The Abbey Inside the Machine: The MonArch Project

  1. 1. Clifford Wulfman

    Brown University

  2. 2. Elli Mylonas

    Brown University

  3. 3. Anne Loyer

    Wesleyan University

  4. 4. Sheila Bonde

    Brown University

  5. 5. Clark Maines

    Wesleyan University

Work text
This plain text was ingested for the purpose of full-text search, not to preserve original formatting or readability. For the most complete copy, refer to the original conference program.

Description of Project
MonArch (The Monastic Archaeology Project) is a
collaborative project based on the excavations at the
Abbey of Saint-Jean-des-Vignes in Soissons, France under the
joint directorship of Sheila Bonde (Brown University) and Clark
Maines (Wesleyan University). The monastery at
St.-Jean-des-Vignes remains with us today in two media: in the
physical remains of the abbey and in the textual remains left
behind by its inhabitants. The most significant of the latter are
the community's Customary, which describes the roles and
activities of the abbey's inhabitants over the course of the
religious year, and the Abbey's Obituary, which lists, by month
and day of death, the members of the monastic community and
laics who had provided service or gifts to the monastery, with
a description of their donations.
Two websites have been developed as part of the MonArch
Project. The first was implemented at Wesleyan (<http://>), and provides thorough
documentation of the excavations, annual field reports, and
inventories of finds. The second, which is the focus of this
paper, is a research effort in its own right, one that explores the
ways in which encoded representations of archaeological data
may be used enhance their use. The often complex
interrelationships among textual, architectural, and
archaeological evidence are difficult to represent and explicate
in traditional formats; the work described here attempts to use
digital representations to create a new form of scholarly
Research Questions
MonArch has always focused beyond a simple description
of concrete artifacts to a thoroughgoing investigation
and elaboration of a concept: from the outset, the project was
conceived as a multi-disciplinary endeavor that took
monasticism rather than the monastery as its object of study.1
Therefore, to the extent that its digital manifestation is to be a
direct reflection of the project's aims, it too must take as its
focus an abstraction and not a collection of materials.
Such a focus makes designing the digital reflection more
challenging. It cannot be a simple linked, digital collection,
because such an organization would put undue emphasis on
the monastery and its artifacts. And because the site needs to
be built around concepts and questions — about monasticism
and the archaeology of monasticism — the digital project cannot
be conceived or designed without considerable knowledge of
those concepts or an understanding of medieval social,
economic, architectural, and religious history and the role of
archaeology in elucidating it all. It must, in other words, express
the archaeological definition of monasticism Bonde and Maines
are deriving from their work, a definition that is based on the
following factors:
• The monastic complex as the physical expression of
spiritual, social, and economic motives;
• The functions of the abbey's structures;
• The communitas who used these structures and the routine
of their lives;
• The economy of the surrounding region — the farms, mills,
priories, parishes, and other holdings that constituted the
abbey's domain;
• The place of the abbey (defined as both buildings and
community) in the local, regional, and inter-regional
networks of power and influence;
• The way these phenomena changed over time.
The relationship of the texts — both primary and secondary —
to the archaeological data is complex, because the
archaeological material supports and illustrates the texts at the
same time that the texts contextualize the archaeology and
architecture. These two kinds of remains — 􀀀􀀀 the textual
and the physical — become two inter-referential and mutually
reinforcing centers from which the concepts of monasticism
emerge. The research focus of the current digital project is on
designing an infrastructure and and an interactive interface that
simultaneously represent the authors' arguments and allow users
of the site to form their own interpretations. Considering Use
We argue that it is most fruitful to conceive the digital
manifestation of the MonArch project as a reading.
Insofar as its goal is to provide a definition, the resource is
fundamentally rhetorical: it has an argument, and it supports
its claims with evidence drawn from a variety of evidential
sources. That argument, generally stated, entails an
archaeological definition of monasticism, whose refinement is
the ongoing and iterative task of the MonArch project. The task
of the digital resource, therefore, must be unusually subtle: it
must express this archaeological definition through an intricate
blend of textual and material evidence, and it must provide a
way for readers to interact with and question the argument and
its claims.
In fact, insofar as the digital resource is the manifestation of
this argument, the mutually referential presence of both encoded
texts and artefactual simulacra constitutes a claim in itself, a
claim that a 'definition' of monasticism can be manufactured
through a reading of monastic text, monastic space, and
monastic time, and perhaps only in this way. That is to say, the
boundaries established by the site (and here the web site and
the excavation site perhaps begin themselves to lose their
boundaries) determine how monasticism is to be understood.
Research Goals
Our research, then, is focused on establishing a layered set of
models that enable researchers to articulate their understanding
of monasticism and allow scholars (students, readers, users) to
interact with that understanding. Underlying the whole project
is a fundamental data model that represents the characteristics
of the texts, spaces, buildings and artifacts that form the object
of study. Overlaying the data model is another model, that of
the relationships that embody the intellectual connections that
the researchers have made as they work over their materials
and which embody their definition of monasticism. These
connections are the evidence for their claims. At the topmost
layer is a model of user interaction, one consisting of visual
juxtapositions that illustrate the relationships among the
historical evidence and that enable further questioning.
The problem of structuring information in order to enhance
argument is part of a larger problem. One of the major powers
promised by digital resources is the instantiation of the kind of
textuality envisioned by postmodern theorists like Roland
Barthes and Jacques Derrida, among others: the simultaneous
availability of vast amounts of information in a form that makes
the interconnections, both explicit and implicit, traversable.
Yet benightedness is a clear danger: it is all too easy to become
lost: in 'hyperspace,' in the library, in the labyrinth, or in the
wood of error. As digital resources grow in size and complexity,
the need for prospects — lookouts, overviews of the textscape
— becomes ever greater. Digital resources must therefore
become responsive: when a reader examines an argument or
claim in a digital publication, the resource should respond to
her, helpfully putting on the virtual desk before her materials
that are relevant to her evolving inquiry. Thus, in loftiest terms,
our goal must be to assist, supplement, and augment a human
agent􀀀􀀀's investigation of accumulated cultural knowledge,
a goal congruent with the aims of research over the past
half-century in fields from information retrieval to artificial
1. Sheila Bonde and Clark Maines, Saint-Jean-des-Vignes in
Soissons: Approaches to its Architecture, Archaeology and History,
Biblioteca Victorina vol. XV (Turnhout: Brepols Press, 2003).
McCarty, Willard. Humanities Computing. Basingstoke:
Palgrave McMillan, 2005.
Bernstein, Mark, J. David Bolter, Michael Joyce, and Elli
Mylonas. "Architectures for Volatile Hypertexts." Hypertext
'91 Proceedings. San Antonio, TX: Association for Computing
Machinery, 1991.
Bonde, Sheila, and Clark Maines. "The Archaeology of
Monasticism, Ten Years of Work at the Augustinian Abbey of
Saint-Jean-des-Vignes, Soissons." Medieval Europe, 1992
(Pre-printed Papers of the Conference on Medieval
Archaeology in Europe, York, 21-24.IX.1992). York, 1992.
Bonde, Sheila, and Clark Maines. Saint-Jean-des-Vignes:
Approaches to its Architecture, Archaeology and History.
Biblioteca Victorina vol. XV. Turnhout: Brepols Press, 2003.
Wulfman, Clifford, Julia Flanders, and Elli Mylonas. "The
Rhetoric of Performative Markup." Digital Humanities 2006
Conference Abstracts. Paris: CATI, Université Paris-Sorbonne,
2006. 248-251.
Monarch. Monastic Archaeology Project . <http://www.w>
The Abbey of St.-Jean-des-Vignes . <http://dev.stg.b>
Unsworth, John. "What is Humanities Computing and What Is
Not?" <http://www.computerphilologie.uni-mu>

If this content appears in violation of your intellectual property rights, or you see errors or omissions, please reach out to Scott B. Weingart to discuss removing or amending the materials.

Conference Info


ADHO - 2007

Hosted at University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

Urbana-Champaign, Illinois, United States

June 2, 2007 - June 8, 2007

106 works by 213 authors indexed

Series: ADHO (2)

Organizers: ADHO

  • Keywords: None
  • Language: English
  • Topics: None