Improving Accessibility

The most obvious reason for digitizing any manuscript is to allow for greater access to it. This is particularly valuable for manuscripts held in comparatively remote locations, such as the Canterbury Roll.

A key advantage of a digital edition is that it offers an accessible, open scholarly resource that promotes collaboration and ongoing peer review. It can be updated in response to feedback or changing requirements. Unlike a print edition, digital texts, such as the one provided via this platform, can be made available free-to-access to anyone with an internet connection.

Digitization & Format


The Digital Edition of the Roll incorporates a high-resolution facsimile. This offers a detailed view of the manuscript that would not be possible in a print edition.

The creation of digital editions has a particular advantage for manuscript rolls. Print editions, such as Arnold Wall’s 1919 transcription and translation, require the manuscript to be reproduced in a codex – or book – form. Introducing artificial divisions in the form of pages into a document that was never intended to have them can result in a disjointed reading of the text. An online platform supports the original format of a manuscript roll by allowing for continuous scrolling that avoids the insertion of page breaks.



Notes & Apparatus

A further advantage of a digital edition is the ability to toggle various features on/off to remove or enhance editorial intervention. Unlike a print edition, the Canterbury Roll Digital Edition offers the option to toggle the English translation and editorial notes on or off, depending on the needs of the reader.

Other features that can be toggled on/off include: a Scribal Hands Slider, which allows the user to view the text at various stages of its production, and editorial apparatus indicating where the new edition differs from Wall’s 1919 edition. While a digital platform allows these features to be offered, it also provides an option for scholars who want to view the manuscript with minimal editorial intervention.


The digitizing of medieval manuscripts as a whole is a new and rapidly developing field. Manuscript description was only incorporated into the TEI (Text Encoding Initiative) guidelines with the release of the current version, P5, in 2007, and most of the manuscript digitization work to date has been on codices.

The digitization of rolls presents challenges in adapting schema originally designed for the codex form. In the case of genealogical rolls these challenges include finding the best way to establish the relationship between genealogical trees and commentary texts in a digital framework.

The Canterbury Roll Digital Edition addresses some of these issues by not selecting a “default” starting point for its text. Instead, the transcription and translation for each roundel or section of commentary appears when the corresponding “zone” of the manuscript is selected. In a codex, it is unavoidable that an editor will need to make decisions about the order in which the text is read. This layer of editorial intervention is removed from the Digital Edition, and, consequently, the modern user’s experience is brought closer to that of the original 15th-century reader. 

In addition to the specific examples provided in the Bibliography, a major project dedicated to digitizing manuscript rolls is “Digital Rolls and Fragments” associated with the Beinecke Rare Books & Manuscripts Library at Yale University.



The Canterbury Roll Digital Edition is divided into zones, each of which is defined by using a pixel-based location system. Zone numbers are searchable and can be used for academic referencing purposes. The Introduction to the Digital Edition provides guidance on citation.

Zones are of two types:

CRC zones
Each Canterbury Roll Commentary zone is individually numbered, e.g. CRC001. Each represents a specific section of the commentary text. CRC zones vary from complete paragraphs of text with accompanying marginal gloss to single letters.

CRN zones
Each Canterbury Roundel Number zone is individually numbered, e.g. CRN001. Each represents a roundel on the roll. Blank roundels are assigned their own unique CRN number.



Introduction | A Visual Overview | The Wall Edition | Digitization |