I’m excited to report that I’m a co-investigator on a Jean Golding Institute seed corn funding project entitled ‘Digital Humanities meets Medieval Financial Records: The Receipt Rolls of the Irish Exchequer’. The principal investigator is Professor Brendan Smith of the Department of History. Advice and encouragement are being provided by Dr Peter Crooks of Trinity College, Dublin, and Dr Paul Dryburgh of The National Archives, London.

The purpose of the seed corn funding is to undertake some initial exploration of applying ‘Digital Humanities methodologies’ in constructing digital calendars – detailed descriptive summaries of original documents – as well as using data analysis tools and techniques to extract entities (people, places, communities etc.) from these calendars and provide example visualisations to interpret and understand the data.

It is anticipated that TEI/XML would be used to encode a calendar digitally and we’ll then extract data so we can make queries with the pandas data analysis library and create visualisations that can be published via a Jupyter Notebook. The construction of these calendars still involves considerable endeavour from trained historians and archivists, since they will be English-language summaries of original Latin documents. However, we should explore how computer science techniques can improve the construction and quality of the calendars.

The focus of this project is a single Irish Exchequer receipt roll from the latter years of King Edward I reign (1301–2). A receipt roll holds information on the day-to-day financial dealings of the Crown and provides a rich source of material not only on the machinery of government but also the communities and people that, for various reasons, owed money to the king. An English-language calendar exists and was edited by Brendan and Paul and published in the Handbook of Select Calendar of Sources for Medieval Ireland in the National Archives of the United Kingdom (Dublin, Four Courts Press, 2005). This calendar builds upon an incomplete earlier calendar by H. S. Sweetman that was published in the Calendar of Documents Relating to Ireland, 1293–1301 (London, 1881). The original document is in The National Archives (TNA), London, with the call number E 101/233/16.

As a starting point, I’ve been writing some Python code to convert the text of the calendar into a CSV/Excel file. In many ways, the roll is a medieval equivalent to an accounting spreadsheet (apologies if this makes any historians cringe). I’d be interested to see if there is any mileage in doing the original data creation for other calendars in a spreadsheet (or database) rather than creating XML documents as a starting point.

It is hoped that future funding will be obtained to create digital calendars of other receipt rolls (they exist for most years from 1280 to 1440), possibly as part of the Beyond 2022 project.

I’ll write other posts about processing the text and data in the future. The code and data for the project will be hosted here: https://github.com/ilrt/ReceiptRollE101