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Medieval Manuscript Fragments Imaging Project

An exciting interdisciplinary collaboration to analyse a collection of 157 manuscript fragments, 9 early printed fragments, and 30 deeds held in UCL Special Collections has been launched.

The Centre for Digital Humanities, The Department of Medical Physics and Bioengineering and Library Services are working together on a research programme aimed at developing new imaging techniques for recovering text in deteriorated historical manuscripts.

The first phase of the programme, just completed, involved surveying and cataloguing a small sample from the collection, while developing scientific imaging techniques in the Multi Modal Digitisation Suite based in the Science Library next to Special Collections. The plan is to extend the methods used for this phase to perfect the technique before visiting other archives to image historically important manuscripts.

This phase of the programme will have several additional benefits for teaching, research and public engagement. Special Collections will be able to showcase the manuscripts in exhibitions for public engagement, and disseminate information about them worldwide. The fragments will form a unique set of teaching materials for MA students on a variety of programmes (e.g. Medieval and Renaissance Studies, Archives and Records Management and Digital Humanities).

They will also provide a fascinating insight into an era in UCL's history and the group of UCL academics who collected these pieces in the early part of the 20th Century. The innovative approach of this activity is centred on being able to prioritise on which manuscripts it would be most useful to focus efforts, in order to help read damaged and deteriorated texts via advanced multi-modal imaging techniques.

The collection of fragments, mainly from early bindings, have been in the possession of Library Services for decades, but are yet to be fully described and researched. Around 6 items are thought to have derived from the medieval university of Bologna, and the collection has been found to contain rare examples of early musical notation. Some were purchased in the early 20th century by subscription amongst UCL staff, an initiative led by UCL Professor Robert Priebsch, to develop the study of palaeography at UCL.

Apart from a handful of items catalogued in the early 1930s, these specimens have never been fully described and are generally unknown to the wider community. They contain legal, religious, medical, musical and other texts from a range of dates (mainly 10th-14th centuries), styles, and different languages (including Latin, German, Hebrew, English, French and Greek).

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