Deciphering Secrets

Unlocking the Manuscripts of Medieval Spain

Deciphering Secrets: Home

Burgos Cathedral with text over "Deciphering Secrets: Unlocking the Manuscripts of Medieval Spain"


Deciphering Secrets: Unlocking the Manuscripts of Medieval Spain is a collaborative citizen science project focused on revealing the inter-religious relations of Jews, Christians, Muslims, and religious converts during the 12th through 16th centuries in late medieval and early modern Spain. This project portal, directed to the public and scholars alike, offers access to: (1) the Deciphering Secrets: Medieval Spanish Manuscript and Transcription Collection, (2) Spanish paleography and historical resources that

include e-publication, video instruction, and practicums; (3) peer-reviewed research and publications and other findings; and (4) citizen science Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) and Zooniverse efforts (spring 2022). All materials are shared via Creative Commons-Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) license unless otherwise noted.

Hebrew stucco detail at El Museo del Transito (Toledo)
Statue of St. Augustine.
St. Augustine (Chapel of Canon Martin Gónzalez de Carvajal, Cathedral of Plasencia)

Citizen Science, MOOCs, and Collaborative Efforts

Since 2014, Prof. Dr. Roger L. Martínez-Dávila has delivered a series of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) via the University of and Universidad Carlos III de that have reached almost 50,000 global learners in 140 nations who have studied the history of Spain (al-Andalus, Sepharad), mastered basic medieval paleography, and assisted in the transcription of manuscripts. Deciphering Secrets continues its transcription efforts via MOOCs and an upcoming 2022 crowdsourcing Zooniverse initiative under aegis of the National Endowment for the Humanities’ Building Capable Communities for Crowdsourced Transcription Institute.

Curating a Medieval Manuscript and Transcription Collection

The culmination of the Deciphering Secrets project, developed in collaboration with Ms. Mary Rupp and the UCCS University Archive, is the creation of a scholarly-curated digital manuscript and transcription collection. It is a developing digital compilation of over 4,700 individual ecclesiastical, royal, municipal, and familial folios and transcriptions that focus exclusively on Jewish, Christian, and Muslim relations. Among the principle contributions of the collection is that it offers digital access to manuscripts that are otherwise inaccessible unless a researcher travels to view these physical manuscripts on site in Spain. The collection also responds to the larger issue of the limitations of existing archival indices that were primarily created for administrative and not scholarly purposes such as the study of inter-religious history. The collection is special as it assembles and describes church, municipal, and royal records from the cities of Burgos, Toledo, Plasencia, and Granada (14th-16th centuries). These particular city centers were important communities where significant historical events were either directed or occurred.

Statue of St. Ambrose.
St. Ambrose (Chapel of Canon Martin Gónzalez de Carvajal, Cathedral of Plasencia)
Arabic brick detail at the Mezquita del Cristo del Luz (Toledo)

Scholarly Innovation and Significance of the Collection

Among the innovations of the Deciphering Secrets manuscript and transcription digital archive is its framing of collection descriptors (Dublin Core Metadata Schema) through the lens of Spanish Jewish, Christian, and Muslim economic, social, religious, and political relationships during the Middle Ages. The collection’s contents uniquely focus on manuscripts that record interfaith economic transactions that detail property leases, sales, individual and communal agreements, and other routine dealings documenting payment for services or religious poll taxes. At this time, there is no other collection that specifically examines this inter-religious dynamic.

Deciphering Secrets’ Scholarly Contributions

The contributions of the ongoing initiative are realized through four components:

1. The digital manuscript and transcription collection (comprehensively available via Mountain Scholar, searchable at Google Scholar, and with limited availability at JSTOR Open Community Collection: Deciphering Secrets),

2. E-publication of Spanish paleography and history resources (guides, readings, video instruction, and practicums),

3. Peer-reviewed published research on the effectiveness of digital paleographical instruction and research findings derived from our manuscripts, and

4. Continuing efforts via MOOCs and a Zooniverse citizen science portal.

Wood beam detail with Carvajal coat of arms at the Convento de las Claras (Plasencia)

Explore Project Components

Stucco detail at the Museo del Taller del Moro (Toledo)

Funders, Collaborators, and Intellectual Property

This project has received funding from the Universidad Carlos III de Madrid, the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme for research, technological development and demonstration under grant agreement nº 600371, el Ministerio de Economía y Competitividad (COFUND2013-51509) and Banco Santander. Additional funding provided by University of Colorado System, University of Colorado-Colorado Springs, and Universidad Complutense de Madrid.

Deciphering Secrets is a non-profit, educational, and research effort guided by Dr. Martínez-Dávila. Dr. Martinez and his colleagues are pleased to share these materials via Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0).

The images and materials in this manuscript collection are either within the public domain or published with verbal and/or written permission from the copyright holders.

Special thanks to the tens of thousands of citizen scientist volunteers who have participated in our MOOCs, as well as the following colleagues:

Don Santiago Palomero Plaza, Museo Sefardi
Doña Carmen Álvarez Nogales, Museo Sefardi
Don Mariano García Ruipérez, Archivo Municipal de Toledo
Don Ángel Fernández, Archivo y Biblioteca Capitular de Toledo
Don Isidoro Castañeda Todera, Archivo y Biblioteca Capitular de Toledo
Don Fernando Luis Fontes Blanco, Museo de Santa Cruz
Don Juan Carlos Ruiz Souza, Universidad Complutense de Madrid
Doña Susana Calvo Capilla, Universidad Complutense de Madrid
Doña Aránzazu Lafuente Urién, Archivo Histórico Nacional-Sección Nobleza (AHNSN)
Don Miguel F. Gómez Vozmediano, AHNSN y Universidad Carlos III de Madrid (UC3M)
Don Simon Doubleday, Hofstra University (New York)
Don Jaime Alvar Ezquerra, UC3M
Doña Maria Martin de Vidales Garcia, UC3M
Doña Jessica Fowler, University of Montana Western
Don Francisco Garcia Serrano Nebras, Saint Louis University-Madrid
Doña Ana María Rodríguez López, CSIC (Madrid)
Don Rich Tenorio, The Times of Israel
Don Paul Harvey, University of Colorado (EE.UU)
Doña Christina Jiménez, University of Colorado (EE.UU.)
Doña Deborah Keyek-Franssen, University of Colorado (EE.UU.)

European Commission logo.
Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness, Government of Spain logo.
Marie Curie Actions logo.
Conex logo.

University of Carlos III of Madrid logo.
Santander universities logo.
University of Colorado logo.
Creative Commons BY-NC-ND license.