Alan Stahl

title.none: Kohl, Records of the Venetian Senate on Disk (Alan Stahl)

identifier.other: baj9928.0211.006 02.11.06

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Alan Stahl,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2002

identifier.citation: Kohl, Benjamin G., ed. The Records of the Venetian Senate on Disk, 1335-1400. NY,NY: Italica Press, Pp. CD-ROM. $300.00 0-93497-71-2 Macintosh. ISBN: 0-934977-72-0 Windows.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 02.11.06

Kohl, Benjamin G., ed. The Records of the Venetian Senate on Disk, 1335-1400. NY,NY: Italica Press, Pp. CD-ROM. $300.00 0-93497-71-2 Macintosh. ISBN: 0-934977-72-0 Windows.

Reviewed by:

Alan Stahl

Much of the vitality of fourteenth-century Venice depended on its relations within the eastern Mediterranean, and the Venetian archives have copious material on the region. This information is all the more precious to historians in view of the relatively few other extant medieval archives from the Balkans, Byzantium and the Islamic world. As the Venetian Senate was the organ of government charged with dealing with foreign relations, its records have long been exploited for the history of its neighbors to the east. For much of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, scholars have mined the Senate's registers and published extracts relating to specific topics or geographical areas. Publication of the complete records of the Senate was begun in 1960 with the rubrics to the lost first fourteen volumes and continued in 1962 with a detailed calendar of the earliest two surviving registers, covering the years 1332 through 1334. No further volumes have appeared.

Benjamin Kohl has now provided scholars convenient access to much of the information in the fourteenth-century Senate enactments by scanning all published documents into a database, editing them according to more-or-less uniform standards, and making the database available on a single CD, with search capability for the texts themselves and for standardized introductory summaries of each piece of legislation. On the basis of microfilms made in the 1950s for Kenneth Setton and currently available by inter-library loan from the University of Pennsylvania's Henry Charles Lea Library, he has given consistent foliation to the entries and has supplied valuable information lacking from some of the editions such as the names of officials who introduced various motions and the numerical votes on them. The 4,389 texts included on the CD are derived from 86 separate publications, many lacking in even large research libraries.

Texts were scanned using Optical Character Recognition on the printed editions. In view of the limitations of this application, and the lack of a software thesaurus for medieval Latin, the transition from printed page to disk seems to have been quite successful. A comparison of several printed texts with those on the CD reveals an average of about one scanning error per entry of the type familiar to those using OCR software: "eum applieuerit" for "cum applicuerit" in Kohl 2864; "Amorce" for "Amoree" and "denoc" for "donec" in Kohl 2892; "deterent" for "deberent" in Kohl 2899, etc. While an attempt has been made to standardize punctuation and format, some individual editors' decisions have been maintained, including whether to use "u" or "v" as the consonant. Errors in transcription by the original editors have sometimes been retained, such as the omission of "nostrum" near the end of Kohl 2864, and Kohl's expansions of words left abbreviated by the original editors are not always accurate, as in the case of his "ducatatos" for "duc" in Kohl 2896. The mistaken readings by Loenertz of two of the names of the proposers of Kohl 2892 ("de Vidono" for "de Vidorio" and "Lauro" for "Lauredano") are preserved on the disk.

The texts reproduced on the CD represent only those which have appeared in print. In his introduction, Kohl notes that the contents are particularly rich in information on Venice's Aegean colonies and the Balkan territories to its east and estimates that one-third of the documents in the registers are included in his texts. In order to gauge how accurate a representation the CD gives of the original records, I have compared Kohl's texts with the microfilm of the Misti of the Senate (borrowed on ILL from Penn) for the Venetian calendar year that runs from March of 1383 through February of 1384. The CD includes the texts of 57 documents for this year, of which two are partial and indicated as such by the use of ellipses in the text. The Senate register itself has 435 enactments for the same period, though some are a single sentence in length and many are special provisions for individual citizens. The bias that Kohl notes in the published documents for Venice's colonies and eastern neighbors is evident in this selection: the greatest concentration of documents on the CD (18) concern the colony of Crete, while seven documents treat relations with Croatia and six with Albania. Only two enactments bear on the internal governance and economy of Venice and only one deals with relations with western neighbors. Among the important pieces of legislation lacking on the CD are provisions concerning relations with Byzantine and Islamic rulers and numerous diplomatic exchanges with Padua, Verona, Ferrara, Florence, Milan and Savoy that reflect the growing importance of the Italian mainland on Venetian politics. Also absent are twenty-one enactments relating to the disposition of the island of Tenedos in the Dardanelles (the immediate provocation of the recent war between Venice and Genoa) and twenty relating to Venetian fleets of merchant galleys throughout the Mediterranean. Even within the areas of greatest concentration, the documents reproduced are not entirely representative: four enactments relating to Crete are lacking, and Kohl 2885 (following the original edition by Theotokes) reproduces the rejected proposals for the disposition of state lands on the island and omits the enacted legislation.

One of the great advantages of having texts in an electronic format is the ability of users to search for keywords. The search of the texts themselves is quick and powerful, though of course name identifications are subject to the vagaries of the spellings in the original Latin documents. The headnotes provided by Kohl are intended as metatags for more efficient searches, and again the search engine performs well. Kohl has done an admirable job standardizing names, though both 'Ghisi' and 'Ghizi' appear in the headnotes, as do 'Sanudo' and 'Sanuto'. A few of the summaries in the headnotes (e.g. Kohl 2861 and 2862) are not accurate reflections of the texts.

As in the case of most such electronic editions, a few words must be said about technical issues and problems. The disk is compatible with Macintosh and Windows and requires a hard drive with at least 16 MB RAM and 30 MB free space. Though the database was produced with FileMaker Pro software, it is not necessary to have that program installed on the computer. A booklet accompanying the disk gives clear instructions on installation and use, and further documentation is available on the CD itself. I did note a significant glitch while running the program on two different computers, both PCs running Windows 98. The program is set to display all text, in the introductions and bibliographies and in the documents themselves, in what FileMaker Pro calls Preview Mode. On both computers, the last six characters on each line were cut off in this mode and to read the full text on screen I had to switch to Browse Mode. In printing, the end of each line was also cut off and could not be restored by switching modes. An email inquiry to the helpline at Italica Press elicited a quick and detailed response, but in the end, the only way I could print out the full documents was to copy each text into a Word file and print from there. The publisher assured me that with printers newer than my 3-year-old Epson the text could be scaled down in the printer properties setup, and he promised to deal with the issue in the next version of the database. Corrections sent to the press by early users will also be incorporated into future upgrades.

The full publication of the enactments of the Venetian Senate remains a major desideratum for a wide range of medieval historians. Projects are in place for the publication (in print) of the registers before 1350 by teams in Venice and in Paris, but the records from the second half of the century are not likely to appear in the foreseeable future. In the meantime, scholars have an extremely valuable and convenient resource in the compilation of existing editions that Kohl has provided on this CD.