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Medieval Memoria Online

2.3 The information in the database

The necessity of a description standard of its own

Over the past decades description standards have been developed for describing various types of sources (paintings, written sources) that have gained international recognition as fixed standards. Overviews of these standards (such as CDWA for works of art and EAD for archival materials) register what should be described and how this is to be done.

There are clear advantages to standards in that they facilitate the exchange of data between researchers and they minimise the risk of confusion about contents and terminology.

The existing description standards however proved unsuitable for the MeMO database, because they primarily register basic information that is important for all kinds of research. They do not suffice for a database that has been devised for a specific field of research such as memoria which presents specific research questions.

For this reason the MeMO project team collaborated with an international group of experts to devise a targeted description standard called Medieval Memoria Online Description Standard (MeMO DS). Due to the complexity of the source materials, MeMO DS comprises two different sets of descriptive elements: one set for the objects and one for the texts. Each consists of an element set and the accompanying definitions. An additional description standard was developed for the institutions from which the sources originated.

MeMO DS then formed the basis for a data model that was employed to develop the MeMO database.

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The MeMO database

The MeMO database contains a large number of description fields with various search possibilities. Besides general information on type, outward appearance, physical state and images and texts that can be found on the objects or in the text carriers, the database also contains a number of fields that may help the user gain insight into the functions of the objects and texts.

In research into objects with a memorial function it is important to distinguish between the commemorated party and the commissioning party, because these are not necessarily the same. Hence the separate description fields for these two separate groups. Moreover for the objects there are a number of description fields for descriptions of persons. These provide information on the societal status and the functions of the commissioning persons, for instance, but also on persons who are mentioned only in passing, such as a spouse or the lord whom the commemorated person served. All these data can provide more insight into how people presented themselves and into the intentions of the parties involved. See also 1.2 Commemoration and identity.

As to text carriers, academic research has demonstrated over the past two decades that the overall body of texts in a manuscript can provide insight into the functions of the separate texts. For this reason tables of contents of the text carriers have been included, showing at a glance the context in which certain texts were placed, see MeMO text carrier ID 184. Codicological aspects are also mentioned, such as the production of the manuscript: was it intended to be a single manuscripts containing various types of texts, or does it consist of a number of already existing manuscripts that were conjoined into one manuscript?