Does chemistry have anything to do with history? What about computer science? It might not seem there is any relationship between these areas at first glance. Several UMKC professors have made this interdisciplinary jump, however, to decipher and analyze medieval manuscripts in a new way.
The group of professors are using modern digital technology to gain new insights into rare documents made over 500 years ago.
The project, in general terms, is fairly simple – create a digital analysis of the papers at hand. However, the process itself is quite complex. Chemistry expertise is needed to look at the intricate dyes and parchment, and computer science techniques are used to analyze the challenging data involved. History and English professors then help provide meaning and perspective to the actual content of the text.
The work becomes more challenging because documents are extremely fragile, requiring delicate and precise handling.
Funding came from a few sources, including the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). Through the NEH, the project recently received over $300,000 in grant funding.
Professor Oyler of the chemistry department said that the project has enjoyed large success so far.
“Actually, we have been driving this project for a number of years now and we seem to be getting pretty steady publicity and funding,” Oyler said.
Professor Virginia Blanton praised one of her fellow professor’s efforts to secure money for the project.
“The other aspect that helps a great deal is that Dr. Rydberg-Cox has a known track record in successful grant funding and project competition,” Blanton said.
The professors noted that they enjoyed the interdisciplinary nature of the project.
“I even considered becoming an English major in college,” Oyler said.
Professor Zhu Li of the Computer Science Department expounded on the sentiment.
“I do, I am a History buff, an avid reader of WWII military history,” Li said.
Li also enjoyed the interaction of technology and history.
“Technology, like auto speech recognition, sentiment analysis, and NLP (neuro-linguistic programming), will allow history researchers to discover many unknowns and bust many myths,” Li said. “Computational innovations these days opens up more possibilities for history research.”