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Home > Blog > Articles > “Size Matters – Mobilizing RISM Digital Evidence in Bern” by Jacek Iwaszko (Narodowy Instytut Fryderyka Chopina)

“Size Matters – Mobilizing RISM Digital Evidence in Bern” by Jacek Iwaszko (Narodowy Instytut Fryderyka Chopina)

Research on 16th-century musical prints and manuscripts often resembles a criminal investigation. The researcher has to determine who was responsible for the source in question, where, when and why. And in cases where there’s no written evidence in this matter, it’s necessary to find another source of evidence.

The idea behind the Size Matters pilot project is that the size of music prints and manuscripts could be a valid clue in estimating the time or place of their origin, or at least serve to connect them with a group of identified sources. During a short-term scientific mission to RISM Digital in Bern, Switzerland, I was able to connect with data and people in order to test the possibilities of the project—and thereby demonstrate the dynamic potential of RISM data.

All the necessary data were already there – the RISM (Repertoire International de Sources Musicales) database collects information about musical sources, including their physical dimensions. The data are available in different formats (eg. MARCXML in, JSON in Recently, the RISM Digital Center (Bern, Switzerland) published their data as RDF (Resource Description Framework) triples, compliant with the semantic query language SPARQL. This in turn allows research through the RISM database using non-standard filters and criteria, including sizes. SPARQL query output data are then parsed, regularized and indexed.

Thanks to the rich data resources of RISM and the tools that are now available to analyze the evidence, the Size Matters project makes it possible to find all the manuscripts and prints from the 16th century that have similar dimensions, compare the proportions of sources in landscape vs. portrait orientation or get a chart presenting the top 10 of the most popular renaissance music sources sizes.

Hopefully, these tools will help early music researchers find new leads in ongoing investigations of mysterious manuscripts and prints.