The following is an interview between Alisa Grishin, Artes Research intern 2022-2023, and Sandra Elpers, BiblioTech Hackathon participant and Bachelor student in Theology. The hackathon took place in March 2023. It was a 10-day event and included a pre-hackathon orientation moment called “Meet the Data, Meet the People.” Sandra‘s group, the Illuminators, worked on the Bible of Anjou dataset. The Bible of Anjou is one of the most important and valuable pieces in the collection of KU Leuven’s Maurits Sabbe Library, the library of the Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies. The Bible of Anjou dates to 1340 and is a unique and beautiful illuminated manuscript created at the Royal Court of Naples. To learn more about the manuscript and The Illuminators’ hackathon project, have a look at their project poster in the BiblioTech Zenodo community. To read more about the hackathon and the results, you can visit the BiblioTech website.
Sandra presents the Illuminators’ final project during the closing event of the hackathon. On the right, the Illuminators pose for a team photo.
What first interested you in the hackathon? Have you done one before? Can you tell us more about your background?
This was my first hackathon and what interested me were the datasets. I also liked the fact that participating in the hackathon was available to all students. Since I’m only a bachelor’s student, it was a nice way to get launched into the program; originally I started studying French and Latin, but then I switched over to theology. For the hackathon, I was interested in an academic sense, but I also thought it was a good opportunity to learn new skills.
What was your primary concern when beginning the project?
Maybe my lack of technical skills. I found myself in a group with people with a lot of skills already and didn’t really know where were we going with it. But this worry was resolved quickly by just trusting the others in my team. We lifted each other up.
What most excited you about working with this dataset?
The beauty of the object. As an illuminated manuscript, it is aesthetically very beautiful.
Were you familiar with the Bible of Anjou before the hackathon?
I was not familiar with the Bible of Anjou itself. I was familiar with the Bible and Bible translations, but for this specific piece, I had only heard of the name and knew it is a big deal in the Maurits Sabbe Library.
What was the brainstorming process like for this project?
We had a lot of ideas come up originally; stuff based on the images and the text, but the text and the potential of OCR was more uncertain. With the images, though, we knew that with the animals we could make a sort of “medieval zoo.” Looking at the illustrations of musical instruments and categorizing the illustrations were some of the other immediate ideas.
What was your primary audience for this project?
I don’t think we really had an audience in mind when developing the project… it was more general. We just wanted to make the images work.
Were you inspired by any other platforms or projects?
We weren’t really inspired by anything specifically. One of the main aspects of our project involved creating GIFs of the illustrations in the manuscript. For this, we just came up with the idea and then researched how to do it. Researching the options told us it would be possible, and we just wanted to do it.
How were you able to apply knowledge from your studies to the project?
I was mostly learning as I went. But for the poster presentation, we did look into the historical context for the Bible of Anjou, and I saw some stuff that I already knew from my studies. So there was a bit of overlap. One interesting takeaway: I went to the library and had a great talk about the book and its content and the different locations it had been stored in. This helped us to be able to also contextualize its history.
Was your role in the project different or in line with what you were expecting?
My expectations were different. I tried to not have too many since it was my first hackathon. The experience turned out to be mostly in line with what I thought it could be. Since my technical skills were limited, I figured I’d have to learn some new things, and since I’m strong with presentations, it wasn’t too surprising that I ended up presenting our project during the closing event.
What kind of advice would you give to a team doing their first hackathon?
Try to be flexible and available. It was nice having 10 days and not having to meet every day, but it was necessary to sometimes see everyone. The Microsoft Teams environment was also very important to attend the meetings online. The organization within the chat on Teams was good, so there was a good stream of communication.
What kind of advice would you give to someone in your field, specifically?
I would tell them that they definitely have something to offer to the team. If not the technical skills, then it’s at least a way to provide more perspective. We all had different ideas and brought new ideas and perspectives.