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What is Archetype?

2020 PLEASE NOTE - though you are welcome to use the Archetype framework for your own research, KDL will no longer be supporting or hosting new Archetype projects. We will continue to develop the ideas and tools that have made Archetype such a powerful tool for DH research through new projects and through complementary development of focussed, modular, software tools. Archetype is an integrated suite of web-based tools for the study of medieval handwriting, art and iconography. Using Archetype, scholars can annotate, describe and tag an image, or part of an image. Some video lessons are available here.



The most important features in your documents and images can be easily drawn around and then identified by a classification system that you define to suit your domain. Once tagged, these features can be searched for and presented in a variety of forms and visualisations, including as a list, a grid or as a time series.

Text Editor

Text Editor

In addition to capturing letter forms or graphical details, Archetype allows the direct TEI markup, translation and classification of the various structural elements or phrases that make up a text. Translations can then be viewed alongside transcriptions and the image of the source document, with all the marked up regions clearly displayed.

Faceted Search

Faceted Search

Archetype builds a fast searchable index across all of your collected data so that you can search for all the elements or text you have classified by their feature types or by associated features within the source document. A faceted search means you need never arrive at an empty result set, but can refine your search criteria as you navigate the data.



Scholarly expertise is at the heart of Archetype. Using the Lightbox, you can bring the many examples of the features you have identified into the same 2D workspace to manipulate, transform and compare them. You can even reunite fragments of documents in virtual space that have been separated for hundreds of years. The Lightbox allows the expert to evaluate multiple documents in a new way.

Collect and Share

Collect and Share

Whilst you create an Archetype instance that meets the needs of your corpus and your research domain, you can also enable other researchers to build their own collections of material based on your observations. These collections can be shared and your Archetype database can be easily cited to support hypotheses and share new knowledge with the wider research community.

Content Management System

Content Management System

To help manage the impact of your work, and to publicise and disseminate your research, Archetype comes with a built-in content management system, enabling you to easily publish blog posts, team and event information, help pages, project glossaries and long-form articles. The inclusion of the CMS makes Archetype a true end-to-end solution for research projects of all sizes and ambitions.

At the heart of Archetype is a philosophy that digital tools should enable scholars to do what they know best. It doesn’t aim to replace your workflow, but augment it with tools that adapt to your needs. The strength of Archetype is that your annotations are stored in a structured database, allowing you to explore your research data using powerful, built-in search facilities. Archetype may be used by individual scholars, or as the hub of a collaborative project, or to enable the sharing of data with other scholars anywhere.

Winner of the first annual Medieval Academy Digital Humanities Prize, Archetype (in the form of DigiPal) was commended for its “innovative framework, collaborative origins, open access, quality design, and skillfully curated pilot collection” and judged to be “an excellent model for the practice of digital humanities scholarship in the field of medieval studies.


So how does Archetype work?

Archetype is a self-contained, end-to-end solution for the common tasks needed for detailed research across large corpora.



Helping straight from the outset, Archetype’s batch uploading allows you to bring multiple digital images into your repository in a single pass, avoiding repetitive and error-prone manual uploads. Some video lessons are available here to get you started.


Once the first images are in place, the fun can begin! The methodology is simple yet immensely powerful: the user manually draws a box around a part of an image and then describes the contents of that box using a set of terms and hierarchies that they have predefined. If for instance, your corpus is medieval handwriting, all you need to do is drag a resizable frame around a particular letter-form and then choose the appropriate designator from the drop-down (for this example, let's use g). The process is uncomplicated, but the potential is transformative: once a number of letter-forms have been annotated, the user can use the filtered search to say “show me all the instances of g in the database and then compare them. For a more nuanced description, the user can create their own hierarchy of description and classifications. For instance, the user might label the tail of an individual g as open and ¾ closed”. The idea is that through the use of judicious labelling, one can associate certain features of style with a particular time period or region. The underlying philosophy is to put the researcher at the heart of the decision-making process, be they palaeographers, art historians or iconographers. Of course, a box might be drawn around anything, and while the first phase of projects powered by Archetype have focused mainly on the palaeography of medieval manuscripts, your search criteria might just as easily be show me all the examples of the head of pharaoh in fourteenth century Hebrew manuscripts or show me images of the obverse of a seal with a seated figure . The system is very flexible and is designed to allow researchers to classify, categorise and curate data in order to meet the requirements of their research. It is also intended to work in a collaborative context, bringing together scholars from complementary disciplines to lend their skills to a large scale research project.

Searching through your annotations.

Selected 'g' characters


The versatile Text Editor was designed specifically for Archetype and supports direct entry of transcriptions and translations. Text can be marked to indicate expansion of abbreviations, supplied text, deletions and a number of other features of a document. Words and phrases may be marked up from the drop-down menus to indicate clauses, linguistic features, and exported as TEI, if required. Linking the text to the image is as easy as drawing a box and then associating its content with the mark-up from a drop-down menu. If the default layout isn’t to your liking, then all panels and their contents can be resized and rearranged according to your preferences.

The Archetype text editor



The third core component of Archetype is Faceted Searching. This facility provides researchers with the opportunity to express queries as complex or as simple as they wish. They can explore and arrange their data all in the same simple interface. Different views allow manuscript images to be displayed, or annotations or texts, or even combinations of these alongside each other. Faceted searching encourages iterative queries that may suggest new relationships or different lines of enquiry.

Using faceted searching to narrow results

Graph selections


An instance of Archetype will become a rich repository of knowledge for you and your extended research community. Archetype allows you and your intended audience to test hypotheses, compare multiple sources and to curate and disseminate collections. The Lightbox allows for side-by-side comparison of any elements that have been annotated in a 2D workspace that enables rotating, scaling, and the adjusting of opacity to overlay elements on top of each other. Users can share collections and cite your database in their own research using tools built into Archetype. Along with the CMS, these features allow a specialised resource to become the hub for a community.

Close inspection, using the lightbox



Choose what you need

Get started on your own with a self-contained Docker package or read about how other projects have implemented Archetype with the assistance of King’s Digital Lab and the Department of Digital Humanities at King’s College London

Need a tailored version for your project?

Contact Us

View our Case Studies >>

Archetype is an open source project. Fork us on GitHub


Sites made with Archetype

Archetype is a mature, award-winning platform that has been tried and tested in a variety of project settings, all of which have helped it evolve into an essential, comprehensive toolset.



DigiPal (Digital Resource and Database of Palaeography, Manuscripts and Diplomatic) was a four year project funded by the European Research Council (2011-2014). The goal of the project was two-fold: to create a framework of software tools for the study of medieval handwriting (which we went on to develop into Archetype) and to use that framework to study the vernacular script often used for writing Old English in the eleventh century. Before long, the initial site drew scholarly interest and the approach it show-cased, powered by the underlying Archetype framework, has now become something of a standard.

Models of Authority

Models of Authority

Models of Authority: Scottish Charters and the Emergence of Government is a resource for the study of the contents, script and physical appearance of the corpus of Scottish charters which survives from 1100–1250. Through close examination of the diplomatic and palaeographic features of the charters, the project will explore the evidence for developments in the perception of royal government during a crucial period in Scottish history. The project is funded by the AHRC (2014-2017) and is a collaboration between scholars from the Universities of Glasgow, Cambridge and King's College London.


Exon Domesday

EXON: The Conquerors' Commissioners: Unlocking the Domesday Survey of SW England, is a resource for the study of the Exon Domesday Book. Through close examination of the codicological, palaeographic and other features of the charters, the project will explore the evidence for developments in government during a crucial period in history. This project website will include a complete digital facsimile and new codicological and palaeographical descriptions of the manuscript, a full new text and translation. Samples of this material will be made available as the work continues to progress.


Hear What Our Partners Say ...

Archetype has been developed to meet the needs of all levels of research from proof of concept, through PhD projects, to projects with major European funding. Leading scholars have found that Archetype has given them new insights and impact.

Dauvit Broun
Dauvit Broun
Professor of Scottish History, University of Glasgow

The Archetype framework made it possible to study features of style in a corpus of more than 700 charters simultaneously. This prompted questions about chronological development and context which I could pursue immediately, leading to significant new insights and fresh questions that I would never have imagined asking beforehand

Lisa Fagin Davis
Lisa Fagin Davis
Executive Director, Medieval Academy of America

Using Archetype, I can apply carefully structured metadata to the 1500 images in my corpus of scribal hands taken from more than 500 manuscripts produced in ten closely-related Upper-Austrian abbeys in the twelfth century. Once I have completed the image- and data-input process, the sophisticated Archetype search engine will allow me to discover, sort, and analyze scripts, scribes, scriptoria, and texts. In this way, I will be able to complete the project I began some twenty years ago but had to put aside because the technology I needed did not yet exist. Archetype is the tool I have been waiting for.

Marc Michael Epstein
Marc Michael Epstein
Professor of Religion and Visual Cultureon the Mattie M. Paschall (1899) & Norman Davis Chair,Vassar College

Who would have thought that a resource so precisely and appropriately tailored to paleography could be expanded in such brilliant and creative ways to collect, catalogue and compare, iconographic motifs as well? In my own ambit of research, even the patronage of manuscripts tends to be a mystery, and the authorship of iconography is for the most part unknown. Archetype makes it possible—indeed easy and pleasant—to correlate content, narrative parallels and morphological analogues in such a way as to enable researchers to begin to solve long-puzzling mysteries. My assistant and I have been consistently surprised and delighted by the simplicity and the clarity of an interface by means of which one may control a sophisticated and versatile arsenal of resources for iconographic study.

Simona Stoyanova
Digital Humanist, Greek and Latin epigrapher. Research fellow, Institute of Classical Studies; PhD student

My PhD investigates the links between the Greek and Latin epigraphic traditions in the multilingual Roman province of Thrace. The tools provided by Archetype have enabled me to examine the specific characteristics of scripts and inscribing traditions in a consistent and replicable manner. In particular, this framework has facilitated a highly efficient way of comparing, sorting and mapping scribal similarities and differences. In an increasingly open source and linked open data world, it is especially important that Archetype assigns unique identifiers to annotations which can be referenced in further research.


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