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Medieval Manuscripts

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July 27, 2003

Medieval Manuscripts

Where would the medievalist be without documentary evidence from the Middle Ages? I shudder to think! Fortunately, a good number of manuscripts have been preserved for modern scholars -- some are even available online. Unfortunately, many have suffered over the years thanks to neglect and the ravages of war -- including a substantial collection of medieval texts in Chartres, France, that was burned in a WWII raid.

But now there's hope for damaged manuscripts.

According to a report by Paul Rincon at BBC news online, a relatively new technology called "multispectral imaging" may be used to reveal the contents of ancient pages that have been carbonised by fire. The technology is currently used to produce detailed images of earth from orbiting satellites, and has successfully revealed images on burned scrolls recovered from the Roman town of Herculaneum.

Professor Richard Janko of the University of Michigan, a member of the team that worked on the Herculaneum documents, is convinced the technology is worth trying on the Chartres texts. Only time and money will tell if the library in Chartres can go ahead with such a plan, but if funding can be found, medievalists all over the world will be grateful for the recovered treasure.

In related news, the University of Texas has placed a digitized version of its copy of the Gutenberg Bible online. Gutenberg's bible is the first book printed with movable type, and UT's copy is printed on paper in two volumes, one of which is characterized by large initals of various colors and gold illumination. Their website includes fascinating background info on printing, on the history of Gutenberg's bibles, and on this particular copy of the bible as well as an image of each and every page.


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