Carol A. Everest: General Editor
Dept. of English
The King's University College
9125-50 Street
Edmonton, Alberta T6B 2H3 Canada

Kevin P. Roddy
Medieval Studies / Information Technology
University of California (Davis)
Davis, California 95616-8685 U.S.A.

Caroline L. Falkner
Dept. of Classics
Queens University
Kingston, Ontario, K7L 3N6 Canada


Written in the mid thirteenth century, the Speculum maius of Vincent of Beauvais is the greatest and most comprehensive of all the encyclopedias generated in the Middle Ages. For many, it represents the starting-point of all investigations of medieval and renaissance learning and culture, and as such it provides insight into thinking that was the beginning of our own on topics ranging from history to ethics. Historical studies judge the Speculum maius to be "the outstanding work of the Middle Ages," of inestimable importance in providing us with "a repository of excerpts from some works which no longer survive" (R. Collison, Encyclopedias: Their History Throughout the Ages, Hafner, 1966, 60). The authoritative Dictionary of the Middle Ages likewise stresses its central importance:

This large encyclopedia mirrors the culture and thought of Scholastic society as it records a very comprehensive overview of all the classical and ecclesiastical knowledge and information available to late medieval man. (453b)

Forming the first volume of the Speculum maius, the Speculum naturale is composed of 32 books containing 3,718 chapters on a vast range of scientific, technological, and philosophic subjects from the nature of celestial beings to the properties of minerals and metals. Since it represented the most massive compilation of Classical and Middle Eastern knowledge retrievable until the modern era, it was the encyclopedia of choice for scientists throughout the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Unfortunately, modern-day medieval and renaissance scholars studying the characteristics of early science, of attitudes toward nature, and of classical and other influences on Western culture, have had no access to any sort of translation of the Speculum; indeed, even the Latin text is difficult to obtain. The most recent publication of the Speculum maius is the 1964 reprint of the 1624 Douai edition which is rare, expensive and now out of print. Scholars who read Latin therefore have difficulty obtaining the text, and in the absence of a dependable translation, the work will remain unknown to the even larger number of generalist scholars and students who would profit from its contents.

The Speculum naturale Translation Project seeks to redress this deficiency by providing a transcription of the Latin text, based upon the Douai version and an early incunabulum, together with an annotated translation with citations and illustrations. Focusing on five books chosen for their importance to medieval studies, the Pilot project is designed to test the feasibility of a full translation and transcription of the Speculum naturale. Targeted sections include: Book 8: Precious and Semi-Precious Stones (Lapidary); Book 15: Astronomy, Astrology, The Seasons, Temporal Divisions of the Liturgical Year; Book 28: Human Anatomy; Book 31: Human Reproduction; Book 32: Geography, World History. The completed project will be woven together through hypertext links that will facilitate both instruction and research in disciplines as diverse as Classics, Medieval and Renaissance Studies, Medieval Languages, Science, both Natural and Physical, Medicine, Theology, History, Philosophy, and Geography. Not an esoteric text confined to a few experts, the Speculum naturale contains valuable information for a large number of academics working in both the Humanities and the Sciences.

It is a conscious decision of the editorial board, however, not to attempt a new edition of Vincent's work. Consultation with a noted expert on the Speculum maius, Dr. Hans Voorbij of the University of Utrecht, confirms our reticence. In his study of Vincent of Beauvais (Het Speculum Historiale Van Vincent of Beauvais, 1994), Dr. Voorbij documents the extremely convoluted manuscript transmission of the Speculum maius; there are at least three lines of transmission, represented in some 30 full or partial manuscripts, and reliable information on the quality of their textual witness is unavailable. In his opinion, any attempt to choose a single manuscript source is doomed to failure, and a thorough re-editing of such a large work is the labor of a lifetime. The flexibility of the electronic text proposed in this project, however, assures that textual advance in the future of Vincent studies may be easily incorporated into the edition through periodic updates.


In the Vita Sancti Pauli primi eremitae, Saint Jerome says of his desert hero, "necessitatem in voluntatem vertit"--he turned what had been a necessity into something he wanted; the same could be said of the organizers of this project. The sheer size of the undertaking stipulated two decisions that, while not unprecedented, are as yet unusual in the field of translating and publishing: the project will involve the coordinated efforts of many scholars, and it will be distributed in hypertext format.

That a work of this critical importance to the history of medieval thought, to an understanding of the intellectual life of the Middle Ages, has remained untranslated up to now is testimony to its monumental challenge, a challenge that, the organizers agreed, could be met only by a cooperative team of scholars. The editors have therefore actively recruited some of the most highly respected researchers in their areas to translate or to oversee translations. It is now the clear understanding of all the participants that a cooperative venture of this sort is not just the only way that the Speculum will be translated, it is the best way. Only through extensive sharing of information and expertise will the many aspects of this work be accurately captured and promulgated.

These complex aspects offer an opportunity for a second innovative feature of this project: the publication of the Speculum as a hypertext document. Recent publishing experience has demonstrated that encyclopedias are among the best candidates for the hypertext medium, in that they by their very nature are cross-referential, are most effective when linked to illustrations and diagrams, and are best served by updates and additions as they occur. Again, necessity had a hand in this decision, since a published dual-language version of the Speculum would run to many thousands of pages, even without explanatory notes and images. Such a series of volumes would be prohibitively expensive to all but a few research libraries.

Beyond flexibility, multimedia allows a wide array of illustrations and diagrams taken from medieval sources. While there is much work to be done on this aspect of the project, negotiations are currently underway to obtain copyrights to the illustrations in certain incunabulae, notably at Cambridge University. The editors are particularly interested in Renaissance woodcuts which have the dual advantage of visual clarity (even on a small screen) and relatively modest storage requirements. The rationale for including illustrations is not entirely aesthetic. The editors believe that pictures can increase the clarity of the text, especially in the botanical and zoological sections where legendary plants and fabulous beasts are described. In the Book on the human body, anatomical diagrams will help clarify concepts which can become confusing to the modern reader, and it seems obvious to include medieval maps in the book on geography.

At the Annual Business Meeting of the Project at Kalamazoo in May of 1995, the editors and translators discussed the publication of the completed project. Although Ibuki Electronic Press of California have approached the editors regarding publication on CD-Rom, no definite arrangements with this firm have been made. The participants agreed that publication on the World Wide Web is a definite possibility, but instructed the Editorial Board to contact other publishers as well. Accordingly, the editors will be in contact with various large electronic publishing companies when a sufficient sample of material is available. During the discussion, it became apparent that many of those involved in the translation consider some form of printed copy to be desirable. The editors are therefore investigating the possibility of bringing out portions of the Speculum, translations and citations only, in inexpensive, paper-bound format, suitable for student use. The medical material in Books 28 and 31, for example, provides an obvious unit, as does the summary of world history in Book 32.

The Business Meeting also established the necessity for an Avisory Board, senior scholars who would be available for consultation and advice. The editors have contacted several experienced authorities in Medieval Studies and have begun to put together such a Board. Professor Alastair Minnis, University of York, Professor Hans Voorbij, University of Utrecht and Dr. Peter Binkley, University of Groningen have already agreed to serve in this capacity. Already Dr. Voorbij and Dr. Minnis have offered valuable suggestions regarding the configuration of the pilot project, and Dr. Binkley has informed the European encyclopedists of our proposal. The editors are currently seeking three other consultants, possibly scholars experienced in computing technology and those active in Vincent of Beauvais studies.


Establishing the Latin text for a work of this popularity would normally require many years, but the organizers have once again profited by the advice of Professor Voorbij. From the perspective of convenience, the organizers decided to use as their basic text the most widely available printed edition of the Speculum naturale, a facsimile of the 1624 Douai edition (Graz, 1964). At every juncture, however, the editors will correct the text against the superior Strasbourg edition of before 1477, which is available on microfilm. Dr. Voorbij agrees that the Douai version is a good choice but advises against comparing it to a manuscript source because the manuscript transmission is so complex. In an electronic communication dated April 14, 1994, he writes, "in my opinion, the choice of a manuscript for checking the Graz reprint carries the risk of a failure. In this situation, I prefer to work with an incunabulum, which is a **medieval** textual witness of the Speculum naturale as well. From my experience with all incunabula of the Speculum maius, I would suggest you to check the Graz reprint against the edition Straatsburg, Adolf Rusch, before April 5, 1477."


The original plan for this Project included volunteer translators, matched with well-known authorities in the various subject areas. This route has been revised in formulating the Pilot Project. Rather than depending entirely on volunteers, the editors have actively recruited experts to translate or to act as senior consultant on translations, all the while encouraging involvement by graduate students and new Doctoral graduates under the direction of an established expert. All senior consultants and many of the translators have published widely on the subject of their translation.


The guiding philosophy of the translation so far has been a faithful rendering of the text, with an emphasis on clarity. The Latin is moderately difficult, the largest impediment arising out of vocabulary rather than syntax, though in some cases, typographical errors in the Douai version cause problems. The scientific vocabulary in particular will require close attention so that an accurate rendering results.

In order to accomplish the collaboration expected within the group of translators, the organizers have insisted that all the participants subscribe to the Vincent List at Davis, California, in order to solicit and provide advice for each other, that they submit their translations at various stages of completion to the Speculum naturale central repository located on the Web, and that they consult the repository and the related archives to examine the translations of others. The archive will contain, in addition to the transcribed Latin text and various submitted translations, a number of indices and guides for the benefit of the editors and translators. A survey of the needs of the translators has begun, but given the expertise of the participants, it is not anticipated that extensive lemmatization will be necessary.

Specialized descriptive vocabulary, on the other hand, will present problems. In those cases, a more flexible and comprehensive notion of contextual environment may be required, beyond the association of the corresponding independent clauses (see section on Text-Encoding, below). To this end, a parsing program would provide syntactically- based associated terms; in this Dr. Kevin Roddy will be elaborating principles he first enunciated in 1986 (UNIX nroff / troff: A User's Guide). The editors wish to ensure a certain uniformity of approach while at the same time adjusting the guiding principles as the specific circumstances demand. Here, the Project follows the lead of the Christopher Columbus Project, directed by the late Fred Chiappelli of the University of California, Los Angeles.


The major work of organizing teams to transcribe, translate, and annotate is currently being co-ordinated by Dr. Everest, the General Editor of the project. Though many translators will have the resources at their disposal to transcribe the text (and indeed, a number already have), the organizers hope to be able to hire advanced undergraduate or graduate students to transcribe text for those who require it. Already, Books 28 and 32 have been transcribed by undergraduate employees, funded by small research grants from the King's University College through SSHRCC's program of Aid to Small Universities. Dr. Everest has supervised the transcription and has made it available to the translators of these Books. In addition, the King's University College designated Dr. Everest as supervisor of a shared full-time research assistant (summer, 1995), funded by the STEP program. Working half-time on the Project, this very capable senior undergraduate transcribed Book 32 as well as providing research and administrative support. Another small research grant (fall/winter 1995/96) has made it possible to continue his employment during the academic term at approximately 5 hours of service per week. The King's University College has been most generous in their funding of this Project, but it is a small institution with limited resources to finance research. It is the hope of the organizers that more substantial grants from the NEH in the United States (to assist Dr. Roddy in the computer-based aspects of the Project) and from SSHRCC in Canada will allow more student and graduate student assistance.

Throughout the transcription/translation process, Dr. Everest will monitor the progress of the translators. They will be encouraged to maintain close contact with others working on the Project through the Vincent Bulletin Board and through the materials deposited at the Web site (see section on Philosophy of Translation). When a section of translation or transcription is complete, it will be sent to Dr. Everest through the Internet or by the submission of computer diskettes. The mass of translations will be examined once again by Dr. Everest and Dr. Falkner and prepared for submission to Dr. Roddy. The transcribed text will be verified against the printed Douai version and the 1477 incunabulum. The translation of each book will be re-checked for correctness and consistency. Annotations and citations will be standardized and verified. This aspect of the project will be the most labor-intensive. Although Dr. Everest assumes final responsibility for the completed text, the organizers hope to hire an advanced graduate student or recent Doctoral graduate as a Research/Administrative Assistant to help with the many aspects of verification and administration that a large project will generate.

The translators, experts in their fields, will provide the best resource for the identification of Vincent's source material, and a bibliography of sources is envisioned for each Book. No provision for checking the accuracy of quotations / paraphrases is foreseen at this pont in the Project, although individual researchers may annotate sections with which they are familiar. What the Project will accomplish, however, is the establishment of an accessible dual- language version of the Speculum naturale, the identification of probable sources and the widespread availability which will make future research possible.


The once-thorny issue of text-encoding protocols has been largely solved, thanks to the successive appearances of SGML (Standard Generalised Markup Language), TEI (the recommendations of the Text- Encoding Initiative, as published in a series of fascicles), TEI "lite" (a compatible but less specific set of guidelines), and finally, HTML (Hypertext Markup Language). The standards set by the last three of these form the basis for almost all markup in the Humanities today, and the last of these, while not in its current version as amenable to the Humanities as TEI, promises in the future to include most features needed for the Vincent of Beauvais Translation Project, with the tremendous benefit of universal Internet access.

At the most recent meeting of the Association for Computing in the Humanities, Dr. Roddy consulted with Dr. C. Michael Sperberg-McQueen of the University of Illinois Computing Centre. Dr Sperberg-McQueen was in complete agreement that, for the present, the translators should be provided with copies of TEI "lite" with the full expectation that HTML versions will be produced when that markup language reaches maturity. Dr. Roddy, who is charged with the task of disseminating and monitoring the markup of translations, has had extensive experience with text markup, having produced in his editorial capacity some thirty books in almost as many formats; the author of UNIX nroff/troff: A User's Guide, he is also an expert in the UNIX system, which forms the basis of Internet communication, and serves as a computer lingua franca between otherwise incompatible systems.

The most critical feature of text markup for the Vincent project is establishing the various reference linkages that humanities scholars in particular expect: 1) the translation will be linked, independent clause by independent clause, to its Latin text; 2) specific terms, phrases, clauses and other logical units will be linked to explanatory notes; 3) texts that Vincent has cited from other sources will be more fully (or, when appropriate and possible, correctly) identified; 4) emendations to the Latin text will be noted. A single commentary may, of course, physically conjoin the last three items for the convenience of the user; nevertheless separate links will be maintained for each in order to create subject, source and editorial finding-aids. Dr. Roddy has generated such automatic indices for a number of projects, and he will advise the translating teams on procedures in general and specific cases.


The organizers have begun to assign texts and to generate the style sheet which will stipulate the ASCII codes that the translators will enter in order to signal notes, images, authorities, and the like. Transcription of the Latin text has already begun, and translation teams for the Pilot Project have started their major work. We expect completed transcription and translations to begin arriving by June of 1996 and to continue throughout the 1996-97 academic year. The Davis- based Bulletin Board (Listserv) is already in operation. When the text arrives from the translating teams, the editorial board will commence the process of verification and proofing, and Dr. Roddy will begin work on the creation of indices, glossaries, and concordances. This process will continue into the Summer of 1998. We anticipate electronic publication sometime early in 1999. Our target for print copy (Books on Medicine and on World History) is the summer of 1999.

The timeline just described covers the Pilot Project. While this phase of the overall undertaking is in progress, the editors will be organizing the next phase, dependent upon funding.


The final product envisioned for this translation is in flux at present. There is provision for a printed version, as decided at the Kalamazoo Business Meeting of the translators. If an agreement with a publisher is reached, there will be a CD-ROM version for those scholars and institutions that have a CD-ROM device, and a floppy disk version for others. Though currently the editors are working only creating only in a DOS and Windows environment, by the anticipated time of distribution we expect that there will be a Macintosh version as well. The CD-ROM will contain the text, translation, notes, links and software needed to perform the usual Boolean searches, in-text analyses, word-frequency counts, and the other features that scholars expect from multimedia. Naturally, there will be "cut and paste" options as well, with options for the addition or replication of notes, biographies, bibliographies, images, and the like.

The editors and participating scholars have agreed that interested individuals will have the opportunity to order material in different formats and in various quantities on a commensurate scale, with a basic dual-language annotated version of specific books for a modest cost. The Web site mentioned earlier, though at present designed for the convenience of those engaged in translation, could easily serve as an inexpensive central resource for those needing a basic reference. At the request of the translating team and the Board of Directors, the editors are actively researching possibilities for various methods of publication.


As an undertaking in Humanities computing, the Speculum naturale Translation Project is both the continuation and culmination of a long series of ambitious, urgently needed enterprises stretching back to the Index Thomisticus of Roberto Busa, S.J. They are characterized by a wide range of disciplinary approaches, a core of dedicated scholars aided by the larger academic community and the special virtues of computer technology. Not too many years ago, this Project would have been almost impossible, certainly difficult to the point of discouragement and beyond the capacities of all but a few organizations and fewer individuals. The massive challenge of the endeavor remains, but with the aid of powerful and responsive tools, it is now in the realm of the possible.

Carol A. Everest
The King's University College