Digital Livonia

For a Digitally Enhanced Study of Medieval Livonia (c. 1200-1550)

This research project will create the field of digital medieval studies in Estonia. The project aims to build a new analytical approach that integrates traditional methods of studying medieval history with research methods and tools in digital humanities in order to build major prosopographic and other databases, prepare new online collections of sources, and produce innovative scholarship on the intellectual, spatial, social and economic history of medieval Livonia (c. 1200-1550). With this general aim in mind, an open web platform, Digital Livonia, will be built as one of the outcomes of the project.

The ever-increasing digitization of medieval sources across the world, coupled with new web-based digital tools and methods to process and analyze these materials, have opened in recent years new prospects to medievalists and forced them to rethink the potentialities of their profession. This ‘digital turn’ has brought along a new interdisciplinary field, called digital medieval studies.

Our research project intends to explore for the first time in Estonia the possibilities for digitally enhanced historical research on medieval Livonia. We aim to build a new analytical approach that integrates traditional methods of medieval history with research methods and tools in digital humanities in order to create major databases and produce innovative and interdisciplinary scholarship concerning medieval Livonia, with a focus on intellectual, spatial, social, and economic history.

The sources concerning medieval Livonia are often difficult to access because they are scattered in various (local and foreign) archives and museums and in numerous publications. Recently, an increasing number of these materials have been digitized. However, there has been no attempt to connect and coordinate these various digital subsets. Also, a significant amount of materials still needs to be made digitally available. Furthermore, the search functions of existing collections are often limited, and the quality of the metadata is uneven.

In response to these challenges, we propose to build in the frames of this research project a bilingual (Estonian and English) web-based research platform, called Digital Livonia, that will help scholars to study a variety of topics in medieval Livonian history that involve comparative analyses beyond national and institutional limits. Its innovative application of semantic search methods will promote analyses of relationships between different sources – manuscripts, images, and objects. The software applications will help to use new methods of research and help both scholars and a wider audience to discover the hitherto unnoticed.

Wide cooperation is planned with all the major memory institutions in Estonia and abroad who possess the relevant digitized source materials about medieval Livonia. The metadata of existing digital collections will be checked, complemented, and harmonized. Our second main aim is to create a digital collection of medieval Livonian source publications. Based on a bibliography of all relevant publications, systematic digitization will be carried out in cooperation with the TLU Academic Library. The digitized texts will be fully searchable and linked to the digitized original versions, if available.

In building the Digital Livonia platform, the first step is to develop the existing prototype of the platform into a fully functional platform to be tested and developed by all members of the research project. The next step would be to develop a public interface of the platform, designed for a wider audience, including school children and teachers, amateur historians, museum personnel, etc. This interface will provide various portfolios about topics of medieval Livonian history that can be used in school teaching. We envisage also various gamified applications.

As a result of the research project, we will: 

  1. Build at least ten new databases; 
  2. Produce new scholarship on the history of medieval Livonia by using digitally enhanced research methods;
  3. Prepare new digital online collections of medieval Livonian sources;
  4. Facilitate PhD studies in (digital) medieval studies

All these activities will feed the Digital Livonia platform, which, in turn, will provide major support in achieving the said goals and serve as an important tool for public outreach.

The project is funded in 2021-2025 by Estonian Research Council (grant PRG1276).