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to capture the current state of knowledge, to polemicize with its authors and with peers, to remove what was seen as outdated, or to enhance what was seen as deficient.
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Manuscript database

Between 2018 and 2021, our project team collected data about the surviving early medieval codices transmitting the Etymologiae and their notable innovative features. Up until now, we account for almost 500 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.

Paris, BnF, Lat. 7585, fol. 63r
Digital edition of glosses to the Etymologiae

Today, about 70 pre-1200 manuscripts attest to the glossing of the Etymologiae in the early Middle Ages. They contain more than 7,000 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 digitally edited them using the principles of network analysis.


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

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
Project publications

Since 2018, the project team produced a number of scholarly publications (journal articles, volume contributions) and digital outputs (e.g., datasheets, presentation recordings, and visualizations) that are freely available via this website.

Einsiedeln, Stiftsbibliothek, MS 360, fol. 48v

One of the focuses of the project were various innovations that occurred in the text of the Etymologiae. As the project database offers but a limited space to discuss them in detail, we decided to create a more robust resource for their treatment – the EtymoWiki. The EtymoWiki remains a work in progress, but hopefully will be filled with short articles, in which various notable innovative components such as diagrams, textual interpolations, and patchwork collections can be given their due.

St. Gallen, Stiftsbibliothek, MS 231, p. 341