Innovating Knowledge: Isidore’s Etymologiae in the Carolingian Period

Innovating Knowledge intends to map and study the Carolingian intellectual networks and to examine the dynamics of innovation by using as a proxy the Etymologiae of Isidore of Seville. The Etymologiae was a highly dynamic text, undergoing a process of what may be termed ‘wikipedization’. The ninth-century users of this originally seventh-century encyclopedia felt free to appropriate the text as they saw fitting, rewriting it in order to capture the current state of knowledge, to polemicize with its authors and with peers, to remove what was seen as outdated, or to enhance what was seen as deficient.
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Since 2018, our project team has been collecting data about the surviving early medieval codices transmitting the Etymologiae and their notable innovative features. Up until now, we account for over 450 manuscripts and fragments. We present these manuscripts in an interactive database, hoping that it will serve as a dynamic substitute for a printed catalogue. We are also looking into ways how to transform the database-contained data into a print-friendly e-catalogue in the future.

Einsiedeln, Stiftsbibliothek, MS 360, fol. 48v
Digital edition

One of the most important early medieval innovations concerning the Etymologiae was the annotation of this text. Today, about 70 pre-1200 manuscripts attest to the glossing of the Etymologiae in the early Middle Ages. They contain more than 6,500 glosses. These glosses predominantly appear in the first of the twenty books of Isidore’s encyclopaedia dedicated to the grammatica. To study the diffusion patterns of these glosses, the project team decided to digitally edit them and study them further using the principles of network analysis.


University of Pennsylvania, Lawrence J. Schoenberg Collection, MS 184, fol. 1r

One of the project’s themes is the diffusion of innovations and network analysis as a method to study them. For this reason, our project team organized a conference dealing with the use of network analysis in manuscript studies in October 2020. The results of this conference are currently being prepared for publication as a special issue of the Journal of the Historical Network Research.

Zofingen, Stadtsbibliothek, Pa 32, fol. 210v