International Conference: The Medieval Literary Canon in the Digital Age, Ghent, 17-18 September

An often repeated promise of the digital humanities, in the wake of the “computational turn”, is that the wide availability and accessibility of historical texts enables scholars to breach the restrictions of a literary canon. Such a potential for literary computing, which was in 1992 first set forward as a “new” philology by its godfather Roberto Busa SJ, prominently returns in the works of computing literary theorists such as John Burrows, Jerome McGann and Franco Moretti. Their assertions that quantification entails a “widening of the canon” and eventually the advance of a “new philology”, easily invoke medievalists’ inquisitiveness. How, exactly, can the digital humanities provide such insights for the Middle Ages?

As voices increasingly proclaim the emancipation of the digital humanities from their merely supportive role, and as the tools for digital medieval studies proliferate (e.g. digital scholarly editing, computational stylistics, digital palaeography, digital stemmatology, …), this conference seeks out a confrontation between the two “new” philologies and their respective approaches towards a canon that has been formed under an “old” philology. It welcomes research that both problematizes the specialized character of medieval literary production, and yet demonstrates the potential for computational criticism to “breach” or “widen” the medieval canon through digital tools. At the same time, the conference aims to tackle the following questions:

The conference aims to tackle the following questions:

  • How has the digital era changed our reading of medieval literature?
  • How, exactly, can we understand computational approaches to the Middle Ages as radically transforming our disciplines?
  • Are digital approaches bound to remain auxiliary in nature?
  • Does it make sense to speak in terms of “new” and “old”, “digital” and “traditional”, “distant” and “close” readings? If so, where should one locate the differences? If not, where should one locate the overlaps?
  • To what extent is the New Philology’s advocacy for an object-oriented approach respected or disregarded in computational criticism?
  • How can theoretical concepts such as Franco Moretti’s “distant reading” question the medieval canon and the underlying principles or instances that have calibrated it towards an evaluative instrument (Gr. κανών, a “measuring rod”)?
  • Which are the governing powers that underpin medieval canon formation, and are these in any way institutionalized (schools, markets, authorities, …)? How are they best described and/or best captured?


Further information

Full details about the conference, including the programme  and the venue are avilable on the Medieval Literary Canon in the Digital Age conference website.