MESA Launches!

We are pleased to announce that MESA is live:

Read about MESA, click through to the Advanced Search, create an account, add some tags, join in (or start) a discussion!

Many thanks to the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation for funding, to the MESA Steering Committee for steering us through the implementation process, to our project partners for agreeing to have their projects and collections included in the first iteration of MESA, and to all the medievalists who have expressed support and interest through the last year.

Any comments, thoughts, or criticism, please contact us at

Most Sincerely,

Tim Stinson and Dot Porter, MESA co-directors

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MESA Required and Recommended Fields

This post lists all MESA fields, required and not required, and describes their format and purpose in the system. This list should be useful for those interested in having their projects included in the MESA federation.

Required Fields


CUSTOM NAMESPACE actually consists of two parts – the Custom namespace and rdf:about

Custom namespace is a short code to identify the project. It is formatted as two pieces of text separated by a colon. The text before the colon identifies the main project or collection; the text after the colon identifies the collection or subcollection.



rdf:about is a URI, a code in the format of a URL that uniquely identifies the record. Should not be the same as the URL pointing to the object. Based on a pattern incorporating a unique identifier for the object.

examples: (for a manuscript) (for an illustration) (for a text)


A shorthand reference to the contributing project or collection. Single word (no spaces)




Title of the object. Format will depend on the type of object, and its context. Titles may be created by combining fields from the source metadata.


Laylá and Majnūn reunited in the wilderness, W.605, fol. 100a (Walters)
Pierre Alexandre, Praelectiones de matrimonio (Parker)
Wing, right (fragment of a diptych), 1 register, 1 arch across (plaquette) (Courtauld)
Cologny, Fondation Martin Bodmer, Cod. Bodmer 48 : Chaucer, Canterbury Tales (to l. 1061) (e-codices)


A value (may be more than one) to describe the medium or format of an object, drawn from a controlled list

Available Type Values
Interactive Resource
Moving Image
Physical Object
Still Image


Used to identify individuals or institutions involved in the creation of an object. There may be multiple roles identified.



There is a complete list on the Collex Wiki.


Identifies disciplines that may be interested in the object. Drawn from a controlled list.


Manuscript Studies
Religious Studies

There is a complete list on the Collex Wiki.


Basic descriptive genre for the object. Drawn from a controlled list.


Visual Art

There is a complete list on the Collex Wiki.


MESA prefers both a label and a machine-readable date, although only one is required.

Labels can be any human-readable date, and will be displayed in MESA.


14th century
not before 1475
c. 1100

Machine-readable dates must be either

  • a four-digit year, e.g. “1425” or “0850”
  • two four-digit years, separated by a comma, indicating a span of time e.g. “1425,1450”
  • three digits followed by “u”, indicating a decade, e.g. “145u”
  • two digits followed by “uu”, indicating a century, e.g. “08uu”

Machine-readable dates are not displayed, but are used in MESA for searching. If no machine-readable date is provided, the object will not be find-able through a date search.


This is the most important field in MESA: the field that contains the URL that points from MESA to the digital object described in the record. Preferably this would be a PURL or Handle (that is, a URL that will never change, and can always be guaranteed to point to the same object no matter what happens to the system storing that object), but it should at least be a URL.



Not required, but recommended

MESA requires using the language codes from the ISO 639-2 Language Code List. The content of dc:language may be either from the first column (ISO 639-2 Code), the third column (English name of Language), or the fourth column (French name of Language).


French, Middle (ca.1400-1600)



Not required, but recommended
A statement of any changes in ownership and custody of the object since its creation that are significant for its authenticity, integrity, and interpretation. Includes origin.



Old shelf mark on the tail edge reading 2987


Is the digital version of the object “free”, i.e. in the public domain or released under an open access license? Yes or No.


Not required, but recommended

Data in this field will be available for full-text searching in MESA.

You can either point (using a URL) to a plain text (not encoded) transcription or description located somewhere on a web server, or place that plain text in the FULL TEXT field

MESA has many examples of FULL TEXT being used in different ways:

  • incipit and explicit only (St. Gall)
  • transcription of manuscript (Rose)
  • full manuscript description (Walters, DIAMM)
  • keywords, various description information (Courtauld)


Not required, but recommended

Points to the web-accessible, full-size digital image of the object.

Providing IMAGE enables the collection to be used in the Exhibit Builder area of Collex.


Not required, but recommended

Points to the web-accessible, thumbnail-sized digital image of the object.

Providing THUMBNAIL means a small version of the object will be visible for browse and search results

For those projects that are unable to provide thumbnail images of objects, we use a logo (either a project logo – BL, Courtauld – or the MESA logo)


The federation is MESA

Not Required


An alternative title, for example a nickname for a manuscript when the official title is provided in TITLE.


Old English Illustrated Hexateuch (when TITLE is BL Cotton Claudius B iv.)


Title of the larger work, resource, or collection of which the present object takes part. Can be used for the title of a journal, anthology, book, online collection, etc.

Rarely (if ever) used in MESA. Could be used to identify the name of the project, if it were different from the name of the archive.


Subject keywords that can be used for searching. Not currently displayed. May be populated from a project’s existing keyword lists. This is a more formal alternative to FULL TEXT SEARCH described below


Points to the web-accessible source code for the data in XML format.

Use for example if you have a TEI-XML encoded manuscript description available in source



Points to the web-accessible source code for the data in HTML format.

Use for example if you have an HTML version of a manuscript description

Do not use if it is the same as the object you are pointing to


(Rarely used in MESA)


Not required

Was the FULL TEXT created using OCR? Yes or No. (Not used so far in MESA)


Not required

Provides the value of CUSTOM NAMESPACE rdf:about (the unique identifier of the record) for the record that the current record is a child of. For example, a record describing an illustration for a manuscript would point to the unique identifier for the record of the manuscript.


Not required

Provides the value of CUSTOM NAMESPACE rdf:about (the unique identifier of the record) for the record or records that are children of the current record. For example, a record describing a manuscript would point to the unique identifier for records describing illustrations contained in the manuscript, or texts contained in the manuscripts.

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Workshop at Kzoo

MESA is sponsoring a workshop, led by Dot Porter and Tim Stinson, at the International Congress on Medieval Studies in Kalamazoo, MI. The workshop is scheduled for Friday, May 10, 10am, Waldo Library Classroom A. This room is a computer lab. No registration is required, just come if you are interested in learning more about MESA.

In this workshop, we’ll do three things:

First, we’ll demonstrate MESA’s functionality and use. This will answer the most basic question: What is MESA, and what can it be used for? This part of the workshop will be useful both for a generally interested audience of scholars, and for individuals and groups who may be interested in having their projects in MESA.

Next, we’ll practice using MESA for research purposes. This will be the most hands-on part of the workshop, and we encourage participants to come ready to search, comment, and perhaps even to start to build scholarship in the workshop.

Finally, we’ll present background on how federating projects into MESA actually works. This part of the workshop is aimed particularly at individuals and groups who may be interested in having their projects in MESA, although others may be interested to learn about the process. This will involve some technical discussion and in-workshop coding examples. Workshop attendees representing projects are invited to bring project metadata with them, and we will work on extracting the RDF metadata required by MESA during the workshop. If you are interested in having your project used as an in-workshop example, please email to express interest.


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MESA is now on Facebook

MESA has gone social! Like us on Facebook.

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While we are waiting…

The MESA team is hard at work indexing the first sets of metadata into the system! The first set includes manuscripts from e-Codices, Parker on the Web, and the Walters Art Museum, plus publications from the medieval collections from InteLex (including the works of Peter Abelard, Saint Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, and others). By the time we launch in early 2013, we’ll have additional collections in as well. We have also been working, with the support and advice of our Steering Committee, on refinements to the search facility that should serve to make it more “medievalist friendly” than the search interface currently used in NINES and 18thConnect (our partner nodes in the Advanced Research Consortium).

While we are waiting for that, we would like to share a presentation by MESA co-director Dot Porter, “Medievalists’ Use of Digital Resources and the Development of MESA“. Dot first presented this as a keynote at the European Summer School in Digital Humanities in Leipzig, Germany, July 2012, and this is a recording of the same presentation, presented in the Digital Library Brown Bag series at Indiana University Bloomington.


The Medieval Electronic Scholarly Alliance (MESA) is a federated international community of scholars, project, institutions, and organizations engaged in digital scholarship within the field of medieval studies. Funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, MESA seeks both to provide a community for those engaged in digital medieval studies and to meet emerging needs of this community, including making recommendations on technological and scholarly standards for electronic scholarship, the aggregation of data, and the ability to discover and repurpose this data.

This presentation will focus on the discovery aspect of MESA, and how it might serve the non-digital medievalist who may nevertheless be interested in finding and using digital resources. Starting with a history of medievalists and their interactions with digital technology as told through three data sets (the International Congress on Medieval Studies (first held in 1962), (a digital project database in the UK, sponsored by JISC and the Arts & Humanities Research Council), and two surveys, from 2002 and 2011, that looked specifically at medievalists’ use of digital resources), I will draw out some potential issues that this history has for the current developers of digital resources for medievalists, and investigate how MESA might serve to address these issues.

The full recording (audio + screen) is here:

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Converting into RDF, and full-text indexing

I’d like to provide a bit more detail regarding two important elements of MESA: the resources available to assist projects in converting their metadata into the MESA-specified RDF, and information on indexing full-text to be included for searching in MESA.

Converting into RDF

In addition to the XSLT example files on the Collex wiki, Jeffrey Witt, editor of the Petrus Plaoul Electronic Critical Edition, one of the MESA partner projects, has created a Ruby script to automate creation of his project’s RDF files. It is tailored to suit the Petrus Plaoul project, but is customizable to other locations and other types of data (particularly TEI). The Ruby script is available at, and Dr. Witt has generously offered to help others customize it – you can contact him at

If you are developing scripts or tools for generating MESA-specified RDF and you would like to share them with other partner projects, please let us know and we will post them on the MESA page of the Collex Wiki.

Indexing Full Text

If you would like to include full-text for any item, to make it available for searching in the MESA interface, you will need to use <collex:text> in your RDF. Either 1) the @rdf:resource attribute may point to a URL to a web-accessible, plain text transcription of the object, or 2) plain text may be included as the content for <collex:text>. The plain-text is only included for indexing purposes. When a record is found via a full-text search, the user will need to follow the link to the source website in order to view the full-text.

It is important to note that <collex:text> may only appear once in an RDF file. We expect that there will be many instances where a single object may have multiple textual instances attached to it, for example, a manuscript with a diplomatic transcription, normalized transcription, and description. In order for all three texts to be available for searching, you would need to create one RDF file for each one. The fields <collex:source_xml> and <collex:source_html> would be used to point to the encoded source for the texts. Although they are not required, we recommend that projects use <dcterms:hasPart> and <dcterms:isPartOf> to link together the various RDF records describing different pieces of a single object.

Please comment here, or contact us, if you have questions relating to RDF generation, full-text indexing, or anything else relating to MESA.

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MESA metadata guidelines now available

The requirements for metadata, intended for projects federated by MESA, are now available on the ARC wiki. ARC is Advanced Research Consortium, the umbrella organization for MESA and sister “nodes” NINES, 18thConnect, REKn, and ModNets.

Metadata in MESA, as in the other ARC nodes, is based on a series of fields, represented in a standard format called the Resource Description Framework, or RDF.

The standard guidelines for ARC RDF are described here:

The requirements and recommendations for MESA, where they differ from the standard guidelines, are here:

Sample XSLT (designed to output RDF from the TEI manuscript description element), plus a sample RDF file, is here:

We’ll be bringing in our first twelve projects through early 2013. During the intervening time, we’ll be refining our policies and procedures for bringing in new projects and collections. If you are interested in joining MESA next year, keep your eyes here and in the meantime familiarize yourself with the specifications. Questions or comments? Post them here!

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Welcome to MESA blog!

Today was our PR blitz, so I hope that will draw some folks to see the MESA blog. Please read About MESA and take a look at our FAQ. If you have questions that aren’t answered there, leave a comment and we’ll do our best to answer.

Although we have our initial twelve resources to be included in the MESA federation all lined up, we’ve already started compiling a list of resources (projects, editions, collections, what-have-you) that we’d like to include. If you have a favorite, please let us know either in a comment here or via email.

I aim to update the blog regularly, so please come back soon to see what we are up to. And remember we’ll be launching at the end of 2012!

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MESA has been funded!

We are very pleased to announce that, following a one-year planning grant, the Mellon Foundation has awarded the Medieval Electronic Scholarly Alliance a three-year implementation grant.

MESA serves two related purposes: to develop a federation of digital medieval resources, and to provide recommendations for technological and scholarly standards for electronic scholarship in all areas of medieval studies. MESA is a federation both in the sense of a community – of scholars, librarians, and students developing and using digital resources – and as a website that federates disparate collections and projects. The website will provide a search across various types of resources spanning the disciplines, geographical areas, and temporal spans that make up the Middle Ages, in the broadest sense.

During the second half of 2012, we will be loading the first group of 12 resources into the MESA website. The site will launch with those resources in late 2012. At the same time we will be developing our procedures and policies for including other resources in the site. We have already started compiling a list of projects and collections that we would like to include in MESA in the second phase of the project (after the initial launch). If you have a project that you would like to see included in MESA, please let us know!

MESA co-directors:

Timothy Stinson, North Carolina State University
Dot Porter, Indiana University Bloomington

See the press release on the NCSU Blog:

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