Augmented Palimpsest

Welcome to The Augmented Palimpsest 

The Augmented Palimpsest is a project developed by Tamara F. O’Callaghan, Associate Professor of English at Northern Kentucky University, and Andrea R. Harbin, Associate Professor of English at the State University of New York, Cortland, both medievalists working in the digital humanities.  The project has recently been awarded a National Endowment for the Humanities Digital Humanities Startup Grant.

The goal of the project is to create a digital humanities tool that explores how the medium of Augmented Reality (AR) can be used in humanities pedagogy—specifically the teaching of medieval literature. The prototype will not only provide 3D digital enhancements for the linguistic, historical, and cultural contexts of the literary work, thus giving the students greater access to medieval material culture and history, but also create a highly immersive learning experience for students because the 3D enhancements will be large and complex enough to be walked around and viewed from multiple angles. For an example of such complex AR enhancements, see the video Augmented Alma: The New Image of an Illinois Icon <>.  Because the enhancements emerge from the printed page, the prototype will maintain a pedagogical emphasis on close reading while encouraging students to develop their skills in textual analysis, critical thinking, interdisciplinary study, and new media literacy. This hybridization of the digital with the printed text will also preserve the reader’s physical and kinesthetic connection to the literary work.


We will create a simple printed page with a highly detailed manuscript border set around a literary text. As such, the page will have the appearance of a medieval manuscript folio with a border that will, in fact, be coded with a variety of digital enhancements, including but not limited to audio, video, and graphical materials; 3D models of figures, architecture, and objects; and assessment tools, such as quizzes and writing assignments. Such coding is known as a “fiducial marker” or “fiducial.” A common fiducial is the QR (quick response) code that appears as a matrix barcode of square dots. We will, however, employ more complex fiducials that use the intricate patterns within medieval manuscript border to “hide” the coding. These borders will be drawn from the British Library since it has made its Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts available under a Public Domain mark; consequently, there are no copyright restrictions on reproduction, adaptation, republication, or sharing of the content available from the site.

The student will open the appropriate AR application or “app” on a smart device, such as an iPhone, iPad, or Android device, and then hold that device over individual fiducials embedded in the border to access the various enhancements coded to each fiducial (see Appendix 2 for a sample page and instructions on how to use the appropriate app to access the enhancements embedded in the sample page).

We will use The General Prologue from Geoffrey Chaucer’s fourteenth-century Middle English poem, The Canterbury Tales, as the literary text. Chaucer’s poetry is included in all standard historical anthologies of English literature and taught every semester in the undergraduate survey of early British literature across English-speaking countries, including the United States. Chaucer’s works are even taught in the original Middle English to high school seniors as mandated by state legislatures because exposure to the history of the English language is considered almost as valuable as exposure to Chaucer’s narratives. Nevertheless, ask any instructor of the undergraduate survey of British literature, and he/she will likely tell you that students struggle significantly with reading Chaucer’s works—not because the stories are unappealing but because of the language and cultural references are so unfamiliar to the typical 21st-century undergraduate. The Augmented Palimpsest will provide the contexts needed for an inexperienced reader of Chaucer’s poetry to understand and interpret it fully. Experiencing the AR enhancements will encourage students to return to the text in order to understand exactly what they are seeing and/or hearing.