Caught in the Decameron Web: New Tools for Scholars and Teachers

poster / demo / art installation
  1. 1. Michael J. Hemment

    Brown University

  2. 2. Massimo Riva

    Brown University

  3. 3. Giovanna Roz Gastald

    Brown University

  4. 4. Michael Papio

    College of the Holy Cross

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.

Since 1995, Brown University's Decameron Web has endeavored to assist students with the study of Giovanni Boccaccio's life and works. From its humble beginnings as a series of hyperlinked student essays in a storyspace environment, the site has been in a constant state of regeneration, metamorphosing itself in new directions. Most recently, a National Endowment for the Humanities grant from the Division of Education and Technology has enabled our team to enrich the site with a variety of research and pedagogy tools for students, literary scholars, historians, and teachers, including an SGML-encoded text and correlated Detailed Search, a Pedagogy Module, and an electronic Boccaccio journal.

The text of the Decameron has been encoded in SGML using a DTD based on TEI-Lite. The software, Dynaweb 4.1, is currently used to deliver the SGML encoded text. The structural encoding embodied in SGML permits searching on selected structural units, such as whole text, frame, and novella. All named characters and geographic locations in the text are tagged and can be retrieved through an advanced search procedure.

The Decameron Web's new Detailed Search identifies and defines each character and location (both named and unnamed) in Boccaccio's masterpiece using a series of easily searchable encoded attributes. Characters are defined in terms of their age, sex, origin, estate, role, religion, marital status, and disguise; places are encoded to reflect their geographic location (city, region, country) and type (bridge, castle, church, etc.).

One of our greatest challenges has been to design an HTML interface that is comprehensive in terms of search options, but also intuitive and user-friendly. We settled on a design solution that divides the search into three principle categories: "Characters," "Geographic Locations," and "Single and Multiple Words." Within each of these categories, users may easily define their search by either (1) typing in the name of the character or place they are looking for (if they know it), (2) finding their subject by selecting a combination of attributes from pull-down menus, or (3) viewing the results of our pre-searched lists and tables. The results produced by these searches do more than merely provide researchers with textual references: they bring the user to the exact point in the online text where their character or geographic location appears. Additionally, many characters (for example, all historical characters and members of the brigata) have special philological notes that can be easily accessed through hyperlinks.

The Decameron Web's Detailed Search allows Boccaccio's text to be searched like never before. Humanities students and scholars will be able to instantly examine Boccaccio's characters based on their social status, sex, and profession, and a series of other attributes. How, for example, do Boccaccio's medieval representations of artists such as Giotto differ from contemporary "portraits of the artist"? What is significant about Boccaccio's depiction of married vs. unmarried women in the text? And is there any correlation between a character's economic status and his/her fortuna?

Scholars interested in exploring the vast geography of Boccaccio's world will benefit greatly from the detailed geography search. This tool will enable researchers to determine, for instance, what thematic or representational differences exist between the novellas set in Italy and those set in other countries; and what role geography plays in the structure and organization of the Decameron. Having completed, together with STG (Scholarly Technology Group, Brown University), the prototype of our Detailed Search page at the closure of 1999, its functionality and design will be rigorously tested and refined by members of our Advisor Board and Brown students taking our Spring semester Boccaccio course. A public release date is expected by early Summer 2000.

Another recent addition to the Decameron Web has been the creation of a Pedagogy Module, providing high school and university teachers with supplementary classroom materials, including course syllabi, exams, class project ideas, and essay questions. Comprehension exercises and sections dedicated to "Further Research" and "Topics of Discussion" will be integrated with an eye to helping disseminate ideas for successful teaching approaches. These will be contextually linked to all other pertinent modules including Bibliography. There will also be a teacher's forum, where innovative pedagogical approaches to Boccaccio's works can be openly shared and discussed, and student guides to essay writing, Internet research, and classroom presentation. Finally, each semester we will accept nominations for "the best" Boccaccio student essay, which will subsequently be published on the site.

The Decameron Web's new electronic Boccaccio journal will be of particular interest to medieval literature specialists and students. It will serve as a forum where scholars can publish and debate their latest research on Boccaccio's works, discuss humanities computing initiatives and pedagogy, submit book reviews, and debut new translations of the author's works. The online journal will be multilingual and will accept submissions from an international community of scholars, all contributing their own unique didactic and interpretive perspectives. Unlike traditional print publications, the electronic Boccaccio journal will capitalize on its hypertext nature, facilitating greater editing and publishing efficiently of contributions, allowing users to comment on what they have read, and promoting joint scholarly projects on Boccaccio.

If properly utilized, we believe that these new research tools can bring a new dimension of excitement to the study and teaching of Boccaccio and his works. The Detailed Search will enable researchers to gain new insights into the complexities of Boccaccio's characters and geography; the Pedagogy Module will provide teachers with a broad range of Boccaccio-related activities and resources intended to challenge and engage their students; and the electronic Boccaccio journal will allow graduate students and literary scholars to publish, research, and discuss the latest advances in Boccaccio studies and humanities computing. Naturally, the success of all of these initiatives is ultimately contingent upon the active collaboration of an international community of Boccaccio students, teachers, and specialists.

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

In review


Hosted at University of Glasgow

Glasgow, Scotland, United Kingdom

July 21, 2000 - July 25, 2000

104 works by 187 authors indexed

Affiliations need to be double-checked.

Conference website:

Series: ALLC/EADH (27), ACH/ICCH (20), ACH/ALLC (12)

Organizers: ACH, ALLC

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