A&S Advances Digital Preservation

by Sarah Geegan

The University of Kentucky College of Arts and Sciences' creative and technical services "Hive" recently completed a project, fusing the eighth and 15th centuries with the 21st century.

The Hive, a student team directed by A&S staff, provides creative and technical support to college faculty, students and staff to promote their work and ideas. Recently, it partnered with William Endres, professor in the Division of Writing, Rhetoric and Digital Media, to make two rare manuscripts available online: eighth century St Chad Gospels and a 15th century Wycliffe New Testament.

The team's work, made possible through Endres' research and an agreement he established with the Chapter of Lichfield Cathedral, makes digital images of these two treasured manuscripts available on the internet.

"One of the difficulties in studying Insular manuscripts is access," Endres said. "Conservatory efforts are necessary to insure preservation; however, scholarship requires prolonged access to a manuscript, and that means exposure to light. The problem with light is that it darkens vellum; the calfskin pages literally tan like we do. But unlike us, of course, these pages cannot replenish their light-damaged cells."

Scholarly tasks that require prolonged access include transcribing text, studying the relations among visuals and words, scrutinizing the script to determine the number of scribes, examining marginalia, understanding a manuscript's visual architecture and cross-referencing features of significant imagery. Furthermore, in an early medieval manuscript such as the St Chad Gospels, idiosyncrasies in spelling and punctuation require additional time and analysis.

The Hive team, led by Director of Research Computation and Application Development Noah Adler, incorporated images of the manuscripts into a workable interface, permitting the manuscripts to be viewed and analyzed through the website.

"We have been able to create several features that allow for digital analysis," Adler said. "The website allows for layered viewing of multispectral images with transparency control. Because the images were captured with ultraviolet and infrared light, they can reveal information that is beyond the visible spectrum. Also, we have developed a prototype for a measurement tool to be added shortly, so people can actually take measurements of different points on the manuscript digitally."

Complicating the work of the Hive in an exciting way, the images for the Lichfield manuscripts comprise the first project to be ingested into the new UK Digital Repository. The repository will offer safe and secure long-term archiving for digital assets from UK research. The Hive had to establish procedures and processes for accessing the data and organizing it for presentation on the Web. 

Endres said that the digital images will preserve the appearance of these manuscripts for future scholars and generations.

"This digital preservation offers the additional benefit of supplying benchmarks for comparisons in the future, comparisons that can prove quite beneficial for gauging how a manuscript is aging," Endres said. "Likewise, we can compare present images to ones taken in the past and assess areas that might need special care, particularly places in which pigments are flaking."

The digital images will also facilitate future scholarly inquiries; as cultural perspectives shift, scholars will be able to use the digital manuscripts to answer new, emerging questions. Currently, the field of gender and women's studies has raised awareness of and encouraged increased attention to the contributions of women.

Endres said that medieval scholars, inspired by this shift in awareness, have reconsidered rare evidence that women worked in scriptoriums. Adding to this evidence, three female Anglo-Saxon names appear in the margins of the St Chad Gospels.

"Noah Adler's and the Hive students' work on the online version of the St Chad Gospels and Wycliffe New Testament has been exceptional," Endres said. "Noah has been able to enact whatever features for the website that I've envisioned, and these are features that have not previously been available to scholars for manuscripts."

The features recently caught the attention of scholars at the Digital Humanities Congress at Sheffield University, where Endres presented in September. After his presentation, Endres received an open invitation to give a talk at the National Library of Wales.

"I cannot praise Noah and the Hive enough, as well as the College of Arts and Sciences' support of them," Endres said.

Adler will continue to work on the project. He is currently preparing the interface for 3D images, the next component to be added to the website. He said he found the project to be very enjoyable.

“We've been excited to help faculty members with projects that cover a wide spectrum of scholarship," Adler said. "The work we've done with Dr. Endres is definitely one of my favorite endeavors.”

The website may be viewed at http://lichfield.as.uky.edu

 

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