Past and Present

Fragmentarium's Timeline

2013, 22 February
Start of the Fragmentarium Pre-project
2014, 30 January-
1 February
Planning Meeting I, Geneva and Cologny
2015, January 1
Beginning of Fragmentarium Phase I
2015, 1 June-
2018, 30 December
Swiss National Science Foundation Project #156569: Fragmentarium
2016, 7-8 June
Ex parte enim cognoscimus. 1st Case Study Workshop, University of Fribourg
Case Studies 1-6
2017, 31 May-
2 June
2nd Case Study Workshop, Herzog August Bibliothek, Wolfenbüttel
Case Studies 7-12
2017, 30 August-
1 September
Planning Meeting II and 3rd Case Study Workshop, Stiftsbibliothek St. Gallen
2017, 1 September
Fragmentarium Laboratory Launches with 379 documents
2018, 5-6 October
Bits and Pieces. Medieval Manuscript Fragments in the Digital Age. 4th Case Study Workshop, University of Fribourg
2018, December
First issue of Fragmentology published
2018, December 31
End of Phase 1: Fragmentarium has published 761 documents
2019, January 1-
2022, 31 December
Swiss National Science Foundation Project #182173: Fragmentarium Phase II
2019, 1 August
Launch of Stavros Niarchos Foundation sub-project: Retracing the Past: Writing and History in the Fragments of the Bibliothèque nationale de France.
2019, 26-28 August
First Fragmentarium Cataloguing Course, University of Fribourg
2019, 24 September
1000 documents published on Fragmentarium
2019, December
Second issue of Fragmentology published
2020, January-
Fragmentarium 2020 Fellowships, with support from the Zeno Karl Schindler Foundation
2020, 29 May
New Front End Design Launched

Project Planning (2013-2014)

The Project Fragmentarium started with a core intuition, namely that digital technologies can allow large-scale cataloguing of medieval manuscript fragments and make fragment research a distinct field of manuscript studies, based fundamentally on methods developed by digital libraries and digital humanities. Yet, along with this intuition came an observation: when librarians, collectors, and scholars speak of fragments, they often refer to very different objects. The first research questions therefore were: what fragments are there, and how have scholars been studying them?

To answer these questions, Prof. Christoph Flüeler, director of e-codices, organized a meeting in Geneva and Cologny at the end of January 2014 for a small group of manuscript researchers, librarians, and collectors together with specialists in Digital Humanities. The idea of an international digital library for manuscript fragments took flesh: build a platform, based on e-codices, that uses the latest in interoperable technologies to enable institutions, small and large, as well as individuals to describe, publish, and analyze medieval manuscript fragments.

Fragmentarium Planning Meeting, 31 January 2014

The support and interest generated at the Planning Meeting provide the impetus necessary to make the project a reality.

Phase 1 (2015-2018)

With the support of the Swiss National Science Foundation, the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, and the Zeno Karl Schindler Foundation, Fragmentarium began as a project on 1 June 2015. The first phase of the project had three tasks:

  • Build a Web Application
  • Coordinate International Research Projects
  • Develop an International Network

Building a Web Application

Fragmentarium grew out of e-codices, and this relationship provided it with a head start: a dynamic, modular, and state-of-the-art codebase for a digital library that was designed, developed, tested, and optimized over twelve years. Yet the Web Application had to break new ground. For one, the international and massively collaborative aspect of the project required a new model of interoperability, one that, at the start of the project, did not exist. Fragmentarium, along with e-codices and Stanford University Library became the first users of IIIF, the International Image Interoperability Framework. Through IIIF, Fragmentarium not only makes its images available to other websites, it brings in images from other institutions. Second, as research objects, fragments had to be treated differently from manuscript books, and the information that scholars wanted and could provide needed to be determined. Indeed, Fragmentarium is a laboratory at heart, and treats as research problems seemingly simple questions such as “How best to display images of a fragment?” and “What elements should there there be in a fragment description?"

2015 Fragmentarium Mockup
Prototype of Basic Metadata Page, 2015

Coordinating International Research Projects

To address these needs, Fragmentarium drew upon its research resources. Besides the Fragmentarium platform itself, the major research project conducted in house is the Ph.D. dissertation of Mag. Mag. Veronika Drescher, – A Fragmented Library. Reconstruction of the Medieval Holdings of the Abbey of Saint-Père-en-Vallée”. To show the broad potential of fragment studies, Fragmentarium complemented this in-house research with a case study model. It allied with its partner institutions to identify twelve significant fragment projects and to pair them with external researchers (fellows), typically early-career scholars, who work under the guidance of experienced specialists (supervisors). These case studies were divided into two seasons: 2016-2017 and 2017-2018, with six case studies in each season. This research not only resulted in the publication of fragments and descriptions, as well as articles in the journal Fragmentology, it also helped establish the parameters of the Web Application; the case studies focused on types of fragments, and the Web Application could be adapted to support best those fragments.

Bits and Pieces Workshop
Participants at the Fragmentarium Workshop "Bits and Pieces", 2018

Developing an International Network

Academic disciplines are built on networks of peers. Fragmentarium brought together early career researchers, senior scholars, librarians, and digital humanists for workshops where they would share information on their research and develop strategies for analyzing fragments. The project established partnerships with sixteen founding partners, who have been actively engaged in the project, hosting case studies, sponsoring digitization and fellowships, lending expertise, and even securing funding for allied projects.

The high point of Phase I was undoubtedly the launch of Fragmentarium on 1 September, 2017, an event that took place during the Fragmentarium Second Planning Meeting hosted by the Abbey Library of St. Gall. As the Web Application was opened to the public, the researchers working on case studies presented their results, and the representatives of partner institutions shared their expertise on the future of Fragmentarium.

Screenshot of the Front End, early 2018
The “Launch Version” of the Fragmentarium Front Page


Phase 2 (2019-2022)

The current phase aims to turn Fragmentarium from a pilot project into an essential node of fragment studies with regards to digitization, research, and teaching. It aims to provide the global fragment community the resources to gather data on fragments, publish images and descriptions of them, conduct research on them, and form a cadre of researchers capable of continuing the discipline.

To support research, Fellowships continue the case-study model from Phase 1; in 2020, 6 Fellowships are currently in progress. In addition, Fragmentarium is now collaborating with several multi-year research projects that involve fragments, and actively working to develop others. It publishes annually in Open Access Fragmentology, the first and only journal dedicated to medieval manuscript fragments. As a Swiss research project, moreover, Fragmentarium has begun publishing Swiss manuscript fragments in coordination with its sister project e-codices. To open the platform up to as many institutions as possible, Fragmentarium is holding cataloguing courses around the world.

The experience of Phase 1 showed that Fragmentarium also had a potential in the classroom, as a tool not just for Fragment studies, but for introducing students to digital humanities and manuscripts as well. Fragmentarium is currently used in doctoral courses, DH Laboratories, and university seminars. In addition, doctoral dissertations use Fragmentarium to publish their research.

At the end of the project in December 2022, Fragmentarium needs to be a sustainable system. To this end, development of the Web Application targets improving usability, sustainability, and interoperability. The first step, undertaken in Spring 2020, involves improving the user interface and experience to be more intuitive to navigate, while adjusting the content management system to improve the quality of data in the system. Later changes will enrich the data in standardized formats, making it even more useful.