Digital Analysis of Chant Transmission (DACT)

Montréal, McGill University - Rare Books and Special Collections - Manuscript Collection, MS Medieval 0176

Partner Project

Partner Institution: Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada

Project Director: Dr. Jennifer Bain

Project Manager: Dr. Debra Lacoste

Project Website:

Plainchant, that is, liturgical music from the European Middle Ages, travelled geographically and temporally, taking on new meaning and languages through religious reforms in Europe, international trade, and above all, colonialism. The Digital Analysis of Chant Transmission (DACT) project seeks to study this transmission of plainchant not only within western Europe, but also to other parts of the world.

We will study transmission by considering the transformation of melodies, texts, and liturgical function from one source to another; the creation of new liturgical books after the medieval period; liturgical books printed in Europe and in other parts of the world; and the movement of liturgical books from one place to another. A Partnership Development grant from the Canadian government’s Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) has already assisted the building of infrastructure to facilitate the analysis of chant transmission using computational tools in tandem with existing national chant databases and digital repositories of chant manuscripts available online.

An important aspect of DACT is to analyse the contents of as many fragments as possible in an effort to better understand the context of each leaf (or group of leaves). Robust manuscript descriptions accompanying each fragment will provide the necessary information to group similar sources (by size, number of staves per side, type of notation, type of script, writing materials, etc.).

The DACT project is allied with Cantus: A Database for Latin Ecclesiastical Chant where complete inventories of chant fragments are being created. In addition to individual fragmented leaves of chant books found in libraries and private holdings both in Canada and around the world, two large collections of fragments have been identified for indexing in the Cantus Database: over 40 fragments in the McGill University Library, Rare Books and Special Collections (identified as “CDN-Mlr MS Medieval [shelfmark]”), and the “Bohn Fragment Collection” of the Stadtbibliothek Trier. The inventories in the Cantus Database will be delivered in the future through the side-by-side IIIF image and content viewer developed by the Cantus Ultimus project at McGill University.

A social media campaign (@DactF on Twitter) continues to attract the notice of the many individuals around the world who own a fragment (or fragments) in their private collections. Images of some of these cherished artefacts are already included in Fragmentarium, and Cantus inventories record their detailed contents. If we had several thousand more, might we be able to virtually reconstruct some dismantled chant manuscripts? It has already been demonstrated with the “Gottschalk antiphoner” (Cantus Database link: Many of the leaves have been found and identified, even though though they are scattered among numerous countries, and the presentation of their images together in Fragmentarium is a model case-study.

Show Documents for this Project