, I love it really (at least some of the time).


Professor Emeritus Roger Wright honoured by the Royal Academy of the Spanish Language

Estoria project research fellow Fiona Maguire has written the following blog for the blog of the Modern Languages and Cultures department at the University of Liverpool. It  was first published here on Friday 5th August. Fiona has kindly allowed us to reproduce the text of the blog on our website.


Professor Emeritus Roger Wright honoured by the Royal Academy of the Spanish Language

Modern Languages and Cultures‘ Professor Emeritus Roger Wright has recently been honoured by the Real Academia Española (Royal Academy of the Spanish Language) (RAE), who have conferred membership on him as ‘académico correspondiente extranjero’ (international Academy member).

As Professor of Spanish at the University of Liverpool, Professor Wright gained wide international scholarly renown for his investigations into the evolution of Spanish and other Romance languages and the invention of Medieval Latin; his books include Late Latin and Early Romance in Spain and Carolingian France (1982) and A Sociophilological Study of Late Latin (2003). Professor Wright is also a scholar, translator and performer of the Spanish ballad tradition.

Modern Languages and Cultures now numbers two Spanish Academicians amongst its ranks, a number only equalled or exceeded in UK universities by the University of Oxford (3 Spanish Academicians).

Membership of the RAE was similarly conferred in 2009 on Professor Emerita Dorothy Severin, FSA, hon. OBE, Professor of Spanish at the University of Liverpool, former Gilmour Chair of Spanish (the first established Chair of Spanish in a UK university) and former General Editor of the Bulletin of Hispanic Studies (a scholarly journal devoted to Hispanic studies, founded in 1926 by a member of the Department at the University of Liverpool, where it continues to be published by Liverpool University Press). Professor Severin’s research interests in late Medieval Spanish literature include La Celestina and cancionero studies; her internationally acknowledged scholarly publications include Memory in ‘La Celestina’ (1970), an early study of the uses of cultural memory in literature and the cancionero digital library ‘An E-Library of 15th Century Castilian Cancionero Manuscripts’ (2007-).

Founded in 1713, the scholarly activities of the RAE are devoted to the Spanish language and its literature. The Academy compiles and publishes the Diccionario de la lengua española (the Spanish equivalent of the Oxford English Dictionary) and includes amongst its illustrious members the novelists Javier Marías and Mario Vargas Llosa, together with academic scholars of Spanish, now joined by two Academicians from the University of Liverpool.

Other transcription projects

As part of my PhD research I have been looking at a handful of other transcription projects that use crowdsourcing. Some of our readers might be interested in checking them out so I thought I would put some information about them here.

1. Transcribe Bentham
This is a transcription project over at UCL where volunteers are helping to transcribe the handwritten folios of Jeremy Bentham, who was amongst other things a philosopher and jurist. Their work has been very interesting for me as they also have a crowdsourcing branch as part of a wider project, as we do, but their crowdsourcing is on a much bigger scale than ours, has been going on longer and the publications of analysis and reflection are very interesting. Definitely worth a look. And if you’re that way inclined why not download their new game and have a go at running a prison according to Bentham’s design? I would, but my thesis supervisor is forever cracking the whip.

2. The International Greek New Testament Project – The Gospel According to John
The team behind this are largely based in the same corridor as the Estoria project. They are working towards an edition of the Gospel According to John by transcribing some of the major witnesses. They prefer to use the term ‘volunteer’ rather than ‘crowdsourcer’, but for the most part it is the same thing as what we do, as volunteers sign up, follow a training course and then are let loose on some transcriptions. Their manuscripts are in biblical Greek, so this is not for the faint of heart, but again, it is well worth a look to see what other transcription projects are doing.

3. Revealing Co-operation and Conflict
This project has used a MOOC which first took place in the summer of 2014 to train a largely non-academically active audience to read and transcribe medieval Spanish manuscripts. In just three weeks more than 600 folios were transcribed, and the information has helped the project to build up information about the town of Plasencia in the 15th century. I took this MOOC and it helped me to learn a lot not just about palaeography and transcribing, but about crowdsourcing in general, and it was also where I met Nick who has become the Estoria project’s longest-term and most prolific crowdsourcer. I definitely recommend visiting virtual Plasencia.
Academics from all three of these projects have been extremely helpful in providing me with information about their projects, so if any of them read this I would like to say a big thank you.

The 4th Annual Colloquium of the Estoria de Espanna Digital Project: Programme

It is with great pleasure and excitement that we can now publish the provisional programme of our upcoming colloquium.


Preparations for the colloquium are now well underway, and you can now register here. We hope to see as many people as possible at our fourth annual colloquium which will also see the launch of our digital edition of the Estoria de Espanna.

The completion of the transcription stage

Yesterday was a big day at Estoria Towers, even though it almost passed without us noticing. It was the day that the biggest and most time-consuming task of the project was finally completed. For three and a half years we have been working on transcribing the five witnesses of the Estoria de Espanna, and yesterday Enrique pressed save on the transcription of the final folio. Without the transcriptions of these witnesses we would be unable to create our digital edition of the chronicle, which is, of course, the main thing we are aiming to produce in this project. Over the past few years the number of people working on the task of transcription has been considerable – this is truly a group transcription project: the bulk of the task has been carried out by our venerable and untiring research fellows Fiona Maguire and Enrique Jerez, as well as Ricardo Pichel, more recently. Alongside them have been working myself and Christian, Aengus, Nick, Bárbara, Marine, Alicia, a group of hardworking crowdsourcers, and several others who I will not mention here for risk of forgetting someone, but whose names will appear when we publish the edition. For many of us who have worked on preparing the transcriptions this has been a steep learning curve – I know I am not the only person who was introduced to palaeography, XML and the TEI purely to enable me to transcribe for this project. It is also important to remember that the transcriptions we have created are not the definitive version of the text, but rather just another witness, and just like the medieval scribes of Alfonso’s scriptorium and those who have copied, edited or re-touched the witnesses in the past, we are liable to make mistakes, assumptions and in place of slips of the pen, typographical errors. Each transcribed folio has been checked and re-checked, edited and re-edited, but as is the case in all academic research, despite our best efforts, some errors will have slipped through the net and will make it to the final edition. Of course, as a digital edition, once identified, we could always remove these errors, but this brings with it issues of when is enough enough – is enough ever enough? – should we freeze the edition as it was on the day it was published, or should we continue re-touching ad nauseam, for as long as tools, server space and the limits of human effort allow? These are questions for another day – for now let us bask in the satisfaction of having completed something, of having worked together over a number of years to create something that is better than what any of us could have done alone, no matter how long we had worked on it. Not strictly intended to celebrate the final pressing of save, but serendipitous nonetheless, Christian presented us at tea-break yesterday with his first Victoria sponge – and very successful it was too. Basking done, cake consumed, we went back to our desks and carried on with the next tasks of the project, which is where we find ourselves today – cracking back on.

Alfonso vuelve al cole

La intensa “gira” por la Península que llevamos a cabo Aengus y yo recientemente tenía también entre sus objetivos establecer un primer contacto con los colegios e institutos de Secundaria y Bachillerato que hace un año nos prestaron su apoyo a la hora de solicitar los fondos del AHRC para la divulgación de nuestra investigación. Se trataba en efecto de transmitirles cara a cara cuál es la naturaleza y el alcance del Proyecto, así como presentarles la propuesta docente que tenemos en vías de elaboración. Los centros en cuestión son cuatro, dos privados y dos públicos: Colegio Laude Fontenebro (Moralzarzal), IES Salvador Dalí (Barrio de la Concepción, Madrid), Colegio Árula (Alalpardo), IES Fernando I (Valencia de don Juan, León). En todos ellos las ideas que transmitimos en torno a cómo enfocar tanto la confección de los materiales como la ejecución de las sesiones didácticas fueron muy bien recibidas, y asimismo enriquecidas con sugerencias nuevas.

Muy grosso modo, la propuesta trata de adaptar los materiales que elaboraremos para la exposición digital al currículo de Secundaria y Bachillerato, y ello desde una perspectiva transversal que está en la naturaleza misma de la vida y la obra del Rey Sabio. Además, nos ha movido el deseo de poner en contacto a los estudiantes preuniversitarios con la “materia prima” de la literatura medieval (los códices), a través de un medio que les es sumamente afín hoy día: el digital. En fin, la plataforma contará con tres secciones: la Biblioteca, en que estarán almacenadas las imágenes de algunos códices, y las transcripciones y audiciones al castellano antiguo y moderno; los Módulos, en que se presentarán los contenidos y actividades anejas; y el Taller, en que se invitará a los alumnos a poner en práctica lo aprendido. En este sentido, cabe señalar el interés de una herramienta que nuestros compañeros de Sheffield tienen ya avanzada: el Transcription desk, que permitirá a los estudiantes bregarse con la paleografía medieval.

Por lo demás, lo previsto es trabajar en la elaboración de los materiales durante los próximos meses, y volver en septiembre a los centros a mostrar el resultado y acordar los cursos, grupos y asignaturas en que se realizarán las sesiones. En definitiva, esta primera toma de contacto resultó altamente enriquecedora, tanto humana como profesionalmente. Gracias de nuevo desde aquí a los profesores y directivos que han aceptado y apoyado esta colaboración.

Enrique Jerez
Birmingham, 5 May 2016