160,000 Pages of Glorious Medieval Manuscripts Digitized: Visit the Bibliotheca Philadelphiensis

We might think we have a gen­er­al grasp of the peri­od in Euro­pean his­to­ry immor­tal­ized in theme restau­rant form as “Medieval Times.” After all, writes Amy White at Medievalists.net, “from tat­toos to video games to Game of Thrones, medieval iconog­ra­phy has long inspired fas­ci­na­tion, imi­ta­tion and ven­er­a­tion.” The mar­ket for sword­play, armor, quests, and sor­cery has nev­er been so crowd­ed.

But whether the his­tor­i­cal peri­od we call medieval (a word derived from medi­um aevum, or “mid­dle age”) resem­bled the mod­ern inter­pre­ta­tions it inspired presents us with anoth­er ques­tion entirely—a ques­tion inde­pen­dent and pro­fes­sion­al schol­ars can now answer with free, easy ref­er­ence to “high-res­o­lu­tion images of more than 160,000 pages of Euro­pean medieval and ear­ly mod­ern codices”: rich­ly illu­mi­nat­ed (and ama­teur­ish­ly illus­trat­ed) man­u­scripts, musi­cal scores, cook­books, and much more.

The online project, called Bib­lio­the­ca Philadel­phien­sis, hous­es its dig­i­tal col­lec­tion at the Inter­net Archive and rep­re­sents “vir­tu­al­ly all of the hold­ings of PACSCL [Philadel­phia Area Con­sor­tium of Spe­cial Col­lec­tions Libraries],” a wealth of doc­u­ments from Prince­ton, Bryn Mawr, Vil­lano­va, Swarth­more, and many more col­lege and uni­ver­si­ty libraries, as well as the Amer­i­can Philo­soph­i­cal Soci­ety, Nation­al Archives at Philadel­phia, and oth­er august insti­tu­tions of high­er learn­ing and con­ser­va­tion.

Lehigh Uni­ver­si­ty “con­tributed 27 man­u­scripts amount­ing to about 5,000 pages,” writes White, includ­ing “a 1462 hand­writ­ten copy of Virgil’s Aeneid with pen­ciled sketch­es in the mar­gins” (see above). There are man­u­scripts from that peri­od like the Ital­ian Trac­ta­tus de mal­efici­is (Trea­tise on evil deeds), a legal com­pendi­um from 1460 with “thir­ty-one mar­gin­al draw­ings in ink” show­ing “var­i­ous crimes (both delib­er­ate and acci­den­tal) being com­mit­ted, from sword-fights and mur­ders to hunt­ing acci­dents and a hang­ing.”

The Trac­ta­tus’ draw­ings “do not appear to be the work of a pro­fes­sion­al artist,” the notes point out, though it also con­tains pages, like the image at the top, show­ing a trained illu­mi­na­tor’s hand. The Bib­lio­the­ca Philadel­phien­sis archive includes 15th and 16th-cen­tu­ry recipes and extracts on alche­my, med­ical texts, and copi­ous Bibles and books of prayer and devo­tion. There is a 1425 edi­tion of Chaucer’s Can­ter­bury Tales in Mid­dle Eng­lish (lack­ing the pro­logue and sev­er­al tales).

These may all seem of recent vin­tage, rel­a­tive­ly speak­ing, for a medieval archive, but the col­lec­tion reach­es back to the 9th cen­tu­ry, with hun­dreds of doc­u­ments, like the 1000 AD music man­u­script above, from a far ear­li­er time. “Users can view, down­load and com­pare man­u­scripts in near­ly micro­scop­ic detail,” notes White. “It is the nation’s largest region­al online col­lec­tion of medieval man­u­scripts,” a col­lec­tion schol­ars can draw on for cen­turies to come to learn what life was real­ly like—at least for the few who could read and write—in Medieval Times.

via Medievalists.net

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

Why Knights Fought Snails in Illu­mi­nat­ed Medieval Man­u­scripts

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

The Medieval Mas­ter­piece, the Book of Kells, Is Now Dig­i­tized & Put Online

A Free Yale Course on Medieval His­to­ry: 700 Years in 22 Lec­tures

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

The Internet Archive Is Digitizing & Preserving Over 100,000 Vinyl Records: Hear 750 Full Albums Now

There seems to be wide­spread agreement—something spe­cial was lost in the rushed-to-mar­ket move from phys­i­cal media to dig­i­tal stream­ing. We have come to admit that some old­er musi­cal tech­nolo­gies can­not be improved upon. Musi­cians, pro­duc­ers, engi­neers spend thou­sands to repli­cate the sound of old­er ana­log record­ing tech­nol­o­gy, with all its quirky, incon­sis­tent oper­a­tion. And fans buy record play­ers and vinyl records in sur­pris­ing­ly increas­ing num­bers to hear the warm and fuzzy char­ac­ter of their sound.

Neil Young, who has relent­less­ly crit­i­cized every aspect of dig­i­tal record­ing, has dis­missed the resur­gence of the LP as a “fash­ion state­ment” giv­en that most new albums released on vinyl are dig­i­tal mas­ters. But buy­ers come to vinyl with a range of expec­ta­tions, writes Ari Her­stand at Dig­i­tal Music News: “Vinyl is an entire expe­ri­ence. Won­der­ful­ly tac­tile…. When we stare at our screens for the major­i­ty of our days, it’s nice to look at art that doesn’t glow and isn’t the size of my hand.” Vinyl can feel and look as good as it sounds (when prop­er­ly engi­neered).

While shiny, dig­i­tal­ly mas­tered vinyl releas­es pop up in big box stores every­where, the real musi­cal wealth lies in the past—in thou­sands upon thou­sands of LPs, 45s, 78s—relics of “the only con­sumer play­back for­mat we have that’s ful­ly ana­log and ful­ly loss­less,” says vinyl mas­ter­ing engi­neer Adam Gon­salves. Few insti­tu­tions can afford to store thou­sands of phys­i­cal albums, and many rar­i­ties and odd­i­ties exist in van­ish­ing­ly few­er copies. Their crack­le and hiss may be for­ev­er lost with­out the inter­ven­tion of dig­i­tal preser­va­tion­ists like the Inter­net Archive.

The Archive is “now expand­ing its dig­i­ti­za­tion project to include LPs,” reports Faye Lessler on the organization’s blog. This will come as wel­come news to cul­tur­al his­to­ri­ans, ana­log con­ser­va­tion­ists, and vinyl enthu­si­asts of all kinds, who will most­ly agree that dig­i­ti­za­tion is far bet­ter than extinc­tion, though the tac­tile and visu­al plea­sures may be irre­place­able. The Archive has focused its efforts on the over 100,000 audio record­ings from the Boston Pub­lic Library’s col­lec­tion, “in order to pre­vent them from dis­ap­pear­ing for­ev­er when the vinyl is bro­ken, warped, or lost.”

“These record­ings exist in a vari­ety of his­tor­i­cal for­mats, includ­ing wax cylin­ders, 78 rpms, and LPs,” though the project is cur­rent­ly focused on the lat­ter. “They span musi­cal gen­res includ­ing  clas­si­cal, pop, rock, and jazz, and con­tain obscure record­ings like this album of music for baton twirlers, and this record of radio’s all-time great­est bloop­ers.” The method of rapid­ly con­vert­ing the arti­facts at the rate of ten LPs per hour (which you can read more about at the Archive blog) serves as a tes­ta­ment to what dig­i­tal tech­nol­o­gy does best—using machine learn­ing and meta­da­ta to auto­mate the archival process and cre­ate exten­sive, search­able data­bas­es of cat­a­logue infor­ma­tion.

Cur­rent­ly, the project has uploaded 1,180 record­ings to its site, “but some of the albums are only avail­able in 30 sec­ond snip­pets due to rights issues,” Lessler points out. Browse the “Unlocked Record­ings” cat­e­go­ry to hear 750 dig­i­tized LPs avail­able in full: these include a record­ing of Gian Car­lo Menot­ti’s bal­let The Uni­corn, the Gor­gon, and the Man­ti­core, fur­ther up; The Beget­ting of the Pres­i­dent, above, a satire of Nixon’s rise to pow­er as Bib­li­cal epic, read by Orson Welles in his King of Kings’ voice; and Tchaikovsky’s Piano Con­cer­to no. 1 in B‑flat minor, played by Van Cliburn, below.

The range and vari­ety cap­tured in this collection—from fire­works sound effects to Elton John’s sec­ond, self-titled album to clas­sic Pearl Bai­ly to 80s new wave band The Com­mu­nards to Andres Segovia play­ing Bach to the Smokey and the Ban­dit 2 soundtrack—will out­last copy­right restric­tions. And they will leave behind an exten­sive record, no pun intend­ed, of the LP: “our pri­ma­ry musi­cal medi­um for over a gen­er­a­tion,” says the Archive’s spe­cial projects direc­tor CR Saik­ley, “wit­ness to the birth of both Rock & Roll and Punk Rock… inte­gral to our cul­ture from the 1950s to the 1980s.” Vinyl remains the most revered of musi­cal for­mats for good reason—reasons future gen­er­a­tions will dis­cov­er, at least vir­tu­al­ly, for them­selves some­day.

via Kot­tke

Relat­ed Con­tent:

How Vinyl Records Are Made: A Primer from 1956

An Inter­ac­tive Map of Every Record Shop in the World

25,000+ 78RPM Records Now Pro­fes­sion­al­ly Dig­i­tized & Stream­ing Online: A Trea­sure Trove of Ear­ly 20th Cen­tu­ry Music

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

Harvard Gives Free Online Access to 40 Million Pages of U.S. Case Law: Explore 6.4 Million Cases Dating Back to 1658

There was a time—a strange time in pop cul­ture his­to­ry, I’ll grant—when legal dra­mas were every­where in tele­vi­sion, pop­u­lar fic­tion, and film. Next to the barn-burn­ing court­room set pieces in A Few Good Men and A Time to Kill, for exam­ple, scenes of lawyers por­ing over case law with loos­ened ties, high heels kicked off, and mar­ti­nis and scotch­es in hand were ren­dered with max­i­mum dra­mat­ic ten­sion, despite the fact that case law is a nigh unread­able jum­ble of jar­gon, cita­tions, archa­ic dic­tion and syn­tax, etc… any­thing but brim­ming with cin­e­mat­ic poten­tial.

Do law stu­dents and legal schol­ars dis­agree with this assess­ment? It’s beside the point, many might say. The cen­turies-old web of case law—reinforcing, con­tra­dict­ing, over­turn­ing, cre­at­ing pat­terns and structures—is the very stuff the law is made of.

It’s a ref­er­en­tial tra­di­tion, and when most of the doc­u­ments are in the hands of only a few peo­ple, only those peo­ple under­stand why the law works the way it does. The rest of us are left to won­der why the legal sys­tem is so Byzan­tine and incom­pre­hen­si­ble. Real life rarely has the clar­i­ty of a sat­is­fy­ing court­room dra­ma.

Last year, The Har­vard Crim­son report­ed a seem­ing­ly rev­o­lu­tion­ary shift in that dynam­ic, when Har­vard Law’s Caselaw Access Project “dig­i­tized more than 40 mil­lion pages of U.S. state, fed­er­al, and ter­ri­to­r­i­al case law doc­u­ments from the Law School library,” dat­ing back to 1658.  The Crim­son issued one caveat: the full data­base is acces­si­ble to the pub­lic, but “users are lim­it­ed to five hun­dred full case texts per day.” Plan your intense, scotch-soaked all-nighters accord­ing­ly.

Is this altru­ism, civic duty, a move in the right direc­tion of free­ing pub­licly fund­ed research for pub­lic use?  Sev­er­al Har­vard Law fac­ul­ty have said as much. “Case law is the prod­uct of pub­lic resources poured into our court sys­tem,” writes Pro­fes­sor I. Glenn Cohen. “It’s great that the pub­lic will now have bet­ter access to it.” It is indeed, Pro­fes­sor Christo­pher T. Bavitz says: “If we want to ensure that peo­ple have access to jus­tice, that means that we have to ensure that they have access to cas­es. The text of cas­es is the law.”

The law is not a set of abstract prin­ci­ples, the­o­ries, or rules, in oth­er words, but a series of his­tor­i­cal exam­ples, woven togeth­er into a social nar­ra­tive. Machines can ana­lyze data from The Caselaw Access Project far faster and more effi­cient­ly than any human, giv­ing us broad­er views of legal his­to­ry and prece­dent, and great­ly expand­ing pub­lic under­stand­ing of the sys­tem. Harvard’s Library Inno­va­tion Lab has itself already cre­at­ed sev­er­al apps for just this pur­pose.

There’s Cal­i­for­nia Word­clouds, which shows the most-used words in Cal­i­for­nia caselaw between 1852 and 2015, and Witch­craft in Caselaw, which does what it says, with an inter­ac­tive map of all appear­ances of witch­craft in cas­es across the coun­try. There’s “Fun Stuff” too, like a Caselaw Lim­er­ick Gen­er­a­tor, a visu­al data­base that ana­lyzes col­ors in case law, and “Gavel­fury,” which ana­lyzes “all instances of ‘!,’” giv­ing us gems like “Do you remem­ber if it was mur­der!” from Bowl­ing v. State, 229 Ark. 876 (Dec. 22, 1958).

One new graph­ing tool, His­tor­i­cal Trends, announced in June, makes it easy for users to “visu­al­ize word usage in court opin­ions over time,” writes the Library Inno­va­tion Lab. (Exam­ples include com­par­ing the “fre­quen­cy of ‘com­pen­sato­ry dam­ages’ and ‘puni­tive dam­ages’ in New York and Cal­i­for­nia” and com­par­ing “pri­va­cy” with “pub­lic­i­ty.”) Any­one can build their own data visu­al­iza­tion using their own search terms. (Learn how and get start­ed here.) Case law may nev­er be glam­orous, exact­ly, or fun to read, but it may be far more inter­est­ing, and empow­er­ing, than we imag­ine.

Be aware that the Caselaw Access Project could still find ways to restrict or mon­e­tize access, for a short time, at least. “The project was fund­ed part­ly through a part­ner­ship with Rav­el, a legal ana­lyt­ics start­up found­ed by two Stan­ford Law School stu­dents,” reports the Crim­son. The com­pa­ny “earned ‘some com­mer­cial rights’ through March 2024 to charge for greater access to files.” The start­up has issued no word on whether this will hap­pen. In the mean­time, pub­lic inter­est legal schol­ars may wish to do their own dig­ging through this trove of caselaw to bet­ter under­stand the public’s right to infor­ma­tion of all kinds.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Bound by Law?: Free Com­ic Book Explains How Copy­right Com­pli­cates Art

Pos­i­tive Psy­chol­o­gy: A Free Course from Har­vard Uni­ver­si­ty

Har­vard Launch­es a Free Online Course to Pro­mote Reli­gious Tol­er­ance & Under­stand­ing

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

Take a Virtual Tour of Jane Austen’s Library

Jane Austen read vora­cious­ly and as wide­ly as she could in her cir­cum­scribed life. Even so, she told her niece Car­o­line, she wished she had “read more and writ­ten less” in her for­ma­tive years. Her nephew James Edward Austen-Leigh made clear that no mat­ter how much she read, her work was far more than the sum of her read­ing: “It was not,” he wrote in his 1870 biog­ra­phy, “what she knew, but what she was, that dis­tin­guished her from oth­ers.” What she was not, how­ev­er, was the own­er of a great library.

Mem­bers of Austen’s fam­i­ly were well-off, but she her­self lived on mod­est means and nev­er made enough from writ­ing to become finan­cial­ly inde­pen­dent. She owned books, of course, but not many. Books were expen­sive, and most peo­ple bor­rowed them from lend­ing libraries. Nonethe­less, schol­ars have been able to piece togeth­er an exten­sive list of books Austen sup­pos­ed­ly read—books men­tioned in her let­ters, nov­els, and an 1817 bio­graph­i­cal note writ­ten by her broth­er Hen­ry in her posthu­mous­ly pub­lished Northang­er Abbey.

Austen read con­tem­po­rary male and female nov­el­ists. She read his­to­ries, the poet­ry of Mil­ton, Wordsworth, Byron, Cow­per, and Sir Wal­ter Scott, and nov­els writ­ten by fam­i­ly mem­bers. She read Chaucer, Locke, Rousseau, Hume, Spencer, and Woll­stonecraft. She read ancients and mod­ern. “Despite her desire to have ‘read more” in her youth,” write Austen schol­ars Gillian Down and Katie Halsey, “recent schol­ar­ship has estab­lished that the range of Austen’s read­ing was far wider and deep­er than either Hen­ry or James Edward sug­gest.”

Austen may not have had a large library of her own, but she did have access to the hand­some col­lec­tion at God­mer­sham Park, the home of her broth­er Edward Austen Knight. “For a total of ten months spread over fif­teen years,” Rebec­ca Rego Bar­ry writes at Lapham’s Quar­ter­ly, “Austen vis­it­ed her broth­er at his Kent estate. The brim­ming book­shelves at God­mer­sham Park were a par­tic­u­lar draw for the nov­el­ist.” In the last eight years of her life, Jane lived with her moth­er and sis­ter Cas­san­dra at Edward’s Chaw­ton estate, in a vil­la that had its own library.

Recon­struct­ing these shelves show us the books Austen would have reg­u­lar­ly had in view, though schol­ars must use oth­er evi­dence to show which books she read. In 2009, Down and Halsey curat­ed an exhi­bi­tion focused on her read­ing at Chaw­ton. Ten years lat­er, we can see the library at God­mer­sham Park recre­at­ed in a vir­tu­al ver­sion made joint­ly by Chaw­ton House and McGill University’s Bur­ney Cen­ter.

Called “Read­ing with Austen,” the inter­ac­tive site lets us to nav­i­gate three book-lined walls of the library. “Users can hov­er over the shelves and click on any of the antique books,” writes Bar­ry, “sum­mon­ing bib­li­o­graph­ic data and avail­able pho­tos of per­ti­nent title pages, book­plates, and mar­gin­a­lia. Dig­ging deep­er, one can peruse a dig­i­tal copy of the book and deter­mine the where­abouts of the orig­i­nal.”

These vol­umes are what we might expect from an Eng­lish coun­try gen­tle­man: books of law and agri­cul­ture, his­tor­i­cal reg­is­ters, trav­el­ogues, polit­i­cal the­o­ry, and clas­si­cal Latin. There is also Shake­speare, Swift, and Voltaire, Austen’s own nov­els, and some of the con­tem­po­rary fic­tion she par­tic­u­lar­ly loved. The Bur­ney Cen­ter “tried,” says direc­tor Peter Sabor, “to imag­ine Jane Austen actu­al­ly walk­ing around the library…. We’re basi­cal­ly look­ing over her shoul­der as she looks at the book­shelf.” It’s not exact­ly quite like that at all, but the project can give us a sense of how much Austen trea­sured libraries.

She wrote about libraries as a sign of lux­u­ry. In an ear­ly unfin­ished nov­el, “Cather­ine,” she has a furi­ous char­ac­ter exclaim in reproach, “I gave you the key to my own Library, and bor­rowed a great many good books of my Neigh­bors for you.” Austen may have feared los­ing library and lend­ing access, and she longed for a king­dom of books all her own. Dur­ing her final vis­it to God­mer­sham Park in 1813, she wrote to her sis­ter, “I am now alone in the Library, Mis­tress of all I sur­vey.”

Try to imag­ine how she might have felt as you peruse the library’s hap­haz­ard­ly arranged con­tents. Con­sid­er which of these books she might have read and which she might have shelved and why. Enter the “Read­ing with Austen” library project here.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Jane Austen Fic­tion Man­u­script Archive Is Online: Explore Hand­writ­ten Drafts of Per­sua­sion, The Wat­sons & More

Down­load the Major Works of Jane Austen as Free eBooks & Audio Books

15-Year-Old Jane Austen Writes a Satir­i­cal His­to­ry Of Eng­land: Read the Hand­writ­ten Man­u­script Online (1791)

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

Classic Children’s Books Now Digitized and Put Online: Revisit Vintage Works from the 19th & 20th Centuries

Children’s books are big busi­ness. And the mar­ket has nev­er been more com­pet­i­tive. Best­selling, char­ac­ter-dri­ven series spawn their own TV shows. Can­dy-col­ored read­ers fea­ture kids’ favorite com­ic and car­toon char­ac­ters. But kids’ books can also be fine art—a venue for well-writ­ten, fine­ly-illus­trat­ed lit­er­a­ture. And they are a seri­ous sub­ject of schol­ar­ship, offer­ing insights into the his­to­ries of book pub­lish­ing, edu­ca­tion, and the social roles chil­dren were taught to play through­out mod­ern his­to­ry.

Dig­i­tal archives of children’s books now make these his­to­ries wide­ly acces­si­ble and pre­serve some of the finest exam­ples of illus­trat­ed children’s lit­er­a­ture. The Library of Con­gress’ new dig­i­tal col­lec­tion, for exam­ple, includes the 1887 Com­plete Col­lec­tion of Pic­tures & Songs, illus­trat­ed by Eng­lish artist Ran­dolph Calde­cott, who would lend his name fifty years lat­er to the medal dis­tin­guish­ing the high­est qual­i­ty Amer­i­can pic­ture books.

The LoC’s col­lec­tion of 67 dig­i­tized kids’ books from the 19th and 20th cen­turies includes biogra­phies, non­fic­tion, quaint nurs­ery rhymes, the Gus­tave Doré-illus­trat­ed edi­tion of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven, and a num­ber of oth­er titles sure to charm grown-ups, if not, per­haps, many of today’s young read­ers.

But who knows, King Win­ter—an 1859 tale in verse of a pro­to-San­ta Claus fig­ure, in a book par­tial­ly shaped like the out­line of the title character’s head—might still cap­ti­vate. As might many oth­er titles of note.

A sly col­lec­tion of sto­ries from 1903 called The Book of the Cat, with “fac­sim­i­les of draw­ings in colour by Elis­a­beth F. Bon­sall”; a book of “Four & twen­ty mar­vel­lous tales” called The Won­der Clock, writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Howard Pyle in 1888; and Edith Fran­cis Foster’s 1902 Jim­my Crow about a boy named Jack and his boy-sized crow Jim­my (who could deliv­er mes­sages to oth­er young fan­cy lads).

An 1896 book called Gob­olinks intro­duces a pop­u­lar inkblot game of the same name that pre­dates Her­mann Rorschach’s tests by a cou­ple decades. Oth­er high­lights include “exam­ples of the work of Amer­i­can illus­tra­tors such as W.W. Denslow, Peter Newell… Wal­ter Crane and Kate Green­away,” writes the Library on its blog. The dig­i­tized col­lec­tion debuted to mark the 100th anniver­sary of Children’s Book Week, cel­e­brat­ed dur­ing the last week of April in all 50 states in the U.S.

“It is remark­able,” says Lee Ann Pot­ter, direc­tor of the LoC’s Learn­ing and Inno­va­tion Office, “that when the first Children’s Book Week was cel­e­brat­ed, all of the books in the online col­lec­tion… already exist­ed.” Now they exist online, not only because of the tech­nol­o­gy to scan, upload, and share them, but “because care­ful stew­ards insured that these books have sur­vived.”

Dig­i­tal ver­sions of today’s kids books could mean that there is no need to care­ful­ly pre­serve paper copies for pos­ter­i­ty. But we can be grate­ful that archivists and librar­i­ans of the past saw fit to do so for this fas­ci­nat­ing col­lec­tion of children’s lit­er­a­ture. The theme of this year’s Children’s Book WeekRead Now, Read For­ev­er—“looks to the past, present, and most impor­tant, the future of children’s books.” Enter the Library of Con­gress dig­i­tal col­lec­tion of children’s books from over a cen­tu­ry ago (and see the oth­er siz­able online archives at the links below) to vis­it their past, and imag­ine how vast­ly dif­fer­ent their future might be.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

A Dig­i­tal Archive of 1,800+ Children’s Books from UCLA

Hayao Miyaza­ki Picks His 50 Favorite Children’s Books

Enter an Archive of 6,000 His­tor­i­cal Children’s Books, All Dig­i­tized and Free to Read Online

Grow­ing Up Sur­round­ed by Books Has a Last­ing Pos­i­tive Effect on the Brain, Says a New Sci­en­tif­ic Study

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

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.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

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

Behold 3,000 Dig­i­tized Man­u­scripts from the Bib­lio­the­ca Palati­na: The Moth­er of All Medieval Libraries Is Get­ting Recon­struct­ed Online

Explore 5,300 Rare Man­u­scripts Dig­i­tized by the Vat­i­can: From The Ili­ad & Aeneid, to Japan­ese & Aztec Illus­tra­tions

How the Mys­ter­ies of the Vat­i­can Secret Archives Are Being Revealed by Arti­fi­cial Intel­li­gence

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.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

How Illu­mi­nat­ed Medieval Man­u­scripts Were Made: A Step-by-Step Look at this Beau­ti­ful, Cen­turies-Old Craft

Behold the Beau­ti­ful Pages from a Medieval Monk’s Sketch­book: A Win­dow Into How Illu­mi­nat­ed Man­u­scripts Were Made (1494)

Behold 3,000 Dig­i­tized Man­u­scripts from the Bib­lio­the­ca Palati­na: The Moth­er of All Medieval Libraries Is Get­ting Recon­struct­ed Online

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

Relat­ed Con­tent:

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

Free Libraries Shaped Like Doc­tor Who’s Time-Trav­el­ing TARDIS Pop Up in Detroit, Saska­toon, Macon & Oth­er Cities

Grow­ing Up Sur­round­ed by Books Has a Last­ing Pos­i­tive Effect on the Brain, Says a New Sci­en­tif­ic Study

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.

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