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The project ‘Digital forensics for historical documents. Cracking cold cases with new technology’ is a collaboration between Huygens ING and IISH on developing new ways to analyse historical script. Techniques of digital image analysis will be used to bridge the gap between the forensic and the palaeographical method of researching handwritten text. The project runs from June 2018 – June 2021.

Two workpackages

The Digital Forensics project aims to use both the approach of forensic handwriting analysis, and palaeography. In forensic research, the goal of handwriting analysis is to establish a unique profile of an individual writer, so as to be able to tell who wrote what. In palaeography, the aim of the analysis of the shapes of handwritten text is to establish how they sit in the historical development of script development, and thus establish where and when something was written. We will attempt to create a digital tool which will combine the two. By combining and exploring digital image collections, we will develop a deep learning system, in which unique characteristics (a fingerprint) of a certain script sample will be matched with similar script samples. This method will be possible for the first time, because of the availability of large amounts of images of handwritten text from the Middle Ages and Early Modern period in a shared format: IIIF.

Huygens ING and IISH collaborate in this project on two work packages: at IISH, researchers will use handwritten material from the VOC administration (the Dutch East India Company), at Huygens ING, IIIF images of medieval manuscripts will be used. In the first work package the emphasis will be on writer identification, in the second on dating and localization through comparison.

Leiden University and Microsoft

In their aim to create the deep learning system, Huygens ING and IISH will be supported by external partners: software developers from Microsoft and IT specialists from the Leiden Institute of Advanced Computer Science. Leiden’s professor of manuscript culture, Erik Kwakkel, will be involved as the PhD’s promotor.


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