Bodley MS 851

That’s, right, let’s begin with the Z-text.  For a first JSON post we are going to start with one of the earliest manuscripts, and I am going to do nothing but talk about JSON and describe the Z-text manuscript in valid JSON code.

So, to get going, let’s talk for a second about this horrifying acronym, “JSON,” which stands for Java Script Object Notation. JSON  is a simple way to store and send STRUCTURED DATA. It is typically used for allowing a web page to exchange data and messages with the server without the whole page having to refresh or update.  It’s simple, it’s complete, and it doesn’t interfere with your ongoing activity on a page but allows you to see more.  Think about things that pop up when you hover over an object, or a shopping cart that may show what’s in your cart without leaving the page you’re on.

Why JSON for data? Well, we are going to talk more about JSON-LD for linked data in the next blog post, but the simple answer is that it allows us to describe a real world object in code in such a way that the resulting script is BOTH human- and machine-readable.

I swear, it’s not scary at all.  Simple JSON often looks like this:


“name”: “Jane Medievalist”,

“institution”: “Medieval University”

“books”: [

“name”: “The Middle Ages Rock”,

“name”: “You wish you were medieval!”,

“name”: “So you think you can alliterate?”



What is this? Well, it’s a JSON Object, which we know because the whole thing is enclosed in the curly brackets { }. JSON operates on objects which can be as simple and elaborate as you like.  Today, I’m presenting the Z-text manuscript as a SINGLE JSON OBJECT.

The other elements you have in JSON are arrays, which are marked off with the [ ] brackets. Inside any set of [] must be items separated by commas.  No ifs, ands or buts about it.  Usually, those items are name/value pairs. Above, my array is for Jane Medievalist’s books, of which there are three, all separated by commas.

Name/value pairs are the basic element for transmitting information rather than structuring it. It consists of pairing a denominating term (“name” OR anything else that functions the same way), a colon , and then whatever value or quality you want to apply to that denomination.

The value in a name/value pair can be any of the following types:

A number         “date” : 1215

string*            “name” : “Magna Carta”

boolean, for which the options are only “true,” “false,” or “null.”

“extant_original_copies” : null

An array            “issued” : [1215, 1219]

Or another object 

“children” : {“The Great Charter”: 1216}

Though, “children” usually implies a nested array of objects, which is just a list of objects (in {}) separated by commas within [ ].

*a STRING is the last very important thing to know.  It is what comes in between the ” ” everywhere. It is basically where you get to write whatever words you want to get your ideas out.  You can put literally anything between the ” “, though some things will be more helpful than others.  The only other thing to know, when you’re using a “string” for the “name” portion of your name/value pair, don’t use any spaces.  When it’s a value it just treats the spaces as characters. When it’s in the name things can go wonky.

So really, it’s not that complicated.  If you want to learn more about it, try this article on JSON basics.

If you do write some simple JSON, try it out on the Jason Editor Online which allows you to input your JSON, click the Right arrow, and use the resulting left hand side to check the validity of your code. If it’s valid, the editor will simply tell you how many strings, arrays, booleans, etc. there are and will display the basic structure.

Screen Shot 2014-05-10 at 3.17.11 PM


Here, you can see some simple nesting going on and otherwise just an object constituted by a long list of “name”/value pairs that describe the physical manuscript.

Don’t worry if you get something wrong. JSON editor will pop up a message like this

Screen Shot 2014-05-10 at 3.16.19 PM


that will tell you what line your error was in, and what JSON editor was expecting.  Usually it’s a misplaced comma or a missing bracket, and no big deal.

As your code gets more complicated, JSON editor will help you to work through it.

Screen Shot 2014-05-10 at 3.13.06 PM

So, here we have MS Bodley 851 coded in a simple JSON script:


“MSshortHand”:”The Z Text”,
“HoldingLocation”:”Oxford, UK”,
“Library”:”Bodleian Library”,
“Shelfmark”: “Bodley MS 851”,
“Olim.”: null,
“Provenance”: [“hand-?John Wells?, Monk of Ramsay”,”Whyttynton-C15″,”J Kyngstun-C15″,”Th.Strype-C16″,”Presented to Bodley by Cuthbert Ridley M.A.”],
“AquisitionDate”: 1601,
“DateRange”: {
“Terminus Post Quem”: 1390,
“Terminus Ante Quem”: 1400
“SupportQuality”: 5,
“Folios”: 139,
“Script”:”Anglicana Formata”,
“Contents”: [“Gauteri Mahapde Nugis Curialium Distinctio prima”,”De Conjuge non Ducenda”,”Bridlington’s Prophecies”,”Speculum Stultorum”,”Apocalypsis Goliae”,”Piers Plowman Pr-VIII.88″],

“Number of Texts”: 6,
“Position of Piers”: 7,
“Percent MS occupied by Piers”: 13,
“Piers Textual Variety”: “Z”,
“Lines of Piers Poetry (approx.)”: 1300,
“Dialect”: “SW Worcestershire”,
“Collation”: [“incompl”,”124-33″,”134-39″],
“Initial Decoration”: [
{“I”:”fol. 124r”,
“HeightInLines”: 16,
“Color”: “blue”,
“Filigree”: “red”,
“Rubric”: null,
“Line”: “In a somer sesoun wen softe was the sonne…”},
{“I”:”fol. 125r”,
“HeightInLines”: 3,
“Color”: “blue”,
“Filigree”: “red”,
“Rubric”:”Passus Primus”,
“Line”:”Ifrayned here fayre for hym that here made”},
{“N”:”fol. 126v”,
“HeightInLines”: 4,
“Color”: “blue”,
“Filigree”: “red”,
“Rubric”:”Passus Secundus”,
“Line”:”Now have y to tole yow of trewthe that no tresor ys bettre”},
{“N”:”fol. 128v”,
“HeightInLines”: 3,
“Color”: “blue”,
“Filigree”: “red”,
“Rubric”:”Passus tercius”,
“Line”:”Now ys mede the mayde ant no mo of hem alle”},
{“S”:”fol. 130v”,
“HeightInLines”: 4,
“Color”: “blue”,
“Filigree”: “red”,
“Rubric”:”Passus quartus”,
“Line”:”Seseth seseth sayde the kynge y soffre yow no lenger”},
{“S”:”fol. 132r”,
“HeightInLines”: null,
“Color”: null,
“Filigree”: null,
“Rubric”:”Passus quintus-black with red underline”,
{“T”:”fol. 133v”,
“HeightInLines”: 3,
“Color”: “blue”,
“Filigree”: “red”,
“Rubric”:”Passus sextus”,
“Line”:”This folk frayned hym firste fro wannes a come”},
{“T”:”fol. 135r”,
“HeightInLines”: 3,
“Color”: “blue”,
“Filigree”: “red”,
“Rubric”:”Passus septimus”,
“Line”:”This were a wel wykes was but wo haues a gyde”},
{“T”:”fol. 138r”,
“HeightInLines”: 3,
“Color”: “blue”,
“Filigree”: “red”,
“Rubric”:”Passus octauus”,
“Line”:”Trewthe herde telle here of autr to perus sente”
“Printed Edition(s)”: [{
“Title”:”Piers Plowman: A Facsimile of the Z-Text in Bodleian Library, Oxford, MS Bodley 851″,
“Editors”: [“Charlotte Brewer”, “A.G. Rigg”],
“Publisher”: “D.S. Brewer”,
“Date”: 1994

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