Collaborative authorship in twelfth-century Latin literature. A stylometric approach to gender, synergy and authority

Collaboratief auteurschap in de twaalfde-eeuwse Latijnse literatuur. Een stylometrische benadering van gender, synergie en autoriteit
Start - End 
2015 - 2020 (completed)
Department of History
Department of Literary Studies
Research Period 
Research Region 
Research Language 
Research Methodology 



Stylometry, a subfield of Digital Humanities, offers new methods for segregating different writing styles. So far, stylometry has been especially popular in authorship attribution studies. This project will approach issues of collaborative authorship in twelfth-century Latin literature with stylometric methods.

In the Middle Ages, authors seldom worked alone when conceiving their treatises, letters or narratives. A new text could be the result of drafts on wax tablets copied by professional scribes, of processes of dictation and subsequent correction, etc. An authority like Bernard of Clairvaux, one of the most prolific and influential medieval authors, is known to have been surrounded by a team of secretaries. For his sermons and letters in particular, a number of his collaborators were even trained in imitating his writing style, thus facilitating Bernard's work of final editing or correcting. In the case of the remarkably few medieval female authors known to us, the role of secretaries is even more intricate. Women writers such as the German nun Hildegard of Bingen were considered unlearned and incapable of independently writing down their visionary experiences, even if their visions were accepted as being divinely inspired. These women therefore had to be assisted by male collaborators, often also serving as their spiritual directors. The precise nature and implications of such (cross-gender) collaborations remain a topic of scholarly debate.

With a number of selected, experimental case studies, concentrating on Bernard of Clairvaux and his secretaries, Hildegard of Bingen and her collaborators, Suger of Saint-Denis and his chancery, and Abelard and Heloise, this project aims to contribute to the debate about individual and collective creativity in the Middle Ages, and to extend the usual application of stylometric methods to new cultural-historical questions that go beyond mere authorship attribution.

In collaboration with CLiPS (Computational Linguistics & Psycholinguistics) at the University of Antwerp and with the Corpus Christianorum Library & Knowledge Centre of Brepols Publishers.




Documentary: "Hildegard of Bingen: Authorship and Stylometry" [HD] from Mike Kestemont on Vimeo.




Phd Student(s)


Mike Kestemont

Universiteit Antwerpen