The MARK16 Manuscript Room API

Clivaz, Claire
SIB Swiss Institute of Bioinformatics, Switzerland

Monier, Mina
SIB Swiss Institute of Bioinformatics, Switzerland

Barda, Jonathan
SIB Swiss Institute of Bioinformatics, Switzerland

As often underlined, the digital humanities (DH) are a common space for multiple disciplines, a "big tent" (Weingart / Eichmann-Kalwara 2017) or an "everting space" (Jones 2016). In this open humanities landscape, editing texts has been redefined as building digital collections (Pierazzo 2015), mainly limited by time and money (Mombert 2014). But this short paper, based on a test-case of a new manuscript application (API), will argue that specific disciplinary skills remains central to the digital humanities, providing positive boundaries and landmarks to this open-ended "big tent".

The five-year SNSF project MARK16 studies the main and/or yet-to-be transcribed folios of the last chapter of the Gospel according to Mark, Mark 16, in multilingual perspective. Mk 16 is a well-known enigma for New Testament textual criticism (NTTC): at least six different endings have been identified (e.g. Focant 2016; Clivaz 2019a). We suspected that much useful matter remained unexplored in Mk 16 manuscripts and we have already highlighted important new findings from the perspective of New Testament (NT) studies (Monier 2019; Clivaz 2020). From the DH point of view, the main part of the MARK16 virtual research environment (VRE) is a manuscript room application (MR API): (Clivaz 2019b). It provides folios of Mk 16 from ancient manuscripts in several ancient languages: Greek, Latin, Armenian, Arabic, Coptic, Ethiopic, Georgian, Gothic, Old Church Slavonic and Syriac.

The main tool of publication of images and transcriptions of manuscript in NT studies is the New Testament Virtual Manuscript Room (Institut für Neutestamentliche Forschung, INTF, Münster), using the VRM CRE software program developed by Troy A. Griffitts and reused in several projects about ancient manuscripts (Houghton et al. 2020). As of 9 September 2019, the NTVMR had 1’530’740 images of manuscripts, of which 286’673 had been indexed and 78’440 transcribed, with hundreds of scholars registered at the NTVMR and participating more or less intensively in its discussions and development (Houghton et al. 2020). The NTVMR belongs fully to the field of Big Data digital humanities. It serves as material basis to produce, NT book by NT book, the Editio Critica Maior (ECM) of the New Testament, that integrates in its apparatus notably the quotations made by Greek authors up to the beginning of the sixth century and readings from early translations believed to be based directly on Greek, including Arabic, Armenian, Coptic, Ethiopic, Georgian, Gothic, Latin, Old Church Slavonic and Syriac.

All NT manuscripts are classified and named by the system used in this field of study, taken from die Liste, a tool established by the INTF. As Jacques Derrida (1995) noted, the name stands at the core of identity, as a resisting and fostering element. In the present case, to nominate the NT manuscripts with designations proper to the field is the mark of those who recognize themselves as New Testament scholars. The MARK16 manuscript room has chosen to present the manuscripts with their NT names, to manifest its belonging to this field: they are positive boundaries. Moreover, a close collaboration with the NTVMR presents several challenges at the level of XML and HTML encoding, particularly when specific languages are in view, like Coptic or Ethiopic. Encoding can consequently also be perceived as boundaries that relate a specific project to a wider field of reference. Naming and encoding foster naturally computing relationships in one discipline; form and matter are synergistic in the digital landscape.

Along with other NTTC projects, MARK16 collaborates in transcribing folios in the NTVMR, or adding material to it, for example the Coptic sa 393var in collaboration with Gregor Emmenegger (University of Fribourg, CH), or four Ethiopic manuscripts in collaboration with Damien Labadie (CNRS, FR). MARK16 has enabled this tradition to enter, for the first time, die Liste. In short, because of its relationship to the NTVMR and with diverse colleagues to assure its multilingual aspect, the MARK16 MR is by definition a collaborative VRE (see Clivaz 2019b for a study on VRE concept). Moreover, it works also hand in hand with the open public Huma-Num repository Nakala, which provides DOI to its data; Nakala metadata are used in the API to build its fundamental categories. See, for example, GA 304 in MARK16.

To stay in strong relationship with all our partners and with the NTVMR in particular, we have chosen to build our MR API with both Troy Griffitts’ VRM software and the image visualizing software Mirador. Our attention was also focused on the security aspects related to maintaining the images under copyright. We have developed a complete extensible XML and RDF parser for the manuscripts metadata and HTML files. We have also developed a complete IIIF specified implementation to cover both API image and API presentation in PHP. The API backend focuses on security aspects, including the maintenance of images under copyright. The development of a complete IIIF specification implementation was necessary because no complete solution was available in PHP at the time of development. Other projects have already looked for similar solutions, but not with PHP. For example, the Brucheion project, whose code is available in open source on GitHub, uses GO and NodeJS, with a JavaScript front end. In the IIIF awesome-list, one can find an API to integrate images in PHP and another one to present them in a PHP API, but there is no API that combines both the images and the presentation API. The MR API code will be provided in open source on GitHub in 2021, and we thank particularly our Core-IT colleagues Silvano Alda and Vassiolios Ioannidis for their collaboration to the API. As illustrated in this abstract, the scholarly working network of the project provides naming and encoding boundaries that design the MARK16 MR API at the same time as disciplinary and interdisciplinary DH tool. Clear disciplinary landmarks are contributing to the building of firm ground for interdisciplinary digital humanities.

Appendix A

  1. Clivaz, Claire (2019a): "Returning to Mark 16,8: What’s New?", in: Ephemerides Theologicae Lovanienses 96, 4: 645–659 <> [07.06.2021].
  2. Clivaz, Claire (2019b): "The Impact of Digital Research: Thinking about the MARK16 Project", in: Open Theology 5, 1: 1–12 DOI: <>.
  3. Clivaz, Claire (2020): "Looking at Scribal Practices in the Endings of Mark 16", in: Pouchelle, Patrick / Rey, Jean-Sébastien (eds.): Henoch 42, 2: 207–221.
  4. Derrida, Jacques (1995): On the name. Translated by Thomas Dutoit. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
  5. Focant, Camille (2006): "Un silence qui fait parler (Mc 16,8)", in: Focant, Camille: Marc, un évangile étonnant. Recueil d’essais (= BEThL 194). Leuven: Peeters 341–358.
  6. Houghton, Hugh, A.G. / Parker, David C. / Robinson, Peter / Wachtel, Klaus (2020): "The Editio Critica Maior of the Greek New Testament: Twenty Years of Digital Collaboration", in: Early Christianity 11: 97–117.
  7. Jones, Steven E. (2016): "The Emergence of the Digital Humanities (the Network Is Everting)", in: Gold, Matthew K. / Klein, Lauren (eds): Debates in the Digital Humanities 2. Minneapolis: University Minnesota Press <> [07.06.2021].
  8. Monier, Mina (2019): "GA 304, Theophylact’s Commentary and the Ending of Mark", in: Filología Neotestamentaria 52: 94–106.
  9. Mombert, Sarah (2014): "From Books to Collections. Critical Editions of Heterogeneous Documents", in: Apollon, Daniel / Bélisle, Claire / Régnier, Philippe (eds.): Digital Critical Editions (Topics in the Digital Humanities). Springfield: University of Illinois Press Kindle edition 5123–5574.
  10. Pierazzo, Elena (2015): Digital Scholarly Editing. Theories, Models and Methods (= Digital Research in the Humanities). New York: Routledge Press.
  11. Weingart, Scott B. / Eichmann-Kalwara, Nickoal (2017): "What’s Under the Big Tent? A Study of ADHO Conference Abstracts", in: Digital Studies / Le Champ Numérique 7, 1 DOI: <>.

Appendix B

Websites and virtual research environments
  1. Brucheion project <>[07.06.2021].
  2. GA 304 in MARK16 <> [07.06.2021].
  3. GO <> [07.06.2021].
  4. IIIF awesome-list < > [07.06.2021].
  5. MARK16 <> ISSN 2673-9836 [07.06.2021].
  6. MARK16 manuscript room <> [07.06.2021].
  7. Mirador <> [07.06.2021].
  8. Nakala <> [07.06.2021].
  9. NTVMR <> [07.06.2021].
  10. sa 393var in MARK16 <> [07.06.2021].
  11. SNSF MARK16 data collection on Nakala <> [07.06.2021].
  12. VMR <> [07.06.2021].