The Middle Ages have become illegible

In the Middle Ages, Egmond was the only religious and cultural center in the county of Holland for a long time. All deeds, charters, copies and other documents from the Abbey of Egmond will be digitized by the Noord-Hollands Archief. Many sources about the early history of the monastery have never been explored. Maybe a fine project for a medieval history student, thought Klaartje Pompe, head of the public department and medieval man.

She knocked on the door of Robert Stein, associate professor at Leiden University. To her surprise, he told her that many of his undergraduate students no longer master Latin and paleography, the study of ancient manuscripts. And the experts in a number of auxiliary subjects who are still there are approaching retirement or have already retired.

The Bull of Pope Innocent II from 1140, when the pope takes over ownership and protection of the monasteries of Egmond and Rijnsburg. North Holland Archives’ Collection

Old coins

Scientific specialties can seemingly become extinct, as can animal species. This now seems to be happening with some specialties in Dutch medieval studies. Is that really true, and is it bad? A trip.

Robert Stein, who is almost 62 years old himself, can still get out of his studies Apparatus for studying history by the famous historian Jan Romein. In it, Romein mentions a number of auxiliary sciences necessary for the study of medieval history. Most have disappeared or are about to disappear. ” Stein mentions knowledge of ancient coins (numismatics), names (onomastics or onomastics), coats of arms (heraldry) and seal science and charter theory.

Imagine that there are no more art historians who can explain the meaning of the Night Watch

Robert Stein lecturer

According to Stein, they form the “basis” of medieval studies. He compares the disappearance of these specialties with the disappearance of the source code of the software. “Or just imagine that there are no more art historians who can understand the meaning of night watchman can explain. “

He himself is currently researching the origins of the ‘bone culture’. “In Paris, they have begun to systematically register finances according to a very specific system. This culture also ended in Holland via the Burgundians. In the period 1190-1600, I go through miles of archives. It is about paleography, knowledge of abbreviations used, but also knowledge of how a codex is structured. I do not know if anyone will still be able to do that in ten, twenty years’.

It is doubtful whether the basic paleography course he teaches 25 to 30 undergraduate students each year is enough, Stein says. “Most people do not master Latin when they finish high school, but you can still believe that classicists can absorb it. However, I notice that knowledge of Middle Dutch is also becoming a problem. ”

Historical man of letters Frits van Oostrom, almost 69 and still active as a university professor in Utrecht, experiences that knowledge is falling sharply. “Translating Middle Dutch was an unpopular and dreaded exam when I was a student, but you learned it. My impression is that the organization of studies is one of the reasons. Students should not be taxed harder, and then you get shifts in the priority. “

Knowledge of programming

Stone will not just be an “old jerk”. He probably sees interesting initiatives from a new generation that give him hope. He mentions, among others, the 35-year-old Shari Boodts, who researches the medieval tradition with Augustine’s sermons at Radboud University in Nijmegen.

And Boodts is optimistic when she looks at developments in her profession. “It’s incredible what’s going on, from digital handwriting recognition, digitization of manuscript family tree research to scientific analysis of pigments and the colors of images in medieval manuscripts. I expect certain endangered auxiliary sciences to be able to piggyback on the interest generated by these digital developments. “

According to her, the survival of certain specialties does not depend on the presence of professors. “There is no professor of paleography in Nijmegen, but different people from different courses combine their skills to offer the subject.” What she sees as a problem: The new development requires cross-fertilization and other combinations of skills, for example, also knowledge of programming. At the same time, she emphasizes that she herself has only learned a lot after graduating. “For example, paleography and codicology [de studie naar de materiële staat van gebonden manuscripten]†

There is still no panic at Noord-Hollands Archief, says Klaartje Pompe (58). She recently spoke with an expert who is already retired but who is happy to offer her support. In addition, the Noord-Hollands Archief has three medieval people who, based on their own interests, could still research the monastery’s archives. “And meanwhile, the doors to Janskerk in Haarlem are wide open for young researchers who want to dive into medieval studies.”

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