From CODECS: Online Database and e-Resources for Celtic Studies
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*selgā A catalogue of primary source materials
for Celtic studies
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In a nutshell

*selgā is an ongoing collaborative project hosted by the A. G. van Hamel Foundation for Celtic Studies. It is building an ever-expanding web-based resource for teaching and research in the field of Celtic studies, whose core features are an integrated catalogue of texts and manuscripts as well as a bibliography. Entries are being constantly added, managed and updated as soon as new information becomes available. As a collaborative platform, the project is designed not only to inform and to guide, but also to serve as a communicative tool and workbench for scholars and students worldwide.

Mission and scope

It hardly needs explaining that primary sources are fundamental to the study of Celtic languages and cultures. Unfortunately, finding out about text editions, translations and photographic reproductions, manuscript attestations and textual relationships remains a daunting challenge for many scholars, students or other enthusiasts grappling with their sources. Although a number of isolated projects have been published to facilitate research, both in print and online, the current state of affairs still cries out for more concerted and integrative efforts to offer auxiliary tools for the benefit of anyone with an internet connection.

The *selgā project therefore aims to fill this gap by building an index to as many written texts and manuscripts as can be considered relevant to the field of Celtic studies. This will cover anything from the Mabinogion to the Ulster Cycle, from observers of the Graeco-Roman world to the Irish mirabilia of an Old Norse king's mirror, from Celtic hagiography and martyrologies to Otherworldly tales of adventure, from continental glosses to Cornish charters, and so on. The overall scope allows for inclusion of four basic types of source materials, with particular emphasis on the first two:

  1. Texts and manuscripts written by speakers of any of the Celtic languages (such as Irish or Welsh)
    1. either in the vernacular
    2. or in languages other than their native tongue, notably Latin.
  2. Texts written by 'outsiders' — from classical authors to John Derricke — about Celtic-speaking peoples
  3. Texts and manuscripts available to the Celtic-speaking world, such as apocryphal texts, Isidore of Seville, bestiaries, etc. After all, to understand a written culture, one needs to be aware of the sources to which it had access and of the nature of that access.
    n. 1 See Fontes Anglo-Saxonici, subtitled A register of written sources used by Anglo-Saxon authors, and Sources of Anglo-Saxon Literary Culture for projects devoted to similar aims in Anglo-Saxon studies.
  4. To some extent, key comparanda used in Celtic studies.

Note that a chronological cut-off point still needs to be defined, since other catalogues and databases may be better equipped to cater for modern texts.

It may be readily conceded that the general scope just outlined here would be too vast and unwieldy to be manageable even for a dedicated group of academic researchers working on a six-year project. Nevertheless, we believe that the very different nature of this platform may also open doors which would otherwise remain closed:

  1. Although comprehensiveness as a long-term ideal is not entirely eschewed, it is our intention that the project will serve as a framework for smaller, more manageable subprojects. Further details will be given below. In addition, the catalogue can be used as a unified point of entry for relevant initiatives elsewhere on the web.
  2. The project has not been designed as a one-off which will reach closure in the foreseeable future. The kind of temporal strictures that tend to come with academic research dependent on grants or other subsidies, do not apply here.
  3. A further reason that the project is not working towards a deadline is that it should remain open to re-evaluation and to the integration of the latest research done on source materials.

All this is not to say, of course, that the project is expected to supersede standard reference works, such as the detailed library catalogues cited here, but by taking a more integrative, organic approach, we hope that it will serve as a convenient compass to primary sources as well as the key secondary works which are available on them.

Methods and contributors

A bronze boar figurine from Lunçani (Romania), which has been dated to the first century B.C., stood as the model for the *selgā logo.
The project name has been chosen to reflect our aims and opus moderandi. What better noun, one could argue, than Proto-Celtic *selgā "hunt" (> OI selg "hunt" and > MW hela "to hunt") to capture the sense of following and interpreting the tracks left by Celtic cultures?
n. 2 For *selgā, see the entries in Henry Lewis • Holger Pedersen, A concise comparative Celtic grammar (1974); Joseph Vendryes • Édouard Bachallery • Pierre-Yves Lambert, Lexique etymologique de l'irlandais ancien (1959–1996): lettre S (1974): 80ff; Ranko Matasović, Etymological dictionary of proto-Celtic (2009): 329.
Faced with such a Herculean task, this project is very much a work in progress and aims to be alert to new development in Celic studies. The use of an online database has the great advantage, first, that it can be continually updated, expanded and corrected, second, that it can offer good search facilities and easy navigation, and third, that external links can be made to relevant publications, text/image archives and databases on the web, such as the Internet Archive, ISOS, CELT and Welsh Prose 1350-1425.


*selgā is built by a volunteering community of editors. Please be aware that the A. G. van Hamel Foundation is not by itself a research institute, even if our members include Celticists and enthusiasts with an academic background in Celtic studies and even if some of us are also active as editors. In creating *selgā and making its results available to the general public, our intention is primarily to provide a platform for Celtic studies and the tools to use that platform to maximum effect. This means that the creation of any actual content is largely the credit and responsibility of volunteering editors who are not necessarily affiliated to the foundation.

Scholars who are interested in contributing are cordially invited to contact us at selga@vanhamel.nl. Likewise, we welcome any corrections or suggestions sent to this address.

*selgā subprojects

There are not, in principle, any real restrictions to the range of an editor's contributions, as long as one does not stray too far from the intended scope of the project. However, it is our intention that the overarching project will serve as a host to a number of dedicated sub-projects which are created and coordinated to achieve more circumscribed aims. One might think, for instance, of a (sub)project focusing on texts which are often considered as a group, such as the Cycles of the Kings or the Mabinogion, but also projects approaching texts and manuscripts from a thematic angle, or from the perspective of textual transmission. The aim and scope of any future projects are, of course, open to discussion.

  1. We have been focusing primarily on medieval Irish literature, notably the narratives which modern scholarship assigns to the Cycles of the Kings, the Ulster Cycle, the Finn Cycle and the Mythological Cycle (and synthetic history), as well as early Irish poetry.
  2. The first steps are oriented towards setting up basic entries for individual texts and manuscripts, which allows us to create a common framework for the catalogue as a whole. At this stage, particular attention is being paid to the location of texts in the manuscripts, the language used in them, and the publications available, especially text editions, translations and manuscript catalogues. Two pages, ‘Edition wanted’ and ‘Translation wanted’, are used to keep track of texts which appear to be in need of editions and/or translations, or for which such information is not yet available to us.
  3. Much work has been done on the bibliographic system, which operates both as a research tool in its own right and as a semantic backend for the relevant entries in the catalogue.
  4. More specialised information, such as full summaries or overviews of past and recent scholarship, is planned for a later stage (although editors who prefer to contribute in this area are encouraged to do so).
  5. Tables of contents will be created for individual manuscripts, listing the texts which are contained in them, with a link to the relevant entry in the catalogue, or a red link if such an entry still needs to be created. Manuscript headings, first words (incipit), and scribal additions (which can be texts in their own right) will be noted if known. For some work in progress, see the Book of Leinster.
    1. Meanwhile, a link is provided to queries for texts which have been indexed thus far.
    2. T. K. Abbott • E. J. Gwynn, Catalogue of Irish MSS in TCD (1921).


If you need to cite the catalogue, you can use the following reference, with mention of entry and access date:

Groenewegen, Dennis [project director],

This section will present a list of frequently asked or anticipated questions. Only two such questions are addressed here, but more will be added in the future. For inquiries, send an e-mail to selga@vanhamel.nl.

The scope

You state that *selgā provides an index of ‘texts’, but what exactly constitutes a ‘text’ by your definition?

This is a serious point which may require more thought, but a working definition may be tentatively proposed. The term ‘text’ is broadly construed here to refer to any piece of written text, in whole or in part, with the catalogue being currently ‘limited’ to texts of Celtic interest which are attested in vellum and paper manuscripts, including such written documents as charters and administrative records. Celtic inscriptions or numismatic materials are not covered, unless they have some special bearing on any (sub)project or any particular catalogue entry.

This does not mean that every single ‘manuscript text’ (i.e. a manuscript version of a text) will be indexed separately: for every extant text, a list of manuscripts will be given in which some form of the text has come down. We intend that the existence of different versions, recensions, redactions, interpolations or other variants of significance will be noted in as much detail as possible. In some cases, the differences between versions are significantly marked to merit separate treatment.

  1. In addition to what can be considered the main texts, certain parts of a text may also be catalogued separately. This is particularly convenient in the case of select episodes from lengthy narratives, such as the Acallam na Senórach; verses in prosimetric texts; or short narratives cited — or even merely alluded to — in other texts. Breaking down texts into more manageable units should help us bring further precision to textual annotation.
  2. Also included are texts which no longer survive, but are thought to have been around at one time or another.

Would you consider offering digital transcriptions of Celtic studies publications, such as text editions and translations?

Not at the moment. There two main considerations here:

1. There are already a number of dedicated projects elsewhere on the web which are doing a wonderful job at specialising in this area. Early Irish studies are probably best covered, thanks to projects like the Corpus of Electronic Texts (CELT) and the Thesaurus Linguae Hibernicae (TLH). Medieval Welsh studies are also rather nicely served by projects like Welsh Prose 1350–1425 or Dafydd ap Gwilym, although a large text corpus like that offered by CELT does not appear to be available.

That said, there are several niche areas where *selgā might be of assistance. Examples:

  • The textual corpora which are currently on offer still leave quite a few areas of study which are not as well represented, if at all.
  • It may be used as a temporary station for work in progress before the texts are launched by the intended external projects. This is especially useful in view of the collaborative nature of the project.
  • Students and scholars may offer their own editions and translations under specified conditions: for instance, as preliminary work inviting further comment.
  • Apart from simply representing texts, it is also possible to add features, such as maps (e.g. using mw:Extension:Semantic Maps) and commentaries, to aid the reader.

2. Another point to consider is the suitability of the software-specific syntax for structuring text. Depending on one's personal preferences, MediaWiki software is not necessarily unsuitable for digital markup. The main challenge lies in using it in compliance with TEI, now the de facto (or at least generally preferred) standard for marking up texts in digital form in the humanities. The Text Encoding Initiative (TEI) is an international consortium whose purpose is to formulate sound guidelines for the representation of texts in digital form.

MediaWiki syntax, which differs from HTML or XML, is known to be slightly idiosyncratic and probably worst of all, difficult to parse, so that it would require some special treatment.

Initiatives to adapt MediaWiki for use in line with TEI standards are still very much in development.
n. 3 Convertors are available to render wiki text. See also the TEI Toolbar Specification at Transcribe Bentham.
MW has in fact been successfully adopted for such purposes, for instance by the Transcribe Bentham project at the University College of London.

CODECS is published online by Stichting A. G. van Hamel voor Keltische Studies (A. G. van Hamel Foundation for Celtic Studies) under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-SA 3.0) licence. Designed, directed and maintained by Dennis Groenewegen.