Sunday, March 23, 2008

English Medieval Legal Documents Wiki

"Wiki" and "Medieval" may not seem to belong in the same sentence, but they do now thanks to the efforts of the amazing Hazel Lord, Senior Law Librarian, University of Southern California Law Library. Lord has created the English Medieval Legal Documents Wiki. According to the website:

The goal of this project is to create a collaborative database on the published sources of English medieval legal documents, and to provide links to the growing number of online sources currently being developed.

Lord explains that

The project originally arose from a perceived need for an up-to-date bibliography of published material in the field of medieval legal documents. This need was made more pressing by the fast growing body of material to be found online. However, the true scope of the work did not become clear until what I had projected as a bibliography of a couple of hundred items turned into a major database of close to one thousand records … and growing!
Dan Klerman, the Charles L. and Ramona I. Hilliard Professor of Law and History at USC, advised Lord on the project, and it was his idea to turn it into a wiki, "since this would solve the obvious problem of how to keep it up-to-date." Lord continues:

There are in fact several advantages to converting a large bibliographical database like this to a wiki. The obvious the ease of keeping it up-to-date. Another advantage is the open source aspect of it. A wiki, unlike a static text file can become a truly cooperative resource, where scholars who have information to share are able to register as contributors, and add to the value of the resource. I also foresee it becoming an intermediary for linking to scanned files of the original manuscripts, so that scholars could view high definition images, rather than transliterations. This would mean that in some cases they would not necessarily need to visit the local archives in order to carry out their research. This function may prove to be its greatest value. Furthermore I expect the wiki, now launched to the academic community, to take off in directions I have not even conceived of!

A third major advantage of a wiki is the ability to link to relevant information on other web-sites. For example, each of the entries in the introductory list of Kings and their Dates of Accession is linked to a page of Wikipedia with biographical and other information on that monarch. Links are made to the homepage of the National Archives as well as to those of many local historical and record societies who, in large part, have been responsible for the publication of legal documents from local archives. Also of value are the links (still under development) from the highlighted OCLC numbers for each title. These links will take users directly to WorldCat, where they can determine which local libraries hold the item.

This is the first wiki attempted by the USC Law School, but already faculty are coming up with ideas of how such cooperative databases could help them with their own joint research. We are very excited about it. I have to acknowledge the support I have received from Albert Brecht on this experimental project and the wonderful help I have received from our IT department.
You can begin wiki-ing medieval documents here.