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Héloise (European Network on Digital Academic History) Workshop in Pécs (31 August 2023) – Report by Gergely Kiss and István Kovács

A unique workshop discussion was organised by the Centenary Programme Management Committee of the University of Pécs, the Department of Medieval and Early Modern History of the University of Pécs, the Working Committee on Church History of the Pécs Regional Committee II of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences and Héloise (European Network on Digital Academic History). The event took place in the Lajos Tigyi Hall of the building Pécs Regional Committee of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences on 31 August 2023.

The participants of the workshop were welcomed by Márta Font, Professor Emeritus of the PTE BTK, who in her opening remarks underlined the importance of the current forum for professional discussion and the genre in general. According to Professor Márta, the event, which grew out of an idea by Bálint Gergely Kiss (Professor, Department of Medieval and Early Modern Studies, University of Pécs), offers a great opportunity for researchers involved in similar research projects to share their methodological and scientific discoveries on a common platform.

The first paper of the event was given by Jean-Philippe Genet (Laboratoire de Médievistique Occidentale de Paris /LAMOP/ – Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne). In his presentation in French, the professor described the founding of the Paris schools and their origins. Among the many interesting findings, it is noteworthy that less than half of the approximately 2500 students identified between 1160 and 1300 can be proven to have been Parisians. Further identification of about a third of the students is not possible because of the lack of sources.

The second speaker, Thierry Kouamé (Centre Lucien Febvre – Université de Franche-Comté, Besançon), in his paper on the Studium Parisiense database, pointed out that the database of Parisian schools and university students contains the data of more than 23,000 individuals. In the present lecture, he described, using the terminology of the time, the nature of the links between masters and students, illustrating the limits imposed by the quality of the source database.

In the final lecture of the first session, Kaspar Gubler (University of Bern – Repertorium Academicum /REPAC/) presented a research project on the creation of a prosopographical database of students at universities founded in the German-Roman Empire. The focus of the paper was on students from Hungary who were included in the Repertorium Academicum Germanicum. The database contains about 400,000 biographical data on some 62,000 individuals, allowing the separation of nearly 24,000 place names or institution names. The speaker presented the database, which is based on the “Nodegoat” system, demonstrating the potential of this digital database for future research.

The opening lecture of the second session was given by Bálint Gergely Kiss and Péter Báling (Department of Medieval and Early Modern History, University of Pécs), leader and researcher of the DeLegatOnline project, who aimed to collect the names of papal envoys who were commissioned to the Kingdom of Hungary between the 11th and 14th centuries. The researchers will make use of any information on the envoys. This will make it possible to create a ‘personal datasheet’ which will reconstruct as fully as possible not only the identity of each papal legate, but also their family or kinship ties. The interactive interface is freely searchable, once registered, and provides useful information for research into the papal envoys who played a role in medieval Hungarian history.

László Szögi (HUN-REN-Eötvös Loránd University, University History Research Group, project leader) presented the project aimed at collecting Hungarian university peregrines and the main research results achieved so far. The number of medieval students dating from the Árpád period increased significantly over time, a trend that was not interrupted by the catastrophic defeat of the medieval Hungarian kingdom at Mohács (1526). Some 273,000 records covering some 50,000 individuals were collected in the period of the study, which stretched up to 1850. The next stage of the project will be to compile a data archive of the Peregrines between 1850 and 1918. The scale of the research is illustrated by the need to comb through higher education institutions in some 20 countries, compared to the previous period. Accordingly, the volume of data that will be compiled in this study is also expected to be several times larger than in the past.

Péter Haraszti-Szabó (HUN-REN-Eötvös Loránd University, University History Research Group, research fellow) presented the resources available to researchers on the peregrinatio academica of the medieval Kingdom of Hungary and gave an insight into the historiographical characteristics of the topic. The paper pointed out that there are currently about 13,000 known individuals who enrolled in a contemporary university between 1100 and 1526. The post-university careers of about a fifth of them are currently known, but this figure is likely to improve as systematic research progresses. In addition to the approximately 200,000 medieval documentary sources available, 90% of manuscripts and books from the period were lost or destroyed during the Ottoman period. As the research progresses, the team will also examine the proportion of medieval peregrinatio academica that affected which social groups, particularly the nobility, in the medieval period.

Continuing the series of presentations on the history of the university, Márta Font shared her researche results on the history of the first Hungarian university. King Louis I (the Great, 1342–1382) of Hungary, as well as the Bishops of Pécs, William of Koppenbach and Valentine of Alsán, were among the founders of the university. The professor presented the establishment of the studium generale of Pécs not as an isolated event, but as an important piece of the mosaic of the Central European university founding trend (Prague – 1348, Cracow – 1364, Vienna – 1365, Pécs – 1367). In the second half of the paper, the focus was on the two-fold founding of the University of Óbuda and the University of Pozsony, founded in 1472. In conclusion, Márta Font evaluated the founding of the Hungarian universities and the reasons for the failure of the founding attempts.

After the presentations, which included medieval and early modern historical aspects, István Lengvári, Director of the Archives of the University of Pécs, and Róbert Acél, Chief Archivist gave a presentation on the process of founding the University Archives, the content and significance of the volumes already published, and the difficulties of preparing the next databases. István Lengvári pointed out that although the research results are available for now in Hungarian, the aim for the future is to publish the data in English as well. Róbert Acél emphasised that the IT department has played a major role in the creation of the database, which now provides an online, transparent and searchable browsing tool for professionals and the general public.

Stefania Zucchini (University of Perugia) continued the session with a presentation on the results achieved so far and the future plans of the research project Onomasticon, Prosopografia dell’Università degli Studi di Perugia. The database was launched on the 700th anniversary of the founding of the University of Perugia, initially in a working group of a few researchers, joined Heloïse in 2011 and in 2015 the database system was restructured. The most important change is that, while between 2008 and 2015 the data collection was limited to professors of the university, since the reorganisation the scope of the data collection has been extended to include medieval students of the university, and now covers maps and various graphs.  

Finally, Geert Kessel and Pim van Bree demonstrated the open source software “Nodegoat”. The success of “Nodegoat” is illustrated by the fact that some 2,500 colleagues from 160 institutions have already used it for their historical research. A major advantage of the software is that it provides a hierarchical structure of persons and related data, making the large amount of data stored in the database easy to understand. As an example, the lecturers mentioned the fact that the database summarising persons shows individuals attended which universities and, most importantly, with whom they were students in the same institution at the same time. This makes it possible to trace with whom a person met during his studies, with whom he may have built up a relationship, etc. The lecturers explained that transparent, smooth database management is essential for modern data-driven research, which concentrates all the tools needed for historical research (data repositories, chronological data, maps, etc.) in one user interface.

In his closing remarks, Jean-Philippe Genet praised the event in Pécs and its promoter for creating a forum for the methodological and content coordination of the databases created by the research groups working under the framework of Héloïse and operating in parallel. As the leader of this international collaboration, he has raised awareness of the importance of digitisation and database building, which is not only an opportunity but also a challenge for historians in the 21st century. 

Photos: Bálint Bandi

Hungarian version of the report: