Ad fontes: Cappelli online

Systematization and Crowdsourcing of Abbreviations in Manuscripts.



What do abbreviations mean?

When writing by hand, it is convenient to shorten and abbreviate words to safe time and space (especially when writing on an expensive material, like parchment). Thus, premodern documents are often full of abbreviations. Our project intends to create a searchable database of scribal abbreviations in handwritten documents, so that modern readers can find out what these abbreviations mean. To this end, all 14'357 abbreviations included in Adriano Cappelli's "Lexicon Abbreviaturarum", one of the most renowned and most extensive collections of abbreviations, have been digitized and systematized. The facsimile of each abbreviation has been isolated and the corresponding transliteration and solution or meaning have been filled into the thereby created database entry. Additionally, the signs that mark the abbreviations (such as lines or macrons above or below letters, wave-like marks, or various special signs) have been identified and marked in a 3x3-grid. These features allow the users to not only search by the letters they can read, but also by visual criteria. This is especially useful since not every character of the handwritten text may be decipherable; the possibility to search with wildcards or visual criteria increase therefore the probability of finding the right abbreviation.


The foundation for this database was laid on the Cappelli Hackathon, or HaCkappelli for short, a highly successful crowdsourcing-event on which most of the abbreviations were collected. Since all the information needed was already in Cappelli's Lexicon, no specialist knowledge was needed.


Through the work of the crowd, a database containing almost 15'000 abbreviations was created within 23 days. A global community of specialists could be reached and brought together with interested laymen. The newly formed collection serves as a resource for anyone working with handwritten documents.

Project members:

Departement of History, University of Zurich

Prof. Dr. Simon Teuscher, Dr. Gerold Ritter, Dr. des. Tobias Hodel, lic. phil. Jolanda Hunziker, lic. phil. Basil Vollenweider, Michael Nadig, M.A.


Graphic artist:

Aurelia Zihlmann