Tag Archives: chicc

Techniques for recovering lost texts

Research Fellow Renate Smithuis and Research Associate Stefania Silvestri, are working on a Catalogue of Codices, Scrolls, and Other Texts in Hebrew Script in The University of Manchester Library.

The Library holds one of the most important smaller collections of Hebrew manuscripts in Europe and this project will create a full, online catalogue compliant with current cataloguing and metadata standards. To support the production of the catalogue, digitisation of a number of manuscripts is being undertaken. All images, included fully digitised volumes, are added to the Hebraica Collection in the John Rylands Library Image Collections, LUNA.

A substantial portion of the Rylands Gaster manuscript collection have already been selected for digitisation, including a number of manuscripts that suffered water damage during the Second World War. The level of water damage varies, some texts are still legible but faint, others have whole sections of pages rendered illegible.

The Heritage Imaging Team have been investigating the best way to recover the text in these volumes, unsurprisingly, we have found that a single solution does not fit all. The aim of this blog post is to demonstrate the different processing options available to researchers. We are researcher-led in the work that we do with Multispectral Imaging of our collections, so if you come across a text you cannot read, please get in touch to discuss your needs in more detail (email: uml.chicc@manchester.ac.uk).

I should note at this point that these examples are not exhaustive and we are always in the process of developing new techniques.

Trials in image processing have been run on pages from Gaster Hebrew MS 1832. The first step of carrying out any specialist techniques is to produce a high resolution ‘standard’ light photographs. These are the images that you can access in high resolution in our online image collections. Often, close inspection at high resolution enables a reader to decipher more than they can read with the ‘naked eye’.

In this example, the first image shows page 1 recto of Gaster Hebrew MS 1832 in ‘standard’ light. You are able to see that there is some faded text on the page but it is extremely faded in some areas:

Gaster Hebrew MS 1832

Gaster Hebrew MS 1832 1 recto standard image

The second image shows a standard high resolution image which has undergone additional image processing in Photoshop. The image has been inverted to help the text show through in certain areas of the page.

Gaster Hebrew MS 1832

Gaster Hebrew MS 1832 1 recto standard image with processing

The third image shows page 1 recto again, a standard high resolution image which has undergone processing in Photoshop to bring out the most faded central areas of the text.

Gaster Hebrew MS 1832

Gaster Hebrew MS 1832 1 recto standard image with additional processing

Here is a detail from each file type for comparison:

The benefit of this approach is that these results can be achieved without any additional imaging of the manuscript and standard photo manipulation software can be used. In addition, once results have been achieved, these can be batch applied to a set of images for an entire manuscript. The results may not be 100% consistent depending upon the range of damage to each page, but if the results are ‘good enough’ it will save many hours of image processing time.

 

Our next example shows firstly, page 2 recto of Gaster Hebrew MS 1832 in ‘standard’ light, plus an example of the same image which has been processed in Photoshop:

However, with this example we took several further steps to recover the lost text. In this instance, the manuscript has also been imaged using Multispectral Imaging. We now use a Phase One Achromatic IQ260 digital back, iXr camera body and standard lens combined with Megavision LED lighting panels and a filter wheel to capture 17 images at different points along the electromagnetic spectrum. I have included 2 images here, take at 370nm (UV) with a long pass violet filter, and at 448nm (Deep blue) as these single images give the best results. In the infrared wavelength, the text on this manuscript disappeared completely, which suggests that it is an iron gall based ink.

 

Using multispectral imaging we are able to take our image processing and textual recovery even further. Using ImageJ software I have combined several of the individual wavelengths to create a ‘pseudocolour’ image. This applies false colours to areas of difference across the page. Note the two images below in colour.

The colour results are not attractive to every eye, especially to the colour blind so can be converted in to greyscale. In the examples here, I have added an additional filter using the Channel Mixer in Photoshop to increase the contrast of the text even further.

Here you can see details of all 8 examples described above, click on the image to flick through each detail.

There are obvious benefits of taking every possible step of image processing to recover as much text as possible. However, there are also drawbacks. The manuscript must be subjected to a second round of digitisation using the Multispectral Imaging system, this is not only time consuming, but for fragile items it also increases the possible risk of damage to the physical item. There is additional time required for the photographer to process the images and store the additional data. Metadata must be produced to accompany the new images and to detail the processing work that has been carried out on the images.

Finally depending upon the nature of the damage to the page, a reader may need to consult a combination of 2 or 3 final processed images in order to read the entire page. Additionally, there must be a flow of communication between the reader/researcher and the person processing the images in order to process the ‘best’ results.

Specialists are currently working on software solutions to allow us to present the data to readers which will allow the reader themselves to combine and ‘play’ with images to suit their needs. We will report on developments in this area when they are available. Until then, we will continue to take a ‘triage’ approach to image recovery, assessing each item against the needs of the researcher to take the right steps to uncover lost texts.

 

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Revealing Galen’s Simples at UPenn… and a whole lot more

Processed image of the Syriac Galen Palimpsest at Revealing Galens Simples Workshop, Kislak Centre for Special Collections, UPenn

Processed image of the Syriac Galen Palimpsest at Revealing Galens Simples Workshop, Kislak Centre for Special Collections, UPenn

 

An article published in the New York Times on June 1, 2015, described the discovery of a Syriac manuscript that contained the oldest known translation of Galen’s On the Mixtures and Powers of Simple Drugs. Nearly a year later, scholars, scientists and imaging specialists came together for ‘Revealing Galen’s Simples‘ a workshop and symposium hosted by the Kislak Centre for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts at the University of Pennsylvania. On Wednesday 27th April CHICC’s Carol (Heritage Imaging Manager) Tony and Gwen (Heritage Photographers) travelled to Philadelphia to take part in the event. Here is a brief overview of our time at the conference, and associated meetings, which were truly inspiring and have changed the way we think about the way we work.

Philadelphia on the horizon

Philadelphia on the horizon

We arrived at UPenn on Thursday morning and began our day of meetings with a tour of the SCETI (Schoenberg Center for Electronic Text and Images) digitisation suite. We met with Mick Overgard and his colleagues and discussed all things digitisation, including some skills swap sessions, they demonstrated the new Capture One Cultural Heritage software capabilities – (a vast improvement on the trial we had tested last year – thanks for the demo Andrea!) and we shared our multi-spectral imaging developments and techniques for imaging gold. A really fruitful discussion around advanced imaging techniques followed and we hope that SCETI might join AHFAP so that we can keep the conversation going. In fact we had so much to say that we had to come back after our next meeting to carry on our conversations!

The team at SCETI are very impressive, highly skilled and very friendly – we couldn’t believe that we came all the way to Philadelphia and bumped into a Liverpudlian though (hi Craig!). We were very jealous of the space the team have to work in, each photographer has their own ‘pod’ and they have given us lots of ideas about how to maximise space in our modest studio. I was also particularly impressed with the presence of a record player and a huge stack of vinyl, great idea!

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Following our meeting with SCETI we met with Dot Porter, Curator of Digital Research Services, and Mitch Fraas, Curator of Special Collections, to discuss digital collections, access, discoverability and engagement. Dot told us about different aspects of her engagement work including a workshop she recently delivered to students at Yale on how to access and download digital content and told us more about her video orientations for manuscripts (watch this space!).

We then met with data geniuses Doug Emery and Jessie Dummer to learn about OPENN, a revolutionary way of delivering Open Access image data. The data is presented in a simple structure that enables you to download an entire manuscript in high resolution, very easily using wget. All of the data on the site is in the public domain or released under Creative Commons licences as Free Cultural Works. This repository is now the home of the Archimedes Palimpsest and the Syriac Galen Palimpsest. The data is presented with long term storage and accessibility in mind, and all data is in a digital preservation format. The interface is not inspiring, but is designed so that anyone can use the data to build their own front-end. As more institutions begin to deliver their data in this way, the opportunities for digital curation are endless.

This meeting was followed by a sit down with Mike Toth, Project Manager for both the Archimedes and Syriac Galen Palimpsest Projects and Will Noel, Director, Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts and Schoenberg Institute for Manuscript Studies. Following a very quick ‘get to know each other’ we began to discuss potential collaborative projects and very quickly came up with some very viable ideas. We are now, already, in the process of putting pilots for these projects in place. We will announce developments here.

These very inspiring meetings were rounded off with some refreshments at Monk’s Cafe – the home of so many beers, they have their own bible! (From left to right, Doug Emery, Meghan Hill, Bill Christen-Barry, Mike Toth, Gwen Riley Jones, Carol Burrows. Photo by Tony Richards)

After a very fruitful day of meetings, some refreshment was required!

After a very fruitful day of meetings, some refreshment was required!

Day two began with an exclusive look at the Syriac Galen Manuscript itself, with an introduction from Abigail Quandt, Head of Book and Paper Conservation at the Walters Art Museum and lead conservator on the Archimedes and the Syriac Galen Palimpsest Projects. Abigail explained both the processes for dis-binding (so flat pages of the manuscript could be imaged using multispectral imaging) and rebinding the palimpsest for this project, but also how the palimpsest was made in the first place. The pages of Galen’s text were soaked in some kind of acid, milk or lemon juice maybe, to remove the text – rather than the alternative process of scraping off the old text. After being soaked in acid, the pages were coated with a white chalky substance, which is still visible in some places, before the over-text was written. These techniques have a significant effect of the chemical make up of the manuscript, and therefore how it performs under light during multi-spectral imaging.

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Revealing Galen Simples Workshop Group Photo

Revealing Galen Simples Workshop Group Photo

This fascinating introduction was followed by a series of informal presentations and discussions amongst the scientists and the scholars, before the groups split off to do more detailed work in the afternoon. The scholars had the opportunity to work collaboratively, deciphering the text, whilst the imaging scientists compared techniques for image processing. It was very interesting to compare the benefits of different techniques (there is not one techniques which is ‘best’) and also think about what is ‘good enough’ – a question you can only really answer when imaging scientists and scholars are able to work closely together. Open Access data and spaces for cross-discipline scholarship, such as the John Rylands Research Institute, are the key to enable these types of research partnerships.

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During the afternoon workshop sessions, the CHICC team took the opportunity to take a ‘break-out’ session with Meghan [Hill] Wilson, Multi-spectral Imaging Preservation Specialist, Library of Congress. Meghan has trained in advanced camera and spectral imaging system operation, imaging processing software, database management, metadata creation, digital data storage, and object cataloging. As we are finalising our multi-spectral imaging strategy and workflows, Meghan’s advice and expertise was invaluable. We were very interested in the wide-range of applications of multi-spectral imaging, beyond only palimpsests. We invited Meghan to come to Manchester to deliver advance workflow and data management training for our multi-spectral imaging work, to deliver a seminar to share with curators, conservators and researchers the varied uses of multi-spectral imaging, and to collaborate on some of her own research work in to identifying pigments. I am very pleased to say that we have now secured funding for Meghan’s visit and we look forward to welcoming her to Manchester this summer.

On Saturday was the symposium itself, you can view the list of speakers here. The talks included 3 cross-discipline speakers from the University of Manchester, Peter Pormann, Director of the John Rylands Research Institute and Professor of Classics and Graeco-Arabic Studies on The Final Frontier: Galen’s Syriac Versions and Graeco-Arabic Translation Technique, Dr. Bill Sellers, Faculty of Life Sciences on Working with the Data and Dr Corneliu Arsene, Faculty of Humanities on his new techniques for Revealing the Palimpsest. In addition to the Manchester speakers, we heard from a range of historians, scholars, scientists, conservators and data managers in a truly cross-discipline discussion on the subject. There was also another chance to view the manuscript, in the somewhat more historic setting of the Henry Charles Lea Library.

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In amongst all this work we did get a little time to see some sights, starting with the Liberty Bell (see photographers at work), but somehow the work always seemed to carry on in the bar…! We also came across a statue of ‘Barry’ – who it turns out is a distant relative of our colleague Bill Christens-Barry, picked up some fashion tips for Jamie – who was back at the ranch. Met Millie Emery, Doug Emery’s very gorgeous bulldog! And finally ran up the Rocky steps (well one of us did) in a not so sunny Philadelphia! We had an absolutely fantastic trip, it was so valuable to be able to attend this conference first hand and be involved in conversations with the full team of people that have pioneered these important techniques. We have returned to the UK fired up and ready to develop our work on to the next stage. So a big thanks to the John Rylands Research Institute and Professor Peter Pormann’s AHRC funded project ‘The Syriac Galen Palimpsest: Galen’s On Simple Drugs and the Recovery of Lost Texts through Sophisticated Imaging Techniques’, to all at UPenn, and everyone involved in the symposium. And a special thanks to Mike Toth for his continued excellent work in bringing all of these people together.

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Where First I Heard of Peterloo

I first heard of Peterloo when I had been working at the Library for a few years and I was shown a little book, filled with names. It was the Peterloo Relief Fund Account Book (or English MS 172) a little notebook which records recipients of the Peterloo Relief Fund giving their names, addresses, details of their injuries and the amount of money paid to them.

Peterloo Relief Fund Account Book A list of recipients of the Peterloo relief fund giving their names, addresses, details of their injuries and the amount of money paid to them.

Peterloo Relief Fund Account Book
A list of recipients of the Peterloo relief fund giving their names, addresses, details of their injuries and the amount of money paid to them.

The next time I heard about Peterloo was during Manchester International Festival 2013 when Maxine Peake recited all 37 verses of Shelley’s poem, ‘The Masque of Anarchy’, directed by Sarah Frankcom, just yards from the site of the Peterloo Massacre itself.

But it was until Monday evening 5th October 2015, at a rally for The People’s Post organised by the CWU (Communication Worker’s Union) that I truly understood the significance of Peterloo and what went on at Peter’s Fields. When Lindsay German addressed the crowd of over 8000 people that had amassed in Cathedral Gardens, she spoke of the democratic reform that the Peterloo rally had been demonstrating for, and subsequently brought about.

Cathedral Gardens, Manchester, Monday 5th October 2015

Cathedral Gardens, Manchester, Monday 5th October 2015

I had not understood that those killed and injured at Peterloo had been taking part in a peaceful rally, much like the one I attended on Monday, to claim their democratic rights – and to defend the rights of the poor. In the back of the Peterloo Relief Account Book is a newspaper cutting, which is an account from a man named James Haslam, I have transcribed the cutting below so you can read about where first he heard of Peterloo:

‘When I was a boy I was very fond indeed of creeping into the handloom cellar at night – especially o’ winter nights – to hear the men of the moribund craft talk and sing and, by the way, swear about hard times. What a quaint, independent set of industrials they were. But they talked and sang sometimes of flowers, or love, or war, but mostly of hard social and political days. How they did anathematise the politicians of the hour, and, I am afraid, push revolutionary ideas into my young hear. I was to carry on – so Joss Wrigley said – their spirit of political revolt when they were dead and their wooden looms were made into firewood by the factory workers.

They were the Radicals of Lupton Yard, and when I read “The Revolution in Tanner’s Lane” I thought if Rutherford had known them he might have handed them to posterity.

It was there where I first heard of Peterloo.

“Peterloo, Peterloo,” was often the subject of fierce conversation and denunciation. There were four of them in the cellar, in addition to an old woman who, sitting in the middle of the semi-subterranean workshop, wound coarse weft bobbins for them on a wooden wheel and spindle.

Joss Wrigley was the leader of the poverty-stricken group. My father was the owner of the looms, all bought for a few shillings, and rented to the other three weavers for a few pence a week. Joss was a great talker. Ned Greenhalgh – gentle Ned – was a listener who nodded approval of Joss’s political outbursts. Nathan Clegg, who occasionally varied his weaving by a short term in the Debtors’ Gaol at Lancaster, helped Joss by swearing at capitalists and shopkeepers. Mary Miller, the bobbin-winder, sometimes shook with fear at the thought of what might be their plight if the police were to look in. Joss Wrigley had decorated – he called it decorated – one of his loomposts with verses from Ebenezer Elliott and democratic songs of Burns, cut from newspapers. My father sometimes played the fiddle to soothe their nerves – played old English airs and Jacobite songs.

There was a stove in the cellar, which was lighted when they could afford to buy coal. I used to hear most about Peterloo when the looms were silent and the stove was burning, and the decrepit weavers were “winding on” a new warp by candle-light. One of them would guide the threads through the healds, two would sit on each side straightening the yarn and picking out foreign particles; Joss Wrigley usually sat on a stool unfolding the warp, and, having the least responsible task, he would talk the most.

It was then that “Peterloo” rang mostly in my ears. Often I wondered where Peterloo was till I learned it was at Manchester, a few miles away.

A Plan of St. Peters Field in the town of Manchester. With the Avenues leading thereto.

A Plan of St. Peters Field in the town of Manchester. With the Avenues leading thereto.

Frequently I was puzzled to know why it was that they spoke so bitterly of it. Subsequently, I was informed that Joss Wrigley knew all about it, because he was there in support of the People’s Charter, as Joss described it. Joss was a slim, nervous man with white hair and long beard; for a man of 77 years he was still sprightly physically and alert mentally.

It was from these older-time weaver’s lips I first heard the names of Sam Bamford and Henry Hunt. There was only one picture on the walls of our “front” room, otherwise known as the parlour. To us a house was divided into a “front” room and a “back” room, or kitchen. At that time our “front” room was an odd-looking chamber. Owing to the height of one of the looms in the cellar it had been necessary to take up one or two flags – it ws a flagged floor, usually sanded – in the parlour to make room for the top portion of the Jacquard machine. All that the room held was this portion of the loom, protruding about a yard above the surface, two spindle-back chairs, a small deal table, a winding-frame worked by my mother, and the solitary picture alluded to, which was a newspaper print of Henry Hunt. The name was underneath – “Henry Hunt, Esq.” My mother knew no more of the August massacre of 1819 than she had learned from the heated harangues of Joss Wrigley, and it was she who told me that Henry Hunt was a man who had something to do with Peterloo.

I remember saying to my father one morning when he was playing his well-resined fiddle (his warp being “down”), “What was this Peterloo about?” “Ax Joss,” he said. “It were afore my time. Joss were theer. Fro’ what he says, it were a damnable thing – summat as workin’ folk should never forget!”

I was now particularly curious to know. And one day when Joss came from the cellar into the kitchen to beg some tea to drink with his meal of bread and cheese I put the question – boy-like- bluntly to him. I have never forgotton some of his Doric phrases. He drew me between his knees, and said, partly with pride and partly with indignation:

“Peterloo, lad! I know. I were theer as a young mon. We were howdin’ a meetin’ i’ Manchester – on Peter’s Field, – a meetin’ for eawr reets – for reets o’ mon, for liberty to vote, an’ speak, an’ write, an’ be eawrsels – honest, hard-workin’ folk. We wanted to live eawr own lives, an’ th’ upper classes wouldn’t let us. That’s abeawt it, lad. We were howdin’ a meetin’, a peaceful meetin’, an’ they sent t’dragoons among us to mow us deawn. T’ dirty devils – they sent t’ dragoons slashin’ at us wi’ their swords. There were some on us sheawtin’ ‘Stop! Stop! What are yo’ doin’ that for? We on’y want eawr reets.’ An’ they went on cuttin’ through us, an’ made us fly helter-skelter – aw because we were only howdin’ up t’ banner o’ liberty an’ t’ reets o’ mon. Bournes (Burns) says as ‘Liberty’s a glorious feast.’ But th’ upper classes wouldn’t let us poor folk get a tast on it. When we cried… freedom o’ action they gav’ us t’ point of a sword. Never forget, lad! Let it sink i’ thi blood. Ston up an’ feight for t’ reets o’ mon – t’ reets o’ poor folk!”

Peterloo poster, a public notice declaring illegal the public meeting to be held on the 9th of August 1819 near St Peter's Church, Manchester, and cautioning 'all persons' against attending. The meeting subsequently took place on the 16th August and became known as the Peterloo Massacre, after cavalry charged into the crowd causing death and injury.

Peterloo poster, a public notice declaring illegal the public meeting to be held on the 9th of August 1819 near St Peter’s Church, Manchester, and cautioning ‘all persons’ against attending. The meeting subsequently took place on the 16th August and became known as the Peterloo Massacre, after cavalry charged into the crowd causing death and injury.

“Banner o’ libery,” “t’reets o’ mon,” “t’ dragoons slashin among us wi’ their swords,” were dinned into my ears till I could not forget. I could not understand then why Joss was trembling with rage. I could not then understand why he, having lived for over fifty years after the event, should still permit it to disturb his mind. I suppose it had got in his blood, and he could not live it out. I presume also that continuous years of poverty, together with years of political injustice and vagaries, and dear food, through which he had lived, had helped to nurse his hatred, which he resolutely passed on to others.

An illustration from ' A Slap at Slop', a mock newspaper created by George Cruikshank and William Hone. Includes cartoons relating to the Peterloo Massacre which took place in Manchester in 1819.

An illustration from ‘ A Slap at Slop’, a mock newspaper created by George Cruikshank and William Hone. Includes cartoons relating to the Peterloo Massacre which took place in Manchester in 1819.

His political career began at Peterloo – a dramatic beginning, to be sure. It ended in a damp, dark handloom cellar, at the age of 81.

I remember asking my father years after – when thinking of the sayings and the songs of Joss – how much would be the earnings of Joss as a rule. I was told not more than 10s. to 12s. per week – sometimes a few shillings more, sometimes “nowt at aw.”

Yet to the very end of his hard days Joss rarely omitted, as far as I can recollect, to talk and swear about the struggle that began at Peterloo, and which he traced through the mob skirmishes in connection with the agitation for the first Reform Act, the aims of the Free Trade League, the Chartists, and the Plug Drawers. He talked and talked of these affairs of men, and the opposition to them, as he swund the shuttle across his loom, or as he sat in the impoverished kitchen or in the tavern at the corner of the mean street. He was only nineteen years of age when he escaped from the massacre of Peterloo. And who can say how much the working classes owe to men like Joss Wrigley – a poor handloom weaver who from his obscurity passed on their spirit and opinions to coming generations?’

Peterloo Relief Fund Account Book A list of recipients of the Peterloo relief fund giving their names, addresses, details of their injuries and the amount of money paid to them.

Peterloo Relief Fund Account Book
A list of recipients of the Peterloo relief fund giving their names, addresses, details of their injuries and the amount of money paid to them. The books contains a listing for a John Wrigley, but no Joss Wrigley.

Following the Peterloo Massacre a Relief Fund was established, supported by voluntary subscriptions, to provide financial support to those wounded and the families of those who had died. The John Rylands Library holds the Peterloo Relief Fund Account Book (see image) which has now been digitised and is available to view online.

Historians believe that the Peterloo Massacre was massively influential in changing public opinion, and played a pivotal role in winning democratic rights for ordinary people or as Joss Wrigley so eloquently put ‘for reets o’ mon, for liberty to vote, an’ speak, an’ write, an’ be eawrsels – honest, hard-workin’ folk’ (for the rights of man, for liberty to vote, and speak, and write, and be ourselves – honest, hard-working folk).

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Li Yuan-chia – The Man behind the Artist.

“Over the last 4 months we have been working across teams, (The Visual Collections and The Manuscript and Archives Departments), to try and enhance our understanding of what is contained in the uncatalogued archive of the artist Li Yuan-chia. We have been trying to improve upon the current box list for the collection to enable researchers to have better access to the collection and to rehouse the material into more manageable archival storage.”

Read more on the Rylands Special Collections blog below

Li Yuan-chia – The Man behind the Artist..

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Textus Roffensis, Foundations for the Magna Carta

mw4-cropped

 

Last year CHICC visited Rochester Cathedral to digitise the Textus Roffensis, a manuscript predating the Magna Carta, containing the Law of Aethelberht of Kent which dates back to 600AD – the only surviving copy of the oldest law in English.

Historian Michael Wood talks about the manuscript on the Rochester Cathedral site here.

The digitised manuscript can be found on the Library’s digital collections here.

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A book 100 years older than the Magna Carta goes digital

Textus_Roffensis_0001 A manuscript predating the Magna Carta is to be seen, in full, online, by the public for the first time thanks to a project involving digital experts at The University of Manchester working in partnership with Rochester Cathedral.

The Textus Roffensis, a 12th century legal encyclopaedia compiled by a single scribe at Rochester Cathedral, in Kent, in the 1120s has been digitised by the University’s Centre for Heritage Imaging and Collection Care.

The medieval manuscript, which is almost 100 years older than King John’s Magna Carta and has been described as ‘Britain’s Hidden Treasure’ by the British Library, has never before been seen in its entirety by the public.
The University of Manchester’s Centre for Heritage Imaging and Collection Care provides specialist and bespoke solutions for the digitisation and collection care of heritage and cultural collections.

Dr Chris Monk, a specialist at the University who worked with Rochester Cathedral on the project, said: “The team here has vast experience digitizing rare books and manuscripts.  To work with this particular national treasure, one of such historical significance, has been remarkable.  And it will be just as exciting and remarkable for the public to see it up close – no longer a hidden treasure.
“The Textus Roffensis is truly a unique manuscript: it predates the Magna Carta by almost a hundred years, contains the only copy of the oldest set of laws in English, and was penned by an English scribe within 60 years of the Norman Conquest.  That it is being made accessible to the public is worth shouting about, and is a tribute to all those involved with the project.”
Written in Old English and Latin in 1123-24 AD, the Textus Roffensis is so called because of a 14th century inscription within the book, The Textus de Ecclesia Roffensi per Ernulphum episcopum (The Book of the Church of Rochester through Bishop Ernulf). It contains the Law of Aethelberht of Kent which dates back to 600AD – it is the only surviving copy of the oldest law in English.
Textus_Roffensis_0247
The book was originally two manuscripts. The first has the only surviving copies of three Kentish laws, including the Law of Aethelberht who was the King of Kent, from 560 to 616AD, and seen by some as ‘foundation documents of the English state’. King Alfred’s Domboc (book of laws) and King Cnut’s laws are also in this section of the book alongside the oldest copy of the coronation charter of Henry I – the wording of which is echoed in the Magna Carta (1215) and the American Declaration of Independence (1776). 
The second part of the manuscript includes the earliest charters of England’s second oldest cathedral – founded at Rochester in 604AD, the oldest known catalogue of books in England and documents concerning the Danish conquest of England in 1016. 
A number of pages in the manuscript display signs of water damage after it became submersed, possibly, in either the River Medway or the River Thames, sometime between 1708 and 1718, when it was being returned by boat to Rochester from London.

The early legal codes are concerned primarily with preserving social harmony, through compensation and punishment for personal injury. Compensations are arranged according to social rank, descending from king to slave. The initial provisions of the code offer protection to the church. Though the latter were probably innovations, much of the remainder of the code may be derived from earlier legal custom transmitted orally.


The Textus Roffensis has been safeguarded by Rochester Cathedral since its inception and has been digitised by The University of Manchester team as part of a Heritage Lottery Funded renovation and community engagement project at the Cathedral.


The Textus Roffensis itself will go on display in Rochester Cathedral next year, as part of the Cathedral’s Heritage Lottery Fund project, ‘Hidden Treasures: Fresh Expressions’, and will enable public access to its remarkable library and other collections and include exhibitions, workshops, events and activities.


Janet Wilkinson is The University of Manchester’s Librarian and Director of The John Rylands Library. She said: “The University of Manchester Library has long recognised the need to preserve its digital material, as well as print, for future generations. I am reassured that this significant piece of history will now survive for future research purposes.”
Find out more in this film produced as part of the project by Manchester Lights Media.
 
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Multispectral Imaging Trials with The Photon Science Institute – George Christian and Robert Longstaff

 

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Measuring the wavelengths of the Megavision Panels using a spectrometer

 

We are all used to the fact that unique or very rare manuscripts, like those stored in the collections of the John Rylands Library, must be handled with extreme care. They are often only displayed to the public through a layer of protective glass or maybe even exclusively as photographic reproductions; the originals far too fragile to be brought out of the dark for extended periods of time.

Since they provide us with such a precious link to the past, it is very understandable that they should be treated in this way. So it might be easy to forget that this has not always been the case. There are many examples of manuscripts whose raw materials (usually parchment) were at one time deemed more valuable than the text they contained, and which therefore became palimpsests.

A palimpsest is a manuscript from which the text has been removed and replaced by new writing, effectively recycling the original material. This then creates a new challenge for scholars who wish to read the original text which may only be very faintly visible, if at all. Traditionally, the underlying text would have been read simply by close inspection of the faint impressions left by the writing. However, this is obviously limited to manuscripts for which this text is visible to the naked eye in the first place.

In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, scholars brought out the less visible text with various chemical cocktails which were often highly damaging to the manuscripts. More recently, far less invasive techniques have been developed based on a fundamental understanding of light and how it interacts with matter, and CHICC has teamed up with the Photon Science Institute (part of the School of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Manchester) to trial the technique of Multispectral Imaging.

We (George Christian and Robert Longstaff) are two fourth-year physics undergraduate students who are working with the imaging team to explore the potential usefulness of this technique. Multispectral imaging is the technique of capturing data (in this case photographs) from one source at multiple wavelengths of light. By treating these images as mathematical objects (where each pixel has a numerical value associated with it), they can be combined and manipulated in such ways as to produce images where the previously invisible text can be seen and interpreted (hopefully) much more easily. For example, often invisible text can be made very clearly visible by illuminating it with ultraviolet (UV) light. The trouble is, the text that replaced it is usually also just as visible in the image.

However, if an image taken at a wavelength where only the overlying text is visible is subtracted from the image where both texts are visible, then we are left with an image containing only the text that was previously very difficult or impossible to make out. The techniques we are using were employed on the now famous Archimedes Palimpsest, and the results they have achieved can be seen in full on their website (http://www.archimedespalimpsest.org/).

We have already had some success, although really we are learning as we go. Our main challenge is to find ways to bring out the “hidden” text as clearly as possible, and hopefully in a way that is useful to the scholars! This is a very exciting opportunity for us as it’s the first time this has been offered as a final-year project, and it offers a unique chance to work in the John Rylands Library which doesn’t happen very often for physics students!

George & Robert

George and Robert’s findings can be read here

 

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RTI Cuneiform tablets now online

Sumerian tablet P108057. From the Umma Period, 2100-2000 BC.

Sumerian tablet P108057. From the Umma Period, 2100-2000 BC.

Rylands Cuneiform tablets, digitised using Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI) are now available online. We posted an interesting piece a while back about the digitisation process here. The library worked in collaboration with the Cuneiform Digital Library Initiative based at UCLA, and Dr. Klaus Wagensonner of The University of Oxford. See the amazing images and transcriptions here.

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Graham Moss of Incline Press on Portrait of a Living Archvie

 

Graham and Skipper

We are pleased to share a great blog post from one of the sitters of the Portrait of a Living Archive Exhibition:

Graham Moss of Incline Press on Portrait of a Living Archvie

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Spectral Imaging testing at The National Library of Scotland

Combe MS 7382 page 6 in visible light (left) and in UV light (right)

Combe MS 7382 page 6 in visible light (left) and at 365nm UV light with image inverted (right)

On 2nd July the CHICC photographers travelled to Edinburgh for some Multispectral Imaging testing on some George Combe letterbooks at the National Library of Scotland. Francine Millard of the NLS writes:

George Combe (1788-1858) was an Edinburgh lawyer who was among the first converts to phrenology. This was a science which believed that people’s characters could be read from the bumps in their skulls.

The National Library of Scotland holds a remarkable collection of George Combe’s papers from 1804 to 1872. The collection begins with his apprenticeship as a clerk to Writers to the Signet and charts his promotion of phrenology which included co-founding the Edinburgh Phrenological Society in 1820 and the works Elements of Phrenology (1824) and The Constitution of Man (1828). Combe’s outgoing and incoming correspondence document his efforts to spread the causes of phrenology, secular education, and criminal and prison reform.

 

Combe’s letterbooks contain a large proportion of his replies to his brother, Andrew Combe, who was also a fervent supporter of phrenology, and to those seeking his help and advice both in Britain and America. Combe’s replies were copied by wet letter press copying (or wet-transfer) and some pages in these books have now faded to the point of invisibility.

 

The National Library of Scotland teamed up with CHICC in July to see if multi-spectral imaging would be able to render Combe’s words visible. These tests would inform the Library on what approach to take to preserve the Combe papers through digitisation.

To find out more, watch this short film of the work in action:

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