University of Delaware
King David in Prayer, Book of Hours: Use of Noyen, Special Collections, University of Delaware Library.

Medieval manuscripts

UD Library joins PACSCL partners to digitize medieval manuscripts


8:36 a.m., Jan. 29, 2016--The University of Delaware Library has announced its partnership in a regional grant to increase access to medieval manuscripts held in the library’s Special Collections. 

The Philadelphia Area Consortium of Special Collections Libraries (PACSCL) has announced that member library Lehigh University has been awarded a $499,086 grant on PACSCL’s behalf from the Digitizing Hidden Special Collections and Archives initiative of the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR), generously supported by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, for its project Bibliotheca Philadelphiensis: Toward a Comprehensive Online Library of Medieval and Early Modern Manuscripts in PACSCL Libraries in Eastern Pennsylvania and Delaware.

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The project, led by PACSCL members Lehigh University, Free Library of Philadelphia, and the University of Pennsylvania Libraries and involving a total of 15 partner institutions, will complete the digitization and online presentation of virtually all of the region’s medieval manuscripts – a total of almost 160,000 pages from more than 400 individual volumes. 

The images, together with descriptive metadata, will be released into the public domain and easily downloadable at high resolution. 

The University of Delaware Library is contributing 10 pre-1600 manuscripts to the project, including the Book of Hours: Use of Noyen, which was a gift from the University of Delaware Library Associates. This beautifully illuminated manuscript has been studied by many UD students, including doctoral student Gabrielle Parkin, for research in late medieval literature.

“Special Collections is thrilled to be a part of this grant, which will yield the largest regional concentration of medieval manuscripts in North America. This is our third PACSCL project with CLIR,” said L. Rebecca Johnson Melvin, head of Manuscripts and Archives Department, “and we are excited to contribute open data and freely accessible images to the consortium.”

PACSCL first showcased the variety and depth of the region’s collections, one of the largest in any metropolitan region in the United States, in a 2001 exhibition, “Leaves of Gold: Manuscript Illumination from Philadelphia Collections,” at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The exhibition and its associated catalogue drew heavily upon the manuscripts to be digitized in this project and sparked a surge in scholarly interest in the Philadelphia collections.

The manuscripts in the Bibliotheca Philadelphiensis project range from simple but functional texts intended for the students of science, philosophy, and religion to jewel-like works of art in the collections of such institutions as Bryn Mawr College, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the Rosenbach Museum and Library. 

“With the addition of materials previously digitized by member libraries, Bibliotheca Philadelphiensis will provide access to more than 2,000 manuscripts in total,” notes PACSCL chairman Ronald Brashear. “It will allow users to download the manuscripts, view them in almost-microscopic detail, and compare them with related works in collections across the country and abroad.” Brashear is also director of the Othmer Library at the Chemical Heritage Foundation, which is contributing images of its medieval and early modern alchemical manuscripts to the project.

In addition to its Book of Hours, the University of Delaware Library is contributing early alchemical manuscripts that were acquired in the early 1970s with the Unidel History of Chemistry Collection.  Books and manuscripts in the Unidel History of Chemistry Collection comprise some of the oldest materials housed in Special Collections. 

“The Leaves of Gold exhibition was a revelation, showing the range and depth of medieval manuscripts in the Delaware Valley region,” said Lawrence Nees, professor and chair of the Department of Art History, and recently president of the International Center of Medieval Art. “This new digital initiative will make it possible for scholars worldwide to access these riches in full, and students at the University of Delaware and elsewhere can use this digital tool to prepare themselves for direct in-person examination of this wonderful material. This project represents a decisive and exciting step forward.”

The images and metadata will be hosted by the University of Pennsylvania Libraries’ OPenn manuscript portal. They will be released to the public domain at high resolution and available for download – by the page, by the manuscript, or by the collection – together with descriptive metadata via anonymous FTP or anonymous rsync. 

Many of the manuscripts to be digitized by the project are held in the collections of the Free Library of Philadelphia. 

In addition to digitizing its own collections and serving as the project’s fiscal agent, Lehigh will dark archive the project’s images and metadata, providing a critical backup outside the city of Philadelphia.

The project participants include the following area libraries and museums: Bryn Mawr College, Chemical Heritage Foundation, College of Physicians of Philadelphia, Franklin and Marshall College, Free Library of Philadelphia (lead contributor and co-principal investigator) Haverford College, Lehigh University (principal investigator, fiscal agent, and dark archive), Library Company of Philadelphia, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Rosenbach Museum and Library, Swarthmore College, Temple University, University of Delaware, University of Pennsylvania (OPenn host and lead imaging/metadata center), and Villanova University.

Additional news about the project is available at the PACSCL website.

About Special Collections

Holdings of Special Collections of the University of Delaware Library include books, manuscripts, maps, prints, photographs, broadsides, periodicals, pamphlets, ephemera and realia from the 15th to the 21st century. 

The collections complement the library's general collections with particular strengths in the subject areas of the arts; English, Irish and American literature; history and Delawareana; horticulture; and history of science and technology.

Special Collections is located on the second floor of the Morris Library.

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