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The project

This project consists in building the Corpus of the XIIIth and XIVth centuries papal letters thath are kept in the papal registers of the Archivio segreto vaticano. The number of letters amounts to 250.000 circa, and they are of considerable historical interest. They’ve been partly edited or summarized since the opening of the Archivio segreto at the end of the XIXth century, first by the members of the French School of Rome, then by the researchers of the Avignon Center of research on the papacy, and « regestes » (summaries) of these letters have regularly been published up to now. Since 1998 and with the assistance of the Brepols editor, they are being systematically processed in order to build a data base that can be used from a CD and on-line.
The project consists, in four years, 1) in finishing the integration in the data base of approximately 50.000 letters, mostly letters of the XIIIth century. 2) in checking, by a certain number of critical procedures and case studies, the validity of the considerable data thus gathered. 3) in developing the access and interrogation modes of the Corpus, focusing on the the crossing between these letters and informations from other types of sources. 4) in preparing for a following stage – that should start in 2010 – the processing of the letters which were not summarized on paper yet and of other types of acts that are related for them, which necessarily implies a European co-operation, since these letters are related to all parts of Latin Christendom.
The development of research on "The pragmatic writings of the Middle Ages" within the UMR 5648, the long experience of the Archivio vaticano that several of its members have and the significant number of doctorands that work with these letters led to propose at the CNRS the creation of a position of IE attached to this UMR, in order to ensure the maintenance of the activity of the Avignon Research center on the papacy (which is put at risk by the retirement of J. Mathieu). This proposal received the support of the IRHT and the French School of Rome as partners of the project. The need for checking the validity of information gathered and for developing, in co-operation with the editor Brepols, the modes of control and interrogation of the base resulted in seeking the co-operation of two other French teams working on this type of sources : the team of LAMOP (UMR 8589) devoted to "The Church, social body" and that of the EA 3152 in Avignon, in which many researchers and doctorands do research on the papacy.
The aim is to give the best possible access to all the information contained in the letters of the popes between the pontificate of Gregoire IX (1227-1241) and that of Clement VII (1378-1394). The « regestes » or entirely transcribed letters are first encoded by the team of Avignon, then typed and controlled, corrected, standardized, and enriched by prosopographic, anthroponymic, toponymic, historical, bibliographical notations as they are integrated into the base. The data gathered are then put to the test in multiple ways, first to allow an indexation work as accurate as possible, then by cross interrogations carried out by the various teams associated with the project : crossing between the sources recorded in chancellery and those available within the local archives, measure of the efficiency of the decisions transmitted by the letters, analysis of the legal procedures and administrative operations induced by them, impact of the letters on the government of the Papal States and dominium of the popes.
Finally, the findings drawn from these analyses are published and especially integrated in the powerful software worked out by the Brepols editor to widen the possibilities of interrogation and crossing of data. Other documents could easily be processed in the same way and added to the Corpus.
The project we are presenting here consists in transforming the mass of the already available data in a true Corpus, that is in an explicitly defined and ordered unit which can be used in a reasoned way, the richness and limits of which can be measured, and which thus allows to practise a controlled comparatism.
The interventions of the Papacy from one end of Europe to another are multiple and very different, depending on the periods, areas and countries that are at stake, but it is not doubtfull that the Corpus thus made up gives a single and essential access not only to the history of the religious practices and institutions connected with the Church in the XIIIth and XIVth centuries in the whole medieval Christendom, but also to the history of the growth of territorial States and to that of the "modern" forms of justice and administration, whose matrix is often the pontifical practices.

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