In my recent Piirus blogpost reporting on this year’s IMC in Kalamazoo, I stressed the importance of digitization projects, especially for scholars working in the Humanities. These are producing and providing digital facsimilies of prominent valuable historical sources, from individual manuscripts to entire collections and libraries. One great advantage of this digitizing, is that it significantly reduces “manhandling” of the usually fragile originals, especially by scholars interested primarily in the texts that the codices contain, not in the specific physical properties of the manuscript and its production.
The latest news is, according to an article published on July 10 by the F.A.Z.’s (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung) Rome correspondent, Jörg Bremer, the Vatican Library has begun to digitally archive their vast and unique collection. This comprises ca. 82,000 manuscripts, incunabula, and early prints totaling 41 million pages! Photographing the first 3,000 originals costs €18 million. Individuals are encouraged, via crowdfunding, to make contributions by “adopting a text.” Prominent ancient codices that will become available online are, among others, the “Vergilius Vaticanus” from ca. 400 A.D., an illustrated manuscript the famous Renaissance painter Raphael once consulted, and a 15th century copy of Dante’s “Divine Comedy” illustrated by the equally famous Sandro Boticelli.
Ancient manuscripts are often highly sensitive to light and the parchment, over time, becomes brittle. Thus, the Vatican’s most fragile manuscripts are being scanned using newest Japanese technology with special orbit scanners, reducing the angle at which they must be opened to a bare minimum.
The scan workshop is kept at a constant temperature of 20o Celsius and a humidity of 50%. The light employed is entirely without infrared or ultraviolet rays. Each page takes a few minutes to scan since each image is done by hand by specially trained experts from Italy and Japan, wearing white gloves (rings underneath prohibited!). The special Japanese scanners are even able to capture palimpsests (traces of older writing on parchment, effaced to make room for later writing – medieval recycling), something other methods are unable to replicate without resorting to chemicals.
All digitized manuscripts will be accessible free of charge on the Vatican Library’s website. Definitely something to keep your eye on and bookmark, since in time, more and more codices will become available.
- Read more about other digitized books (including some sources) on the Library of Congress website.
- Or explore European materials through the Europeana portal.
Another great thing about digitized materials: they are available to the whole world and thus to international research collaborations. Find collaborative researchers on Piirus!