During the mid-13th century, scribe William de Brailes and his students painstakingly wrote out and hand-decorated a number of Bibles, Psalters, and other religious works. Today, more than seven centuries later, an original page from de Brailes’ workshop resides in a vault in the Special Collections Department of The University of Iowa Libraries — one of the prize artifacts from its Medieval Manuscripts Collection. This month, the page was scanned and uploaded to become the 100,000th item added to the Iowa Digital Library.
Digitized materials from the Libraries’ collections are made publicly available via the Iowa Digital Library website and the Libraries’ Smart Search catalog. The star of the UI’s latest digitization milestonetemp, a 13th-century manuscript page from the Bible’s Book of Maccabees II, was selected to represent the transformation of information storage over the centuries, from handmade parchment to zeroes and ones. The item can be accessed online at http://digital.lib.uiowa.edu/u?/mmc,16 .
“Digital versions of rare records and documents bring new attention to the physical artifacts that have made up human communication in the past. The Iowa Digital Library is exactly the kind of teaching tool that alerts students to meanings of the medium, whether it be paper or stone, handwriting or typeface, engraving or photograph,” says Dr. Matthew Brown, Director of the UI Center for the Book. “A humble example from the IDL is the set of American civil war diaries. Here students can see a mixture of manuscript and print typical of the blank book, a historically crucial but seriously undervalued aspect of the book industry. What the digital images invite is an investigation of the artifact itself, which, in this case, can tell subtle tales of readerly use. In the case of other artifacts, students can examine matters of coloration in engravings, sewing in bindings, or wear in paper—all matters that give us an intimate connection to the past.”
The medieval manuscript page is only the latest in a series of digitized artifacts that include historic photographs, atlases, artworks, books, and other documents drawn from the Libraries’ archives and from faculty research collections. Users can browse these materials at the Iowa Digital Library website, which features a recently added slideshow of collection highlights: http://digital.lib.uiowa.edu . Library staff are also celebrating the 100,000th milestonetemp by writing about their favorite IDL items on the Digital Library Services blog: http://blog.lib.uiowa.edu/dls .
“As scholarship increasingly moves online, it’s essential that we follow suit with our physical collections,” says Nicole Saylor, Head of Digital Library Services. “By increasing accessibility to the UI’s rare and unique materials through digitization, the Libraries will continue to be relevant and vital participants in the University’s research and educational processes.”