Teaching Medici Reborn: Modernizing the Renaissance Archive in a Digital Age

AHA Session 111
Saturday, January 3, 2015: 10:30 AM-12:00 PM
Lenox Ballroom (Sheraton New York, Second Floor)
Alessio Assonitis, The Medici Archive Project

Session Abstract

The Medici Archive Project (MAP), founded in the early 1990s, came of age with the revolution in digital humanities, and continues its groundbreaking work in applying computing technology and creating research programs around one of the world’s great archival treasures: the over four million letters and court documents, written from 1537 to 1743, that comprise the Medici Granducal Archival Collection (Mediceo del Principato). The size and significance of the collection reveal all facets of early modern Europe, including political, religious, diplomatic, economic, cultural, and medical cultures; but MAP also represents an unparalleled attempt to carry the archive’s documents to the public through its open and interactive database, as it radically extends the possibilities that its documents can provide to researchers, educators, students of all levels, and the larger public. This roundtable, sponsored by the AHA-affiliated Renaissance Society of America, will not only illuminate the directions that the archive has pursued, but so will it address questions that pertain to the unique challenges of bringing any pre-modern archive into the digital age:  how do the demands of technology and digital organization affect research approaches toward specifically pre-modern documents? How do MAP and other projects foster collaboration and exchange with scholars around the world? On what basis has the vast collection been organized to accord with a digital platform? And above all, what uses can the archive serve in bringing two centuries of documents to the larger public, and contribute to the arts and humanities as a whole?

This roundtable will consist of a prominent international body of MAP’s directors and researchers as they discuss the digitization of an early modern archive from a variety of interdisciplinary perspectives.  Each speaker will devote ten or fifteen minutes to addressing the manner in which his or her discipline or field has been enriched by the archive, and contributed to education and research more generally; the areas to be discussed include Jewish Studies, early modern women, art, sixteenth-century news and information culture, and transnational connections with countries such as France. In addition, the larger direction of the archive will be discussed in terms of its sponsorship of educational programs (including a paleography course and a Samuel Kress-funded introduction to the Florentine archives); a peer-reviewed publication program; internships for undergraduates; and  the most recent launch of the Andrew W. Mellon-funded on-line Digital Interactive Platform. This session promises to appeal not only to historians interested in digital humanities and archives generally, but so will it showcase one of the most successful projects that Renaissance scholars have contributed to the humanities, and one that captures the age in all its interdisciplinarity.

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