Former Professor Launches Digital Index of Middle English Verse

“Not intending to yelp, but my fere is an egleche berb. Because of him, this vere we are sicker than we have ever been from the rice.”

Not fluent in Middle English of the 13th to 15th centuries? Contemporary readers have a new utensil for deciphering medieval manuscripts — the Digital Index of Middle English Verse.

And for scholars, the Web-based searchable index is expected to be an invaluable tool to conduct research about surviving Middle English verse.

The DIMEV provides transcriptions of “the first two and last two lines of every witness to every scrap of Middle English verse,” as well as a searchable database and lists of early printed books and inscriptions, say the index developers, including Linne Mooney, a former University of Maine faculty member.

The project began in 1995 when Mooney, then a UMaine associate professor of English, received a National Endowment for the Humanities grant to develop the index. The grant allowed her to spend two years in England conducting research for this new tool, and to hire part-time Research Assistant Elizabeth Solopova, based in Oxford.

Since 2008, Mooney has enlisted the help of Daniel Mosser, an English professor at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, and David Radcliffe, a digital design editor also at Virginia Tech.

Besides the NEH grant, the project received additional funding from UMaine, the Leverhulme Trust, University of York Department of English and Related Literature, the Association for Manuscripts and Archives in Research Collections (AMARC), the Modern Humanities Research Association (MHRA), College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences at Virginia Tech and another grant to Mosser from NEH.

Middle English was used roughly between 1200 and 1550. The Norman Conquest in 1066, the start of printing in 1476 in Britain, as well as the English Reformation and Renaissance impacted the language.

Mooney is now professor of medieval English palaeography at the University of York in the United Kingdom. In 2004, while at UMaine, Mooney earned acclaim for identifying Adam Pinkhurst as the scribe who copied poems for Geoffrey Chaucer, author of The Canterbury Tales. She did so by matching Pinkhurst’s handwriting in manuscripts to a signature on an oath he took soon after 1392 when he joined the Scriveners’ Company of London.

For Middle English novices, the lead sentence reads: “Not intending to boast, but my companion is a valiant knight. Because of him, this spring we are safer than we have ever been from the looter.”