Blog Post

Reading Medieval Manuscripts with Deep Learning Technology

Elena Nieddu, computer scientist, 24 years-old, from Rome, PhD Researcher at Università Roma Tre, and one of the few privileged with access to the Vatican Secret Archives. Winner of a Pi School Scholarship, she is currently developing a project that will help historians to study medieval latin manuscripts.

A moment of the interview
Moment of the interview

Sitting at our Olivetti Cafeteria, we chatted with Elena about the amazing project she is developing here at Pi School, as part the Artificial Intelligence Programme. We want to know more about some of the Vatican best kept secrets and her contribute to interpret and access them.


Your university research project is about using deep learning for handwritten text recognition, in medieval manuscripts.Tell us more about the idea behind your project.

Our research project is a collaboration with the Vatican Secret Archives, where there are thousands of documents that portrait centuries of history. Even if most of them are indexed, there is no clear information about what each of those documents contains. Historians have to do the process of information extraction on their own, and manually. Plus, this documents are really difficult to access if your not an expert, as the official language is latin.

The work of preserving our cultural heritage worths a lot. Specially when we can make the most of the latest progresses in the field of technology, and research with more accuracy and in less time.

We were confronted with a problem: “Can we contribute to the work of historians and archivists, with the latest progresses on technology?” Let’s find the solution.


Your project shows a deep understanding of the role of history, art and technology. Do you think that part of your identity as an Italian makes you more aware of the common points between those areas?

I believe that Italians are naturally exposed to art, beauty, literature, and that gives us an advantage, it’s true.

Usually, humanities and science are in competition between them, like each field needs to prove its supremacy. Personally, I believe that together they have an amazing potentiality. The mix of both creates a unique synergy.

It also has a special meaning from a personal point of view, as I’ve studied humanities when I was in High School, but when I went to College I’ve decided to follow a technical road. Still, my passion for culture has never left me! I am an enthusiast of subjects such literature and history. It’s like this project was meant to be!


“I believe that Italians are naturally exposed to art, beauty, literature, and that gives us an advantage.”

AI is truly a transversal discipline. Which might be the outcomes of it on fields such as history and art? 

Artificial Intelligence can finally be a useful instrument to fields such as arts and literature. We are slowly – not so slowly actually – witnessing an increase of the intellectual abilities of the machines. This forms of intelligence are still far from the human ones but, I believe that they will soon be in everyone’s houses. Like computers right? They are now our cellphones. My vision of Artificial Intelligence is that it’s very helpful. I don’t believe on the terminator scenario!


What would you like to achieve during this time at Pi School? Which goals have you set?

I would like to grow from a personal and technical point of view. The simple fact of being with other people that share the same interests and work on the same field is fantastic. Being able to share your ideas, your projects and even your background, is amazing. Everyone is different but that’s what brought us here, together. I want to make the most of this environment, develop and perfection my project.


“Everyone is different but that’s what brought us here”

How do you feel here at Pi School?

This place is amazing, it’s really beautiful! Here I have everything I could wish for. I am very productive when I have the space to work on my own but also together with others. It’s an open space and gives me an open mind! If I want to talk about something or ask for an advice, there’s always a spare chair around! All knowledge is interconnected and here we have the chance to actually apply it.


The author

  • Marta Romão

    Social Media Specialist, Pi School

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