Advances in Distant Diplomatics: A Stylometric Approach to Medieval Charters


lexical frequency
digital diplomatics
Latin charters

How to Cite

Leclercq, E., & Kestemont, M. (2021). Advances in Distant Diplomatics: A Stylometric Approach to Medieval Charters. Interfaces: A Journal of Medieval European Literatures, (8), 214–244.


The quantitative analysis of writing style (stylometry) is becoming an increasingly common research instrument in philology. When it comes to medieval texts, such a methodology might be able to help us disentangle the multiple authorial strata that can often be discerned in them (issuer, dictator, scribe, etc.). To deliver a proof of concept in 'distant diplomatics,' we have turned to a corpus of twelfth-century Latin charters from the Cambrai episcopal chancery. We subjected this collection to an (unsupervised) stylometric modelling procedure, based on lexical frequency extraction and dimension reduction. In the absence of a sizable 'ground truth' for this material, we zoomed in on a specific case study, namely the oeuvre of the previously identified dictator-scribe known as 'RogF/JeanE.' Our results offer additional support for the attribution of a diplomatic oeuvre to this individual and even allow us to enlarge it with additional documents. Our analysis moreover yielded the serendipitous discovery of another, previously unnoticed, oeuvre, which we tentatively attribute to a scribe-dictator 'JeanB.' We conclude that the large-scale stylometric analysis is a promising methodology for digital diplomatics. More efforts, however, will have to be invested in establishing gold standards for this method to realize its full potential.
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Copyright (c) 2021 Eveline Leclercq, Mike Kestemont


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