Tag Archives: University of Manchester

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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University Photographs – a Fascinating Snapshot!

CHICC’s latest completed digitisation project has made public a significant number of images from the University Photograph Collection. The images are now available in a new discrete Collection, the ‘University of Manchester Archives Collection’

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The Photographic Collection itself, which is part of the University Archives, consists of several thousand fascinating images of University people, buildings and events, dating from the mid-nineteenth century to the present day.  The images provide a rich visual resource for the history of the University and its surroundings.

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This project which was proposed  by Dr James Hopkins, the University Historian and Heritage Manager, will support the University’s History and Heritage Programme which is working to promote the University’s history both to its members and to the wider public audience.  The digitisation of this selection of photographs will enable greater access to, and use of, the University’s historic images for research and engagement purposes.

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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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Yggdrasill Online

Recently digitsed and now available online are twenty-two manuscript copies of the Ashburne Hall Magazine, Yggdrasill, c.1901-1909. These beautiful magazines are a wonderful snapshot of life in the contemporaneous Hall and are undoubtedly a rich source of research material for scholars of many disciplines.  The post that follows has kindly been supplied by Sheila Griffiths, Honorary Secretary of the Ashburne Association.

 

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Amongst the documentary archive of Ashburne Hall, University of Manchester, is a unique collection of hand written magazines, giving us a glimpse into the lives of the first students of Hall.

In 1899, a public meeting was held in the Lord Mayor’s Parlour in Manchester Town Hall. The aim was to raise funds for the establishment of a Hall of Residence for women. Professor Alexander, philosopher and supporter of higher education for women, had often heard complaints from Head Mistresses that there was a lack of pleasant accommodation for their girls in Manchester; they often advised them to apply to another university.

The public meeting raised £3,000 and Robert Derbyshire, lawyer in the city, generously purchased Ashburne House next to his own in Victoria Park. Other wealthy benefactors opened their attics, to provide furniture for the “Women’s College”. However, fearing that the women would be kept separate because of male opposition, it was decided it should be known as a Hall of Residence. Women were to be included in the university and wherever possible, taught side by side with men.

As late as 1905, the Manchester University Magazine comments that Ashburne House had originally been “only a venture”, but with growing numbers of women students, there was no question as to its viability Manchester was also a centre of the women’s movement, with many eminent professors and C.P.Scott of the Manchester Guardian advocating votes for women.The city was a vibrant focus for politics, science and the arts.

Into this academic hot house came the first dozen Ashburnians, desperate to show that they were both worthy and capable. New education grants for teaching made it possible for girls from modest backgrounds to read for a degree. Ashburne House was no finishing school for rich young ladies: it was for women who had to earn a living.

The hand drawn and painted magazines ceased in 1909, when the hope of the first editor that one day they would be printed was realized. The manuscript editions have great charm and freshness. Here was a lively community of young women ready for the fun of tennis parties, picnics and bicycling expeditions, yet with a deep sense of purpose, an awareness of how much there was to accomplish in the world.

In 1908, preparations were made to move to a larger site, The Oaks in Fallowfield, generously donated by the Behrens family. This became Ashburne Hall, the home now of over six hundred students

Like the Yggdrasill, the Tree of Knowledge, with its branches spreading wide, we now have Ashburnians all over the world, both men and women. Our annual magazine continues with the same name today.

List of Individual Magazines available:

Yggdrasill, Autumn 1901

Yggdrasill, Lent 1902Yggdrasill, Summer 1902Yggdrasill, Christmas 1902

Yggdrasill, Spring 1903Yggdrasill, Summer 1903Yggdrasill, Autumn 1903

Yggdrasill, Lent 1904Yggdrasill, Summer 1904Yggdrasill, Christmas 1904

Yggdrasill, Lent 1905; Yggdrasill, Christmas 1905

Yggdrasill, Lent 1906Yggdrasill, Summer 1906Yggdrasill, Christmas 1906

Yggdrasill, Lent 1907Yggdrasill, Summer 1907a; Yggdrasill, Summer 1907b

Yggdrasill, Lent 1908Yggdrasill, Easter 1908

Yggdrasill, Lent 1909Yggdrasill, c.1909

 

 

 

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