October 29, 2020

University of Rochester Project Democratizes Access to Medieval English Literature

From the University of Rochester:

A pioneering initiative to make texts from the Middle Ages available to scholars and students around the world receives continued support from the National Endowment for the Humanities. The Middle English Texts Series “puts the literature out there for everybody.”

Teachers and students of medieval literature long faced a problem that people studying other literary periods did not: the scant availability of texts.

That’s not because there wasn’t plenty of literature produced in the Middle Ages or because not much survived. The problem was access.

Publishing medieval texts isn’t like offering editions of literary works created after the advent of the printing press. “Everything was copied by hand in the Middle Ages, and so every medieval copy is different. And we almost never have the copy that was written by the author. We just have copies of copies of copies,” says Anna Siebach-Larsen, director of the University of Rochester’s Rossell Hope Robbins Library and Koller-Collins Center for English Studies.

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Russell Peck, for more than 50 years a Rochester faculty member and now a professor emeritus of English, knew there had to be a better way. In 1990, working with the Teaching Association for Medieval Studies (TEAMS, of which he is a founding member), he established the Middle English Texts Series (METS). It offers free digital and affordable print editions of a wide range of medieval writing.

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Siebach-Larsen, who holds a PhD in medieval studies from Notre Dame, used METS texts herself as a student. “METS democratizes access,” she says. “It puts the literature out there for everybody.” And by offering a more complete view of the literary period, the series has helped “transform our understanding and study of medieval culture,” she adds.

The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) recently awarded the project a three-year grant to support its mission of offering the broadest possible readership—from specialists to undergraduates and high school students to people simply curious about the Middle Ages—access to the full range of literary output from medieval England. The latest award extends a long history of support for the project from the NEH.

Direct to Full Text Article (approx. 1320 words)

Robbins Library Digital Projects

Gary Price About Gary Price

Gary Price (gprice@mediasourceinc.com) is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at Ask.com, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.

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