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French episcopal acta of the Middle Ages: a multi-media edition and analysis – ACTEPI

ACTÉPI - French episcopal acta of the Middle Ages: a multi-media edition and analysis

ACTÉPI deals with the episcopal acta in Northern France from the middle of the 11th to the middle of the 13th century.

The objectives: a double ambition

1. After gathering the episcopal acta, now widely dispersed, of 17 dioceses (about 8000 acta in total), the first objective is to offer a complete and multi-media critical edition, by diocesan collection. Each one will integrate the «e-Cartae« collection, «Actépi« sub-collection, of the Presses universitaires de Caen. The digital version will offer dynamic navigation and consultation functionalities, as well as search functionalities.<br />2. The second ambition is to analyse the edited collections in three directions. The first aims to understand the place occupied by the episcopal chancelleries in the documentary mutation of a long 12th century, which led from highly narrative compositions to standardised acta of scholarly style. The second problematic axis aims to identify the networks and communities in which the medieval bishops of Northern France were integrated. In the negative, it will also be a question of identifying the actors with whom the bishops are in conflict. This will enable a better understanding of the reforming involvement of the prelates and the power relationships in which they were involved, within their dioceses, their ecclesiastical provinces and in a wider context. The third axis, at the crossroads of the two previous ones, concerns the documentary power relationships, i.e. the complementarities and competition in the production of written documents, within the diocese and the province, at a time when a market in written documents is gradually being established to meet an ever-increasing social need. The role played by episcopal chancelleries in writing for others will be examined, by comparing the edited collections with other archive collections.

The project uses the traditional methods of ecdotics and critical editing in diplomatics, revisiting them for the purposes of textual description in XML useful for digital publication. For each act is offered a complete critical edition with dating, long analysis in French, tradition, critical dissertation, and text provided with a critical apparatus. The published acta are encoded in XML-TEI in the e-Cartae tool, which allows, from the same source file, a multimodal publication of the collection: digital on the Presses Universitaires de Caen website and on the digital laboratory of diplomatic sources «e-CartaeLab«, and on paper at the PUC. All the internal features of the acta are identified and encoded specifically. All the people and places mentioned in the collections are identified and numerically indexed in external files (thesauri) in XML-TEI, used within the framework of the Equipex Biblissima and other projects of the Pôle du Document Numérique of the MRSH in Caen. ACTÉPI paves the way for the reconciliation of the quantitative logic of databases and the qualitative logic of critical editions essential to have reliable texts provided with all the necessary keys to understanding.
The work of analysis and exploitation of the acta is carried out by combining the potentialities of computer research and the classical methods of historical science. One of the important stages will consist in analyzing the internal and external characters of the acta, to distinguish the productions of episcopal chanceries and thus attempt to chronologically characterize the forms specific to these chanceries and their evolution. Particular attention will be paid to the lists of witnesses to episcopal acta.

After 22 months, the project has made it possible to progress very widely - and to complete for some dioceses - the identification and collection of acta, as well as their critical edition. The working environment allowing XML-TEI encoding of documents has been amended and improved. An encoding methodology for users has been written and published. All the project partners were trained in encoding, during the ACTÉPI winter School in Caen in January 2019 and an additional training session in Caen in January 2020. Depending on the state of progress of the different collections, XML encoding has started and, in some cases, has been largely completed. Some collections or parts of a collections have already been transferred to a beta version of e-CartaeLab, a new digital laboratory for diplomatic texts (due to be open to the public in 2021) which will be used within the framework of ACTEPI. The acta of the bishops of Évreux were published in their digital version at the PUC. Collaborative work made it possible to question the common rules for editing and processing collections and to propose an adapted treatment of particular cases and borderline cases, in particular during two workshops, in Rennes in January 2020 and in Strasbourg in October 2020. The Actépi blog on hypotheses.org has been opened. The exploitation of certain collections has started, within some publications (see section «scientific productions«).

In the next 32 months, ACTEPI's partners will work to continue and complete the critical edition of the acta, as well as their encoding, for multimodal publications expected at the end of the project, after a faster transfer into the digital laboratory for diplomatic sources «e-CartaeLab«. On this point (the realization of the laboratory), ACTÉPI will benefit from the e-CartaeLab project, selected by the Réseau national des MSH for a start in November 2020. The years 2021 to 2023 will also be devoted to the more massive exploitation of the collection edited or in editing course, through two conferences, planned in Orleans at the end of 2021 (on the first axis of analysis of the project) and in Nancy in May 2023 (on axes 2 and 3).

The scientific production already delivered within ACTEPI include what follows:
-organization of 2 training sessions and 2 workshops.
-publication of an updated version of the e-Cartae environment for multi-media edition of diplomatic texts in XML-TEI.
-publication of the encoding methodology for e-Cartae.
-publication of the digital version of the collection of the acta of the bishops of Évreux (at the PUC)
-23 contributions published or accepted for publication, exploiting the collection being prepared, about the issues of the history of documentary practices or religious history, including 10 articles in journals and collective books, 1 book (finalized using the data being processed in ACTÉPI), 9 communications, in particular in the ACTÉPI workshops, and 3 popularization articles.
-opening of the Actépi blog on hypotheses.org

ACTÉPI - French episcopal acta of the Middle Ages: a multi-media edition and analysis

Keywords: History, Middle Ages, France, culture, written word, documentary practices, charters, diplomatics, bishops, chanceries, corpus, digital edition, multi-media publication

Funding requested: 291 553,56 euros

Project start: 1 January 2019 – Project end: 31 December 2022

Partners: CRAHAM (UMR 6573, Caen), POLEN (EA 4710, Orléans), CRULH (EA 3945, Lorraine), ARCHE (EA 3400, Strasbourg), TEMPORA (EA 7468, Rennes)

ACTÉPI concerns the episcopal acta of northern France from the middle of the 11th century to the middle of the 13th. It has two main objectives:
1. In the first instance, it will bring together and edit the episcopal acta, currently scattered throughout various archives, of 25 dioceses (around 8000 acta in total), which, unlike in England, have been the object of little historical study in France (only 3 French collections of acta published, compared to 45 in England). Each act will be edited according to critical standards, and will be accompanied by dating information, a summary of the contents in French, a schema of the manuscript tradition, critical notes, and variants. Every edited act will then be encoded in XML-TEI using the E-Cartae program, which will allow for 25 collections to be published, from a single source file, both in print (via the Presses Universitaires de Caen) and online (via the E-Cartae website). One of the project’s aims is to increase the use of the TEI within the academic community. All person and place names mentioned in the acta will be identified and digitally indexed using external XML-TEI files (thesauri), which are those used by Equipex Biblissima and the COSME consortium (TGIR Huma-Num). ACTÉPI will, for the first time, bring together the qualitative approaches typical of critical editions and the quantitative methodology of a database in order to create reliable texts, which are accompanied by all the necessary contextual data.
2. ACTÉPI’s second objective is to use the digital editions of the 25 collections, which can be systematically searched and sorted, to shed light on various issues relating to religious history and that of the written word. The project will explore three lines of enquiry. The first looks to understand better the role played by episcopal chanceries in the documentary change of the long 12th century, which saw a shift from narrative forms to increasingly standardised acts. The external and internal characteristics of the acta will be studied in detail in order to identify those acts produced by the episcopal chanceries, which in turn will allow for the chronological development of the specific practices of these chanceries to be established. The second line of enquiry will attempt to identify the various networks and communities of which the medieval bishops of northern France formed a part. Conversely, it will also look to identify those with whom the bishops came into conflict. This will allow for a better understanding of the bishops’ reforming tendencies and power relations, not just within their diocese, but also their ecclesiastical province and the wider world. Those concepts that shed light on cooperative and hierarchical power structures will also be examined. The third line of enquiry, located at the intersection of the previous two, concerns the nature of documentary power, in particular the synergies and conflicts inherent in textual production, which emerged both within the diocese and the province at a time when societal needs were driving the creation of a market of the written word. The role played by episcopal chanceries in the production of documents for third parties will also be examined, by comparing and contrasting the 25 collections with other archives. The project will also include the creation of a research blog on hypotheses.org, the publication of a collection of translated sources, and an exhibition dedicated to the bishops of Normandy.

Project coordinator

Monsieur Grégory Combalbert (Centre Michel de Boüard - Centre de Recherches archéologiques et historiques anciennes et médiévales)

The author of this summary is the project coordinator, who is responsible for the content of this summary. The ANR declines any responsibility as for its contents.


CRAHAM Centre Michel de Boüard - Centre de Recherches archéologiques et historiques anciennes et médiévales
ARCHE Arts, civilisation et histoire de l'Europe

Help of the ANR 255,551 euros
Beginning and duration of the scientific project: December 2018 - 48 Months

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