Saint Louis University

Center for Digital Humanities


The Hill Museum & Manuscript Library (HMML), a sponsored program of Saint John's University (Collegeville, Minnesota), has received an Advancing Digital Resources grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) for a two-year project to create vHMML, an online environment for manuscript studies. Manuscripts are handwritten texts-generally codices (books), but also documentary material such as charters, letters, and legal records-that provide the primary and often sole access to the historic cultures that have shaped the modern world. HMML's photographic archive of more than 125,000 complete manuscripts, with 40,000,000+ pages, is by far the world's largest collection of photographic material for the study of manuscripts. vHMML's coverage of manuscript cultures will be inclusive of both western and non-western manuscripts, reflecting more accurately the complex historical realities that shaped the modern world and that are becoming more normative in current scholarship with its emphasis on comparative studies.

vHMML will support a range of users, from undergraduates just starting to learn paleography and codicology, to established scholars working on complex comparisons of manuscripts as they prepare critical editions of important texts.

vHMML will consist of six closely-linked, interoperable, and mutually-reinforcing online components:

1. School: instructional material in various formats for teaching the paleography and codicology for languages/cultures represented in HMML's collections (Latin, Syriac, Ge‘ez, Christian Arabic, Armenian);

2. Scriptorium: a sophisticated collaborative workspace able to support a variety of manuscript-related projects using manuscript images from HMML's collection and imported from other sources, and providing tools for studying their form and content;

3. Lexicon: a crowd-sourced glossary for manuscript studies inclusive of western and non-western manuscripts;

4. Folio Collection: thickly-described sample manuscript folios from HMML's collections, supplemented by images supplied by other institutions or individuals, which will illustrate the chronological and regional development of writing styles;

5. Library: other HMML digital resources supportive of manuscript study such as classic works on paleography, manuscript catalogs, and videos;

6. Blog: a central point for communication and feedback gathering about vHMML.

vHMML will be a model for libraries with extensive digital collections, whether self-generated, obtained through license agreements, or both. vHMML will demonstrate how to make an array of digital materials organized and findable, and how to create a lively intellectual community around those resources, within an integrated digital framework in which each component connects to the others. The cross-cultural approach fundamental to vHMML suggests how special collections materials need not be segregated into linguistic or cultural groupings, but can be used and interpreted in a richer environment supportive of comparative analysis. vHMML will demonstrate how other special collections libraries can attract new users by developing a framework for scholarly activity that does not depend upon on-site use of collections and, with its ability to import digital images from other repositories or from individual users, it will model how institutions with similar types of material can make their holdings available for scholarship without having to build their own complex digital infrastructure.

Project architecture and software will be developed in collaboration with a team drawn from the Center for Digital Humanities at Saint Louis University and the Carolingian Canon Law project at the University of Kentucky. IMLS funds will support the development of software and some content creation. Click To Learn More


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