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SLU Researcher Receives NEH Grant to Create Platform to Share Medieval Interpretations of Culture-Shaping Text

by Maggie Rotermund
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Maggie Rotermund
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ST. LOUIS – Atria Larson, Ph.D., associate professor of Medieval Christianity at Saint Louis University, has been awarded a Digital Humanities Advancement Grant through the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). The two-year grant totals $149,835 and will fund the prototyping and testing of a web platform for sharing medieval interpretations of culture-shaping texts.

Atria Larson, Ph.D.

Atria Larson, Ph.D, associate professor of Medieval Christianity, has received an NEH grant to fund the prototyping and testing of a web platform for sharing medieval interpretations of culture-shaping texts. Photo by Sarah Conroy. 

The “Gallery of Glosses” project will allow users to identify and transcribe annotations and marginalia in medieval manuscripts. A gloss is a word, phrase, or extended commentary inserted in a text’s margin to explain a part of the original text.

“A gloss can include a legal or cultural interpretation of the original text,” Larson said.

Typically, medieval scholars must study the original manuscripts in the libraries where they are currently housed when working with annotations. The web application Larson is creating will allow that work to be done by various scholars from anywhere in the world.

“This will allow a broader approach to medieval studies,” Larson said.

Original texts authored during the Middle Ages (generally defined as the time between the collapse of the western Roman Empire in the 5th century to the 15th century) are held in libraries and museums across Europe. Studying the glosses provides a deeper understanding of the text and the meaning it held for people when they read it.

“Glosses aren’t just scribbling in a margin – these are updates and interpretations of the text,” Larson said. “We continue to uncover voices that we have not heard for centuries as we unearth and share these glosses.”

She likened working in medieval glosses to detective work.

“By reading the glosses in these works, we are not just getting the historical context of the work and the value given to it at the time of its writing,” she said. “By seeing which glosses are copied where, we can see how the original written works traveled across Europe, who worked on them and how they formed their interpretations. There are clues in the manuscripts if we can find them.”

Larson said writings by Thomas Aquinas and Aristotle in addition to the Bible and major law collections contain glosses by many different readers of their works.

“By connecting the dots on how the work traveled, you can see learned culture move throughout Europe,” she said.

Larson’s project is one of 226 humanities projects funded in the NEH’s third round of grants for the fiscal year 2022. The NEH supports vital humanities research, education, preservation, and public programs. 

The Digital Humanities Advancement Grants program (DHAG) supports innovative, experimental, and/or computationally challenging digital projects, leading to work that can scale to enhance scholarly research, teaching, and public programming in the humanities. The program also supports research that examines the history, criticism, ethics, and philosophy of digital culture or technology and its impact on society.

National Endowment for the Humanities

Created in 1965 as an independent federal agency, the National Endowment for the Humanities supports research and learning in history, literature, philosophy, and other areas of the humanities by funding selected, peer-reviewed proposals from around the nation. Additional information about the National Endowment for the Humanities and its grant programs is available at

Saint Louis University

Founded in 1818, Saint Louis University is one of the nation’s oldest and most prestigious Catholic institutions. Rooted in Jesuit values and its pioneering history as the first university west of the Mississippi River, SLU offers more than 15,200 students a rigorous, transformative education of the whole person. At the core of the University’s diverse community of scholars is SLU’s service-focused mission, which challenges and prepares students to make the world a better, more just place.