800+ Treasured Medieval Manuscripts to Be Digitized by Cambridge & Heidelberg Universities

Western civilization may fast be going digital, but it still retains its roots in Ancient Greece. And so it makes a certain circle-closing sense to digitize the legacy left us by our Ancient Greek forebears and the medieval scholars who preserved it. Cambridge and Heidelberg, two of Europe's oldest universities, this month announced their joint intention to embark upon just such a project. It will take two years and cost £1.6 million, reports the BBC, but it will digitize "more than 800 volumes featuring the works of Plato and Aristotle, among others." As the announcement of the project puts it, the texts will then "join the works of Charles Darwin, Isaac Newton, Stephen Hawking and Alfred Lord Tennyson on the Cambridge Digital Library."

These medieval and early modern Greek manuscripts, which date more specifically "from the early Christian period to the early modern era (about 1500 - 1700 AD)," present their digitizers with certain challenges, not least the "fragile state" of their medieval binding.




But as Heidelberg University Library director Dr. Veit Probst says in the announcement, “Numerous discoveries await. We still lack detailed knowledge about the production and provenance of these books, about the identities and activities of their scribes, their artists and their owners – and have yet to uncover how they were studied and used, both during the medieval period and in the centuries beyond." And from threads including "the annotations and marginalia in the original manuscripts" a "rich tapestry of Greek scholarship will be woven."

This massive undertaking involves not just Cambridge and Heidelberg but the Vatican as well. Together Heidelberg University and the Vatican possess the entirety of the Bibliotheca Palatina, split between the libraries of the two institutions, and the digitization of the "mother of all medieval libraries" previously featured here on Open Culture, is a part of the project. This collected wealth of texts includes not just the work of Plato, Aristotle, and Homer as they were "copied and recopied throughout the medieval period," in the words of Cambridge University Library Keeper of Rare Books and Early Manuscripts Dr. Suzanne Paul, but a great many other "multilingual, multicultural, multifarious works, that cross borders, disciplines and the centuries" as well. And with luck, their digital copies will stick around for centuries of Western civilization to come.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

800 Illuminated Medieval Manuscripts Are Now Online: Browse & Download Them Courtesy of the British Library and Bibliothèque Nationale de France

Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel The Buried Giant begins with an immersive depiction of what it might have been like to live in a European village during the middle ages. Or what it might feel like for us moderns, at least. The couple at the center of the story spends several pages fretting over the loss of a candle, their only one. Without it, their nights are pitch black. In the day, they wander in a fog, unable to remember anything. Though the cause of this turns out to be dark magic, one can’t help thinking that a smartphone would immediately solve all their problems.

This was a time not only before mobile video, but when images of any kind were scarce, when every book was painstakingly copied by hand in careful, elegant script. Many of those rare, scribal copies were not illustrated, they were “illuminated.” Their pages shone out into the darkness and fog. Most of the population could not read them, but they could, in rare instances when they might catch a glimpse, be deeply moved by the colorful, stylized images and lettering.

For the intellectual classes, illumination constituted a language of its own, framing and interpreting medical, classical, and legal texts, gospels and works by the church fathers. Not all books received this treatment but the “most luxurious,” notes the British Library, were “literally ‘lit up’ by decorations and pictures in brightly coloured pigments and burnished gold leaf.” For centuries, despite the explosion of image-making technologies of every kind, most of us, unless we were scholars or aristocrats, were in the same position vis-à-vis these stunning artifacts as the average medieval peasant. Medieval manuscripts were locked away in rare book rooms and seen by very few.




The situation has changed dramatically as libraries digitize their holdings. Last November, hundreds more rare, valuable medieval manuscripts became available to everyone when the British Library and the Bibliothèque nationale de France launched a joint project, making “800 manuscripts decorated before the year 1200 available freely” online, as the BL blog announced in 2016. Both institutions provided 400 manuscripts each for digitization. Some of these are currently on display at the wildly popular, sold-out British Library exhibition Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms: Art, Word, War. Now they are also virtual public property, as it were, thanks to a grant from the Polonsky Foundation.

That these fragile artifacts have been so inaccessible, kept under glass and well away from insects, thieves, and vandals, now means they are in a condition to be digitally copied and uploaded in high resolution for close viewing, comparison, and careful study. Medievalists.net describes the complementary websites the two libraries have launched:

The first, France-England: medieval manuscripts between 700 and 1200, has been created by the Bibliothèque nationale de France based on the Gallica marque blanche infrastructure, using the IIIF standard and Mirador viewer to make the images held by the different institutions interoperable and enable them to be compared side-by-side within the same digital library or annotated. The second website, Medieval England and France, 700-1200, is aimed at a wider public audience, and has been developed by the British Library to showcase a selection of manuscripts as well as articles, essays and video clips.

The French site has ports of entry according to theme, author, place, and century, and many links to resources for scholars. The British Library site features curated selections, introduced by accessible articles. Laypeople with little experience studying medieval manuscripts can learn about legal, medical, and musical texts, see how the writings of the church fathers received special attention in monastic culture, and learn how manuscripts circulated before 1200. Those who know what they are looking for can conduct advanced searches at the Medieval Manuscripts site, and download a full list of all 800 manuscripts here.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Librarian Honors a Dying Tree by Turning It Into a Little Free Library

And then she said to Annika, "Why don't you feel in that old tree stump? One practically always finds things in old tree stumps." 

- Pippi Longstocking, Astrid Lindgren 

Remember that other classic of children's literature, wherein a boy runs from the city to a secluded mountain, taking up residence in an old tree he hollows into a cozy shelter?

Public librarian and artist Sharalee Armitage Howard’s Little Free Library is a bit like that, except there was no running involved.

When the venerable and ailing cottonwood in her Coeur d’Alene front yard began dropping branches on cars parked below, Howard faced the inevitable. But rather than chop the tree even with the ground, she arranged with the removal crew to leave a considerable amount of stump intact.




Then, in a Pippi Longstocking-ish move, she filled it with books for her neighbors and strangers to discover.

The interior has a snug, woodland vibe, worthy of Beatrix Potter or Alison Uttley, with tidy shelves, soft lighting, and a shingled roof to protect the contents from the elements.

Ever since December, when Howard posted photos to social media, the fairytale-like structure has been engendering epic amounts of global goodwill.

What a beautiful way to preserve and honor a tree that stood for well over a century.

One of the few naysayers is Reddit user discerningpervert, who is perhaps not giving voice to the Lorax, so much as Thalia, Muse of Comedy, when he writes:

It's like a house of horrors for trees. Inside the corpse of their former comrade are the processed remnants of their treebrothers and treesisters.

A literal Treehouse of Horror...

Visit Howard’s Little Free Library (charter #8206) the next time you're in Idaho. Or install one of your own.

(Those with trees to throw at the cause may want to begin with the stump hollowing tutorial below.)

via Twisted Sifter

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  See her onstage in New York City in February as host of  Theater of the Apes book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

The “Most Secretive Library in the World”: The Future Library Will Collect 100 Original Manuscripts by Margaret Atwood, David Mitchell & More, to Be Read for the First Time in 2114

Should intelligent life of some form or another still inhabit the planet in the year 6939, such beings might come upon an “800-pound tube of an alloy of copper and chromium called Cupaloy” that was buried 50 feet beneath what was once Queens. The first time capsule, lowered under the Westinghouse exhibit at the 1939 New York World’s Fair contains “35 items one might find in any run-of-the-mill Smith family household,” as Jinwoo Chong writes at Untapped Cities, “including copies of Life magazine, a Sears and Roebuck catalog, cigarettes and seeds of wheat, corn, alfalfa and soy.”

The Future Library, a time capsule-like project presently in the works, takes a very different approach to the concept. “A forest is growing in Norway,” explains an introductory video on creator Katie Paterson’s website. “In 100 years it will become an anthology of books.” The books that will be printed from 1,000 trees planted in Nordmarka, north of Oslo, will not, however, transmit mining and navigational instructions, but a full range of human emotion and personal experience. Or so we might assume. Unlike the 1939 time capsule, we'll never know what's inside them.




Scottish artist Paterson has planned a library of 100 creative works of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry—one manuscript submitted every year until 2114, when she intends them all to be printed in 3,000 copies each and read for the first time. Almost none of us will be there to witness the event, yet “the timescale is… not vast in cosmic terms,” she says. “It is beyond our current lifespans, but close enough to come face to face with it, to comprehend and relativize,” unlike the incomprehensible future of H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine or the far-off world for which Westinghouse designed their capsule.

Nonetheless, technological, and perhaps even evolutionary, change has increased exponentially in the past several decades, as have the possibilities for global extinction events. Margaret Atwood, the first author to submit an unpublished, unread manuscript to the Future Library in 2014, is characteristically less than sanguine about the existence of future readers for her manuscript, entitled Scribbler Moon. “It’s very optimistic to believe that there will still be people in 100 years,” she says in the short video above, and “that those people will still be reading.” Atwood imagines a near-future that may not even recognize our time.

Which words that we use today will be different, archaic, obsolete? Which new words will have entered the language? We don’t know what footnotes we will need. Will they have computers? Will they call them something else? What will they think smartphones are? Will that word still exist?

Writers for the project are chosen by the Future Library’s board of trustees. After the canny selection of Atwood, they chose the equally on-the-nose David Mitchell, author of Cloud Atlas, who calls the library “the Ark of Literature.” It is a strange ark, filled with animals few people living now will likely ever see. "The world's most secretive library," The Guardian calls it.  In 2016, Icelandic novelist and poet Sjón submitted his mysterious text. The fourth work came from Turkish novelist Elif Shafak, who named the project “a secular act of faith.”

The latest writer chosen is Man Booker-winning South Korean novelist Han Kang, who described the Future Library as a literal expression of the writer’s thoughts on their duty to posterity: “I cannot survive 100 years from now, of course. No one who I love can survive, either. This relentless fact has made me reflect on the essential part of my life. Why do I write? Who am I talking to, when I write?” Did Jane Austen imagine her readers of 100 years later? Could she ever have imagined us?

Not only is the Future Library an act of literary faith, but it is an ecological one. “The next 96 years do not look promising for the seedlings,” writes Merve Emre at The New York Times, “which are more vulnerable than their ancestors to all manner of man-made disasters.” The project symbolically binds together the fates of the book and the trees, making “the physicality of culture palpable by insisting that we confront the long, laborious process of preserving language.”

In 2020, the collection of manuscripts will be moved to a “Silent Room” in Oslo, a “womb-shaped chamber facing the forest, lined with wood from its trees.” Visitors can come and venerate these secretive future relics in their ribbon-wrapped gray boxes. But their contents—should the ambitious endeavor go as planned—will remain as elusive as the shape of our collective future 100 years from now.

via NYTimes

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

The Library of Congress Makes Thousands of Fabulous Photos, Posters & Images Free to Use & Reuse

The history of the venerable Library of Congress demonstrates the vast importance that the founders of the U.S. accorded to reading and studying. It may be one of the country’s most durable institutions, “the oldest federal cultural institution in the nation,” it proclaims. While partisan rancor, war, and violence recur, the LoC has stolidly held an ever-increasingly diverse collection of artifacts sitting peacefully alongside each other on several hundred miles of shelves, a monument to the life of the mind that ought to get more attention.

Touting itself as “the largest library in the world,” its collections “are universal, not limited by subject, format, or national boundary, and include research materials from all parts of the world and in more than 450 languages.”




Its first materials were, of course, books—including over six-thousand books purchased from Thomas Jefferson’s private collection after the British burned the original library down in 1814. Now, it “adds approximately 12,000 items to the collection daily,” in every possible format one can imagine.

And since its digital collections came online, anyone, anywhere in the world can call up these vast resources with an internet connection and a few clicks. Though we tend to take such things for granted in our fervidly distracted times, a little reflection should remind us of how incredible that is. But before we wax too rhapsodic, let’s remember there’s a business end to the LoC and it’s called the U.S. Copyright Office, that guardian of intellectual property that both ensures creators can profit from their labors and prevents the free and open use of so many enriching materials long after those creators have need of them.

But the Library has done its digital users a service in this regard as well, with its “Free to Use and Reuse Sets,” a sizable collection of images that the Library “believes… is either in the public domain, has no known copyright, or has been cleared by the copyright owner for public use.” (The use of the word “believes” seems to leave room for doubt, but if you got it with permission from the LoC, you’re probably safe.) Need photographs of Abraham Lincoln—and scans of his speeches, letters, and “dueling instructions”—for that book you’re writing? You’re covered with this gallery. Need a collection of classic children's books for your website (or your reading pleasure)? Here you go.

From the graphic genius of vintage WPA and travel posters to iconic jazz portraits by William Gottlieb to baseball cards to endlessly quaint and quirky American roadside attractions to pictures of dogs and their people… you never know when you might need such images, but when you do you now know where to find them. Want to know what’s in the set called “Not an Ostrich”? A valkyrie cat named Brunnhilde, for one thing, and much more here.

The Library currently highlights its “Poster Parade”—a set of posters from the 1890s to the 1960s featuring “travel, commercial products, war propaganda, entertainment, and more”—in collaboration with Poster House, a museum opening in New York next year. These range from delectable art nouveau ads to shouty broadsides telling you to drink your milk, brush your teeth, or have “More Courtesy.” Sensible prescriptions, but we also need more knowledge, study, and thought. Start at the LoC’s Digital Collections here and harvest your free to use and reuse images here.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness.

 

Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven” Gets Released on Instagram as a Digital “Insta Novel”: It’s Free from The New York Public Library

Back in August, we highlighted a new initiative by the New York Public Library. An institution that's hip with our times, the NYPL released on Instagram a digital version of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Now, in the Halloween spirit, comes a digital adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe's classic tale, "The Raven." They write:

"The Raven" includes a unique series of animations produced by Psyop and Studio AKA that takes readers on an ominous procession through a stark psychological landscape where the differing perspectives of both the Raven and Poe’s protagonist are depicted. The viewpoints steadily intercut and converge as the animation builds to its disquieting climax, as the door creaks open revealing “darkness there and nothing more.”

Read "The Raven" on Instagram here. And keep an eye out for NYPL's upcoming adaptation of "The Metamorphosis" by Franz Kafka. It's due out by the end of the year.

Follow Open Culture on Facebook and Twitter and share intelligent media with your friends. Or better yet, sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox. 

If you'd like to support Open Culture and our mission, please consider making a donation to our site. It's hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us provide the best free cultural and educational materials.

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RIP Todd Bol, Founder of the Little Free Library Movement: He Leaves Behind 75,000 Small Libraries That Promote Reading Worldwide

"The Little Free Library: Billions and billions read."

In the 2013 Ted-X talk above, Todd Bol, founder of the Little Free Library movement, expressed the desire that one day, he might be able to boast that his labor of love had surpassed McDonalds with regard to the number of customers’ served.

It's closing in...




Bol, who passed away earlier this month, was inspired by Andrew Carnegie's mission of repaying his own good fortune by establishing 2,509 free public libraries.

The Little Free Libraries are vastly more numerous if less imposing than Carnegie’s stately edifices.

Some, like the prototype Bol crafted with lumber salvaged from a garage door in his late mother’s honor, resemble doll houses.

One in Detroit is a dead ringer for Doctor Who’s TARDIS.

There’s a bright yellow one emblazoned with characters from The Simpsons, autographed by series creator Matt Groening.

Others are housed in repurposed suitcases, storage cabinets, or newspaper honor boxes.

While the non-profit Little Free Library store sells several sturdy, weatherproof models and its website hosts a healthy collection of blueprints and tips for DIYers, Bol was never doctrinaire about the aesthetics, preferring to leave that up to each volunteer steward.

He seemed proudest of the libraries’ community building effect (though he was also pretty chuffed when Reader's Digest ranked the project above Bruce Springsteen in its 2013 feature ”50 Surprising Reasons We Love America.” )

While not entirely devoid of naysayers, the goodwill surrounding the Little Free Library movement cannot be underestimated.

A steward who posted news of his dog’s death on the side of his library received sympathy cards from neighbors both known and unknown to him.

A steward who specializes in giving away cookbooks, and invites patrons to snip herbs from an adjacent garden, frequently wakes to find homemade quiche and other goodies on the doorstep.

And when an arsonist torched a Little Free Library in Indianapolis, the community rallied, vowing to get enough donations to replace it with 100 more.

To date, stewards have registered over 75,000, in 85 countries, in service of Bol’s “Take a book, Leave a book” philosophy.

Find a Little Free Library near you, learn how to become a steward, or make a donation on the project’s website.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in NYC on Monday, November 12 for another monthly installment of her book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

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