Introduction to the Project

The Center for Cistercian and Monastic Studies (CCMS) at Western Michigan University (WMU), formerly the Institute of Cistercian Studies, has a long history of bringing together scholars in monastic studies who are widely dispersed geographically for collaborative research and has become  known internationally for its highly-regarded Cistercian Studies Conference, two series of books published by Cistercian Publications, and the specialized manuscript and book holdings in WMU’s Cistercian Studies Library.  The WMU Conference, held each May in conjunction with the International Medieval Studies Congress,  attracts scholars from the disciplines of  history, religious studies, literature, economics, archaeology, art, history of science and medicine from across the globe. 

Monastic studies has long been and remains a vital area of scholarly research far beyond WMU.  For centuries European monasteries served as repositories and preservers of knowledge as well as being important social, artistic, economic, and even technological centers.  As Europeans moved into the western  and southern hemispheres,  monastic communities followed to help colonize, convert, and educate native peoples and immigrants.  Today monastic institutions continue to be important actors in dispensing social welfare and advocating social justice throughout the world.  While the focus of research at WMU has so far been on Western European and Byzantine monasticism, the field of monastic studies is far broader and includes scholarship on  both Western and Eastern monasticism over a period which extends from late antiquity to the present, by multi-national, multi-lingual scholars from disciplines as diverse history, religious studies, literature, economics, archaeology, art, liturgy, history of science and medicine.

Many important reference works and journals in the interdisciplinary field of medieval and early modern monastic studies are rare or hard to find, and some holdings are deteriorating or incomplete. To make the information contained in these materials widely available, this digital research project has as its primary goals:

1.  Digitizing  rare  printed materials for preservation and providing standardized  metadata so these materials can be easily found by and accessible to researchers around the world.  The published materials to be digitized in the first part of the project have been chosen and prioritized in consultation with the Advisory Board of the CCMS, a group of subject specialists from academic institutions (Princeton University, and the Universities of Tasmania, Australia, and Bremen,  Germany) and monastic houses of the Benedictine and Cistercian traditions. We have already received copyright clearance for a number of journals, including Monastic Studies (1963-1991) and The American Benedictine Review (1950-2010), and reference works, among them  Dictionnaire des auteurs cisterciens (1975) edited by Eugene Manning et al., and the Menologium Cistertiense notationibus illustratum (1630) edited by Crisostomo Henriquez. 

 The digitization component of this effort  builds upon a successful WMU pilot project,  Liturgy O.C.S.O.  (link:   Liturgy O.C.S.O. at WMU), which digitized a journal produced and edited by Chrysogonus Waddell of Gethsemani Abbey in Kentucky.  This journal was founded in 1966, as the Liturgy Commission of the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance began to reform and renew liturgical practice in response to Vatican II, and had a very limited circulation. The digitization of Liturgy involved digitizing WMU’s Cistercian Studies Library holdings as well as borrowing missing volumes from several partner institutions.  This collection attracts more hits online than any other WMU digitized collection.  Searchable PDFs were created using  optical character recognition software and the metadata has been exposed for harvesting and made available in via the OCLC Worldcat Digital Collection Gateway.  This project, like the proposed digitization project, was done through the WMU Libraries Digitization Center.

 Many fine scholars in the field of monastic studies have been monks and nuns whose work circulated among monasteries, but whose contact with the wider scholarly community was sometimes limited, with the result that much of the important secondary literature these scholars created enjoyed very limited circulation among academics.  Likewise, academic scholarship has sometimes been difficult for scholar-monks and nuns to acquire or afford.  Similarly, academic scholars of monastic studies are a multi-lingual and widely-dispersed group, and many of them teach at small institutions which cannot justify the purchase of rare or highly specialized volumes for one faculty member. Scholars in this situation must therefore rely on summer travel, sabbatical leave,, or interlibrary loan to gain access to materials vital to their research.  This project would afford these  scholars, and those who work in fields which touch upon monastic studies, full access to materials which can be difficult for them to find, even in highly-regarded research libraries.

2.   Developing a new digital data set, a gazetteer of Cistercian monasteries which have existed since the foundation of the Order in 1098 to the present day.  The greatest number of these were medieval European houses, although the geographic spread of Cistercian houses now includes seventy-four countries. The second portion of the project is  the development of a new resource, a dataset encompassing geographic and historical information about all known Cistercian foundations.  This dataset is envisaged as the first of many intertwined datasets which would aid scholars, students, and the general public in visualizing the monastic landscape and its growth and relationship to other spatial features over time. This project developed from a long-standing effort by CCMS to create and maintain the first comprehensive reference work to catalogue Cistercian monastic sites worldwide and was initially envisioned as a paper publication.  Greater opportunities for access and analysis of data have been developed in the intervening years by GIS and data mining technology.  We have decided to develop this gazetteer as a shareable dataset and to illustrate one possible use for it by mapping it using the state-of–the-art GIS capabilities already available on campus.  In addition, capabilities for data mining the textual content of the dataset and collaborative input from the community of Cistercian scholars aligned with CCMS will be developed.  To facilitate further analytical work, the material will also be converted to linked data and exposed to the semantic web.   The resulting gazetteer will be optimized to allow  access to mobile devices as well as computers.

The basic metadata template for this dataset and instructions for data entry have been developed collaboratively by Professors Bair, Elder and Steuer over the past academic year.  Over the summer of 2013, graduate students will begin working on sample data for the project, either as part of their curricular requirements or as research assistants funded through the WMU Libraries, the Department of History, and the Medieval Institute.  The information they input will create a small test data set and a pilot map for the project.  At the May 2013 Cistercian Studies Conference and the broader Congress, we will also be enlisting support from Cistercian scholars with particular expertise in certain geographical and linguistic  areas.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s