Textiles in Ethiopian Manuscripts
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Monthly Colloquium

Time: Apr 26, 2024, 10:00 AM Eastern Time (US and Canada)
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Meeting ID: 881 3050 9187
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A Small Workshop on Data Visualization
With Special Attention to the Needs of the TEM Project

Steve Delamarter

A fundamental part of the digital age and of digital humanities projects such as TEM is the production of large quantities of digital data. But, not all data is the same. Some of it is digital transcriptions of texts; some are digital metadata about manuscripts, and others of are digital images of the content of manuscripts (focusing on the textual content, or the artwork, or paratextual features like textiles).

No matter the content or the form of the data, creating it is just the first step. We generate data and organize it into databases in the hopes that users will be able to access it, query it, extract subsets of data from it, and manipulate the data thus acquired. All of this is in the belief that within the data are hidden patterns of shared variables that, if known, would reveal stories about the data and its meaning. Variables might be textual in nature, chronological, or geographic, or the evidence of shared practices of scribes or craftspeople, or materials. In the case of the TEM project, shared variables are in the materials, the workmanship, and practices around those materials, as well as in their chronology and geographic points of origin and patterns of distribution.

As inherently valuable as databases are, they are not intrinsically meaningful. The human brain cannot comprehend the meanings of unprocessed data that is just sitting in databases. In the end, the data has to be filtered and processed in some way to comprehend its meanings. Probably the single most effective way for detecting and then demonstrating the meanings within data is through data visualization.

In this workshop, we will explore some rudimentary rules and practices surrounding the organization of data in order to optimize its import into programs that are built to create visualizations. Our focus will be on the strategic organization of data and the possibilities for visualization of such well-organized data. In particular, we will look at Tableau visualizations, and a few projects that are image-based and that have built user interfaces to sort and filter huge quantities of images so as to find and display hidden patterns of shared variation.

Delamarter has written an article on scribal practice and visualization for the Textual History of the Bible project. The Article is called, “Toward Describing Scribal Practices in Ethiopic Manuscripts: Lessons from Ten Case Studies.”

Save the Date: 29 March 2024, 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 noon (EST)

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Meeting ID: 823 0670 3139
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Gəʿəz Manuscripts and their Textile Pastedowns: A Field Trip Report

Hagos Abrha Abay


I conducted a field trip to Ethiopia from 16 November to 30 December 2023 to assess textile pastedowns in Gəʿəz manuscripts. For the Ethiopian government authorities, the request to study textile pastedowns was a surprise as it was unique in their experience. The same was true for the monks and priests, as no one had ever asked them about textiles pastedowns, or about textiles at all for that matter. For at least a decade now, government and ecclesiastical authorities have been reluctant to allow the digitization of manuscripts (https://nomadit.co.uk/conference/ecas2023/paper/73114). While they have become somewhat more flexible since the Tigray war, they are not less suspicious of researchers. In my case, they wondered whether it was a serious study, indicating that they lacked even the slightest cognizance of the potential historical and cultural value of these swatches. The research was conducted at the Ethiopian National Archives Library Agency (ENALA) in Addis Ababa and, in south and southeastern Təgray (Northern Ethiopia), at the monasteries of Däbrä Gänät Arbaʿəssa Gänti, Däbrä Nägodg, Togoga Yohannəs, Bǝʾata Mariam Togoga and Səlasse Ċälqot. More than 100 manuscripts were assessed to have textile pastedowns dating from between the 15th and 19th centuries, the oldest being from Psalter manuscripts at the monastery of Togoga Yohannəs. Dating was established through the colophons, textual information, palaeography and now the expert identifications of textile specialists. This paper focuses on the field trip’s bureaucratic process, the manuscript collections, archival systems and the textile pastedowns in the manuscripts themselves.