Success Story
Published: 3 weeks ago

Mapping Medieval Vienna: The digital edition of historical land registers supported by Transkribus

A central goal of the research project “Mapping Medieval Vienna” is to make the Viennese land registers of the 15th century available to the public. This is because the land register entries contain a great deal of information that is highly relevant to the economic and social history of the late Middle Ages. From the middle of the 14th century, after the Viennese Council had come into possession of the city’s land rights, meticulous records were kept of all house transactions, which means that both the prices of the houses and detailed information on their location as well as on their inhabitants have been handed down.

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This bundle of information makes it possible to draw a very concrete picture of the social topography of the city of Vienna. For example, it is possible to locate the properties mentioned in the land registers, so that the exact neighbourhood conditions in individual streets can be reconstructed and even georeferenced. It is also possible to take a closer look at the financial mechanisms of the housing market or to analyse the actual living conditions in the medieval houses.

So far, such aspects could only be partially investigated, since due to the sheer mass of material, only the land registers of the years from 1368 to 1419 were published in the form of registers. Thanks to the HTR technology of Transkribus, however, we are now able to publish a selection of complete land registers in a digital edition. In the preliminary stages of the project, we were able to train an initial model that reliably recognises the late Gothic cursive of the various Viennese scribes by transcribing about 30 folios from one of the land registers. This base model is used for the land registers that have been selected for editing in order to generate a raw version of the transcription at the push of a button, which only needs to be checked and slightly normalised with little effort. Due to the constantly growing amount of training material, the base model is also continuously being expanded, making it more and more accurate. Currently, the character error rate (CER) is below the 2% mark.

In this way, Transkribus makes a significant contribution to enabling transcription to be completed in the shortest possible time. In a second decisive step, the relevant text information is also marked up according to the TEI/XML standard. Thus, a graph database can be built up in which all persons, institutions, properties and prizes will be recorded. Transcription and mark-up will ultimately serve as the basis for the online edition of the sources. This will enable users to view the land registers digitally and access the database behind them.

The project is supported by the German Research Foundation (DFG) and is based at the Freie Universität Berlin in the Department of Medieval History with a focus on the High and Late Middle Ages. Further information can be found at: https://www.geschkult.fu-berlin.de/e/fmi/bereiche/mittelalter/ab_ertl/Mapping-Vienna.html    

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