Wednesday, June 11, 2008




Directed by

Michael Gervers, PhD

University of Toronto

For several decades, the DEEDS Project has had as its major research objective the development of a computer program to provide chronological context for undated English private charters issued after the Norman Conquest in 1066 and before the reign of Edward II in 1307. During this period, approximately 95% of these documents were promulgated without dates. Only after the start of the 14th century was internal dating regularly applied to conveyances. The program which has been developed, and is now available on line, produces a date based on the comparison of word-strings in the test document with similar word-strings in a database of 10,000 dated charters.

We would like to invite you to test this program using Latin texts from the period. You will find the site at:

Once at the home page, click on "Go" at the bottom centre. Paste your document to be dated in the empty rectangle and click on "next". If you wish, edit your text. This entails exchanging personal or place name with the letter "P" (& note also what appears under "DOCUM" on the home page). Continue to click "next" and finally "Date it". The result will appear in Roman numerals in the upper left of your screen, and in Arabic numerals at the lower right.

Generally speaking, these machine-generated dates provide accuracy within ± 10 years about 65% of the time. To bring the remaining 35% in line, we will need to develop additional algorithms.

The statistical background for the program was developed by Professor Andrey Feuerverger of the Department of Statistics, and his PhD student, Gelila Tilahun. The dating program, and the website, were created by Rodolfo Fiallos of the DEEDS Project.

Based on tests using the dated documents in the DEEDS corpus, the program can provide reasonable accuracy from about 1160; before that time there are very few dated documents available to serve as comparative material. We are always looking for documents to add to the database, especially for the period 1066 to 1200, and would welcome examples from sources other than those we have already searched (about
190 printed sources up to this point). In fact, our efforts would benefit greatly from the collaboration of interested colleagues, both in providing us with the texts of transcribed documents on the one hand, and in testing the dating program with them on the other.

We also have a search engine which provides access to the content of the 10,000 documents in the manner of a concordance. By this means, the database is fully searchable, and each column can be arranged in alphabetical or numeric order by clicking at the top of the column:

Click on Medieval Latin Charters > Search

Place a word or word-string into the "Query" box. Click on the bullet "Context". Enter the no. of words you would like to find at either end of your chosen string. Click on "Execute".

This is a beta program. We have worked long and hard to develop it, while at the same time knowing that there is always room for greater accuracy and improvement. We hope you will find it useful and that you will send us your reactions.

Michael Gervers

Rodolfo Fiallos

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