Centre for Advanced Study

at the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters

Editing Medieval Manuscripts


Former 2000/2001 Humanities - Theology

End Report

The project “Editing medieval manuscripts” was planned during the spring of 1998 with the aim of developing procedures for the encoding, interpretation and presentation of Old Nordic texts. The list of members was drawn up at this stage, and remained unchanged until the group met in Oslo in August 2000. At the time when the group participants were invited, a Network for the electronic processing of Medieval Nordic manuscripts, financed by Nordisk Forskerutdanningsakademi (NorFA), had already been working on a handbook for the encoding of Medieval manuscripts for some time. The work on this handbook should have been concluded by the end of 1998, and the initial purpose of the research group was to apply these recommendations to a number of Old Norse manuscripts. However, work on the handbook was not finished, so the group was faced with the choice between taking over this work or proceeding in another direction. The group chose to continue working on the handbook, and succeeded in presenting a first draft by the end of the stay in Oslo. In addition to the handbook, the group worked on a number of editorial projects, focusing on Heimskringla and other kings’ sagas.

In the last two decades a large number of text corpora have been established around the world, but it is still a major problem that many texts are not mutually interchangeable. In addressing this problem, the Text Encoding Initiative (TEI) has laid down general recommendations for text encoding, based on the well established ISO standard SGML. The most recent version of the TEI guidelines is P3, published in 1994. An increasing number of projects have applied these recommendations to their texts, but since the recommendations are of a general nature, much work remains to be done with respect to the application and modification of the TEI guidelines for specific text corpora.

It soon became clear to us that some of the recommendations of TEI P3 would be difficult to implement in the encoding of Old Nordic texts, especially if the aim was to record the manuscript text in a strictly diplomatic version, including all abbreviation marks and graphemic variation, as well as giving regularised versions of the text. The group finally decided to solve this problem by defining three focal levels of transcription, ranging from strictly diplomatic till fully normalised. These levels can be encoded as simultaneous, but distinct text strings, so that a manuscript can be represented in the form of up to three separate strings. However, a text string may be converted from one level to another semi-automatically, and any one of the three levels is sufficient to create a well-formed transcription. This modular type of encoding is discussed in Ch. 3 of the handbook.

A substantial amount of work was devoted to the encoding of special characters and abbreviations, which are highly frequent in Old Nordic manuscripts, especially in Old Norse ones. While raising a number of technical problems, these issues are basically of a philological nature.

Chapters 5 and 6 in the handbook set out the group’s recommendations with respect to what constitutes the essential components of the graphemic inventory for Old Nordic.

The majority of Old Nordic texts are in prose form. These texts are the focus of Ch. 2 of the handbook, which stipulates how manuscript prose should be sub-classified and labelled. Ch. 9 raises the issue of metrical texts, such as Eddic and Skaldic poems, and gives recommendations for the encoding of metrical features exclusive to Old Nordic.

The handbook also discusses a number of other problems, such as the encoding of damage, corrections, omissions etc., in the manuscripts (Ch. 7), and the lemmatisation of texts (Ch. 8). The latter is a crucial problem since there is a high degree of orthographic variation in Old Nordic texts.

A major part of the group’s work concentrated on recommendations for the encoding of Medieval Nordic texts, and it has thus been a logical next step to establish an electronic text archive for this corpus. The idea was discussed at several informal meetings of the group, and also launched at the conference Nordiske middelaldertekster: Utgivere og brukere. The participants agreed on establishing a text archive with the working title Medieval Nordic Text Archive (Menota). A board of four members, one from each of the Nordic countries, was appointed until the archive can be formally established in 2002. Members of this board are Odd Einar Haugen (leader), Karl G. Johansson, Matthew J. Driscoll and Guðvarður Már Gunnlaugsson. The archive will include Medieval Nordic texts written in the Latin alphabet, both in the Nordic languages and in Latin. The focus will be on texts earlier than the late 16th century, but younger paper manuscripts of medieval texts will also be included.


  • Haraldsdóttir, Kolbrún B
    Senior Lecturer University of Erlangen-Nuremberg 2000/2001
  • Johansson, Karl Gunnar
    Professor University of Oslo (UiO) 2000/2001
  • Jørgensen, Jon Gunnar
    Professor University of Oslo (UiO) 2000/2001, 2012/2013
  • Kyrkjebø, Rune
    Researcher/First Libarian University of Bergen (UiB) 2000/2001
  • Louis-Jensen, Jonna
    Professor University of Copenhagen 2000/2001
  • Ore, Espen Smith
    Senior Computing Officer University of Bergen (UiB) 2000/2001
  • Seelow, Hubert
    Professor University of Erlangen-Nuremberg 2000/2001

Group leader

  • Odd Einar Haugen

    Title Professor Institution University of Bergen (UiB) Year at CAS 2000/2001