Dr. Katharine Rehyansky continues work transcribing a 14th century poem to make it accessible on CD-ROM, a project she started in the mid 90s. “I was actually doing some preliminary work in computing in the humanities (computer-assisted syntactic analysis of medieval poetry) in the 80s that led into this work,” said Rehyansky, professor of English.
Rehyansky said when it’s done correctly, the computer-accessible version of the poem on CD-ROM is actually easier and better to work with than the manuscript itself in the library.
“You can magnify or reduce elements, move them around, and change colors or lighting to see them better. The biggest advantage is that students can work on the manuscripts anywhere they can take a computer; they don’t have to spend precious money and time traveling to foreign libraries. These electronic editing projects are the wave of the future, and there are dozens of them now all over the world,” Rehyansky said.
Piers Plowman is a 14th century poem written in Northwest Midlands Middle English. Experts believe it was written by William Langland because of an acrostic code in the poem. It’s an 8,000-line moral and religious poem by a poet who is considered second in importance only to Chaucer in the English Middle Ages.
“The B-tradition, the main tradition of the poem (the poem exists in three different versions), survives in some 54 manuscripts. The task is to reduce the manuscripts to computer-readable and computer-manipulable form,” she said.
With the help of a $100K grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, she and other scholars from Texas to Japan are working on the manuscripts. Six are available on CD-ROM.