Digitizing Medieval Manuscripts: Creating a Scholarly Resource

Project Summary

Medieval manuscripts are well-suited to the digital world. The fragile nature of the originals has limited access to these rich documentary sources while interest in the use of these manuscripts is increasing. The possibility of providing access through use of a surrogate is an attractive answer to the need to balance preservation and access, but how that surrogate is created and presented is an unresolved issue. Recently there have been several projects dealing with the technical issues surrounding digitization and presentation. Curators, digital specialists, and catalogers have been discussing and testing ways to present medieval manuscripts digitally. Our finalized plans address the problem from the perspective of the end-user: the medievalist. We are bringing together a group of medievalists and curators of these texts along with individuals specializing in the technical aspects of digitization as well as those working on metadata issues. The scholars and curators will identify the components of an ideal digital surrogate while the technical experts offer suggestions of how to provide this access. The result of this colloquium will be an outline of the components of the ideal product. Based on these discussions, the staff of the Eisenhower Library's Digital Knowledge Center will formalize the design and create a product. While developing the product, we will continue the dialogue with scholars and consult with preservationists to discuss ways to protect the manuscript during digitizing. The initial group of scholars, curators and technical experts will then re-assemble at a follow-up colloquium to test the product, provide direction for improvements or enhancements, and make recommendations for informing future projects.

We have chosen the text of Roman de la Rose which was written in two parts between 1230 and 1275 and was for the next 300 years one of the most widely read works of the French language. The digital surrogate of this text will be created from the copy in the Walters Art Gallery Library. The initial colloquium will include medievalists as well as curators from the Walters Art Gallery and the Pierpont Morgan Library which owns the magnificent copy of Roman de la Rose produced for Francis I. We have invited experts familiar with the technical aspects of creating and manipulating images of manuscripts as well as several who have worked on the metadata issues. A list of the participants is attached.


The initial colloquium will be held Wednesday November 11, 1998 at The Johns Hopkins University. The follow-up meeting to evaluate the product will be held in November 1999. The work on the product will last no more than one year. We realize that once we begin the project we may find it will take longer than one year to complete the entire manuscript. We will adjust the scope of the project so that we have a product to evaluate in one year.