Digital Humanities Projects by Medievalist Abigail Firey Reach Scholars Across the Globe

Abigail Firey didn’t set out to blaze trails in digital humanities. But that’s exactly what has happened in her quest to get a grasp on the enormous corpus of unpublished manuscripts that are part of her work in medieval canon law.

In this podcast Firey, the Theodore A. Hallam Professor (2017-2019) in the Department of History and a University Research Professor, recalls the chance encounter that changed her trajectory.

“In 2007 a researcher at UK in the Classics Department, Ross Scaife—deeply beloved—ran into me outside the library. And I was telling him about my work, and he said, ‘Have you considered a digital project?’ And I hadn't. And those few words really launched me into thinking about the ways that digital strategies and devices and tools might help us get at these thousands and thousands of manuscripts,” Firey said.

The first digital resource she began, the Carolingian Canon Law Project, gives scholars access to searchable texts of unpublished and unedited medieval manuscripts. Her second digital project, called Scriptorium, displays images of handwritten documents of any era in any language, so that scholars can study evidence scattered across libraries around the world.

“We built Scriptorium to support collaborative research practices. We also designed it to really facilitate rapid, good communication between scholars who may be working in different parts of the world. How do you share your work? How do you show each other the images and talk in real time about what it is you're seeing in them? How do you capture conversations and record ideas so that months, or even years, later, people can go back to them?”

Firey is quick to point out that none of this work would be possible without her collaborators, Noah Adler and Michael Paddock in the College of Arts and Sciences IT unit. She said, “I think of the coders as full collaborators and really value the generosity that they show in learning about something that they don't really need to know about—they’re very generous with their time and their talents. And I see that same generosity just running throughout the university.

“My research at UK has never been hindered or impeded. When I’ve talked to Chairs or Associate Deans of Research, the attitude they bring to those conversations is ‘how can we help you do this?’ And I think that that really shows how UK has not lost sight of the essential academic enterprise. This is a university, and we do what is done at a university, and that’s research and teaching.”