There is no way we could have come up with a better title. The British Library and the Bibliothèque nationale de France have just digitized 100 manuscripts, all dated between 700CE and 1200CE, and made them available online! The news is so awesome that as soon as we saw it on Twitter we decided we would write this post.
The more digitized manuscripts by the British Library, the merrier!
What is there to find in this new “release”? Well, as the title says: 100, fully digitized medieval manuscripts, available for everyone to browse for free. Which, you ask? The British Library has prepared a tidy Excel Sheet for you with everything you need to know!
We gave a quick look, and here is just three examples of the awesomeness that awaits you!
Add MS 11283 – Bestiary
This manuscript is the earliest extant manuscript of Clark’s Second-family bestiaries that brings in new materials by following a system of classification into beasts, birds and reptiles.[ 2 ]As it is often the case with the British Library, always read their full description of the objects. Very detailed and interesting. In this case see: ...continue
Add MS 11850 – Hieronymus, Epistula ad Damasum papam
The Préaux Gospels from Normandy and datedearly 12th-century. This gives us the possibility to highlight the Quality with which the digitization has taken place. Bravo!
Add MS 38818 – Composite manuscript
If you like BIG manuscripts full of different text and styles of writing, this one is for you! This manuscript contains:
Palladius, De Agricultura
Vitruvius, De Architectura
Flavius Vegetius, De re military
Extracts from Justinian, Institutiones
Indices of words and concepts related to different works of St Augustine and to Prosper of Aquitaine, Epigrammata ex sententiis Sancti Augustini
An anonymous treatise on signs
A table of chapters of Isidore of Seville, Sententie libri iii
A collection of 50 sermons followed by Robert of Basevorn, Forma predicandi
Excerpt from Isidore of Seville, Synonyma de lamentatione animae peccatricis
This digitization effort is part of The Polonsky Foundation England and France Project: Manuscripts from the British Library and the Bibliothèque nationale de France which couples the two libraries in a collaborative project that aims to create two innovative new websites that will make 800CE manuscripts decorated before the year 1200CE available freely! [ 4 ]See the official post on this for more information.
100 digitized manuscripts in 7 months! Fantastic. We applaud the project, and sit impatiently behind our desks in anticipation of all the other jewels that will soon be online. Go to the British Library’s website and get lost in manuscript heaven!
You can follow the British Library on Twitter[ 5 ]The account is focused in medieval manuscripts and on Facebook, but you can also follow their medieval manuscripts’ adventure on their blog.
Florence is a beautiful city. The kind of city many people from Rome like myself would like to move to; so similar is it to the Capital: full of art, culture, history… but without the broken roads, the traffic, and a bit more calm. Florence is also home to the Laurentian Library, or, as it’s called in Italian: Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, or more simply “La Laurenziana”. One of the greatest libraries in the world; one of the places that you have to visit. If you can’t get there, you can view their digitized manuscripts on their recently launched new interface!
But how did the Laurentian Library come to be? The history of the library is extremely long; so let’s go back to the beginning: it’s 1519 and you are Giulio di Giuliano de’ Medici. You are a powerful Cardinal that will be pope just four years later. You want a library. Who do you call? Well, Michelangelo, of course! You spare no expense.
What then? Well, Michelangelo began working on the architectonic masterpiece the same year, with consistency, until 1534. That year, after the death of his father and Giuliano de’ Medici, and the displeasing political situation in Florence, Michelangelo decided to abandon Florence for greener pastures, leaving the Laurenziana incomplete.
The works on the Biblioteca Medicea were then carried on by other architects, based on drawings and indications by Buonarroti himself. As a result, in 1571, year of the inauguration, the library finally had become a masterpiece fit for the extraordinary books kept inside.
What’s in the Laurentian Library?
The Laurentian Library is home to around 11,000 manuscripts, 2,500 papyri, 43 ostraca[ 1 ]Usually small pieces of stone or pottery with writing scratched onto the surface., 566 incunabula, 1,681 16th-century prints, and 126,527 prints of the 17th to 20th centuries.[ 2 ]http://www.bmlonline.it/la-biblioteca/fondi-principali/ – La Biblioteca conserva oggi all’incirca 11.000 manoscritti […], 2.500 ...continue
The story of these manuscripts starts with Cosimo I, Grand Duke of Tuscany, in 1571, who first opened the Library. Navigating the Laurentian Library’s website you will notice the signature Pluteus or Pluteo (Plut.) This refers to the early manuscripts present in the library that were on display on the book-shelves designed by Michelangelo that served and serve as shelving, lecterns and seating. Book-shelf = pluteus[ 3 ] http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.04.0059:entry=pluteus – V. A book-shelf, bookcase, desk, Pers. 1, 106; “with ...continue. Mindblowing. These include the manuscripts that were collected by the Medici family and that Giulio di Giuliano de’ Medici (future Pope Clement VII) took to Florence in the 1520s.
Angelo Maria Bandini, a famous librarian who also looked after the Biblioteca Marucelliana, was appointed to the Laurentiana in 1757, and made sure to expand on the printed catalogues.
The Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, online
Let’s start off by saying that the amazing Codex Amiatinus is fully digitized. That’s the oldest extant manuscript of the Latin Vulgate[ 4 ]Murray, Peter, Murray, Linda, and Jones, Tom Devonshire. “Codex Amiatinus.” The Oxford Dictionary of Christian Art & Architecture ...continue. The Syriac Rabula Gospels are also there! All in all, 4000 are freely accessible to browse!
The interface works as expected in 2017: you can zoom in to see the smallest detail, or have an overview of all the manuscript’s thumbnails. The quality of the digitization is high; although we did come across some manuscripts that were underexposed and dark. We would show you what we mean with two screenshots, but we cannot due to copyrights. Speaking of this, the images are covered all over by the copyright symbol.
You are also able to invert the colors of a folio to help you read the text and identify details.
All very cool, but we were not able to find a “download” button for the images. Although this didn’t come as a surprise, this is a serious problem for ever-moving researchers[ 5 ]Tip: you can rotate the image 90 degrees, set full screen, and take a screenshot of the page; theoretically you could then save a 4K image, depending ...continue.
The interface is in English and very easy to navigate. Maybe the background isn’t ideal; a bit “noisy”, which does not help when you are trying to read a 10th century manuscript, or a post 16th century one. A monochromatic background might have been better.
Search could be a bit improved. Finding the treasures like plut. 39.1 (Mediceus of Virgil) was difficult: Inserting “plut. 39.1” didn’t show the results I wanted; the vernacular name didn’t work either, but I expected that. In the end, I filtered the results: “Manuscripts dated 0400 to 0500, by collection “Plutei”, and there it was. Not ideal, but Search Engines are tricky to set up, so in my opinion this is a forgivable fault.
There is also no clear indication of the copyrights except the superimposed watermarks and the copyright symbol in the footer. This caused us to investigate before posting anything, and thank the Tremulous Hand of Worcester we did[ 6 ]See the note at the end of the post. It is a shame that the rules concerning how you can use the images are not clearly explained on the website.
The new interface is based on “MagusOnline” software. We wanted to read some more technical details to understand it better, alas we were unable to find any documentation.
It’s a shame that the Laurentian Library did not implement IIIF, the International Image Interoperability Framework. This would have allowed researchers, and users in general, to compare medieval manuscripts coming from La Laurenziana, to others coming from libraries that have already adopted IIIF.[ 7 ]See IIIF at work over at the Bodleian! A lost occasion that makes the project feel almost already old and outdated. Don’t know what IIIF is? Want to know more? Stay tuned as Marjolein finishes her post on this subject!
Although the silly copyright issues and the technical uncertainties, having the Laurentian Library so easily accessible is awesome, and will certainly please all the culture-loving internauts out there!
Editor’s note: about the images in this post
After we finished writing this post, we turned to adding the images. We were trying to figure out from the website what the rights statements were that are applied to these images. What you usually expect is an explanation that clearly describes how you can or cannot use images (no commercial use, for example).
To add any image to this post we would have to ask for authorization, possibly pay a fee, and only then embed the pictures coming from the Laurentian Library’s new website. The same goes for any digitized manuscript held by an Italian institution. This is not the Laurenziana’s fault, but the Italian law’s.
We will not discuss here how masochistic, ridiculous, out-of-this-time the Italian law is. As an Italian, I feel very ashamed of this situation. And I apologize.
We have chosen to use the images that come from Wikipedia instead, and link to those. These images are also possibly unauthorized, but these have been uploaded to Wikipedia as being in the Public Domain.
Of course, we are very thankful that these manuscripts have been digitized at all and made accessible for browsing for free. But we hope this small adventure of us will make you think and be grateful to all those institutions that share their material under a Public Domain or Creative Commons license.
We welcome the Biblioteca Laurenziana to contact us and correct us on this topic, should we have made any mistakes.
Usually small pieces of stone or pottery with writing scratched onto the surface.
http://www.bmlonline.it/la-biblioteca/fondi-principali/ – La Biblioteca conserva oggi all’incirca 11.000 manoscritti […], 2.500 papiri, 43 ostraka, 566 incunaboli, 1.681 cinquecentine, 592 testate di periodici specializzati e un totale di 126.527 edizioni a stampa (dal XVII al XX secolo).
Murray, Peter, Murray, Linda, and Jones, Tom Devonshire. “Codex Amiatinus.” The Oxford Dictionary of Christian Art & Architecture (2013): The Oxford Dictionary of Christian Art & Architecture. Web.
Tip: you can rotate the image 90 degrees, set full screen, and take a screenshot of the page; theoretically you could then save a 4K image, depending on the resolution of your monitor. Also, right-clicking and saving the image will do!
This happened via a Facebook chat. At first I thought I expressed myself badly; that I had been misunderstood. So I sent an example of which detail I wanted to post. The answer was: “Yes. The images have to be authorized even if there are no commercial ends.” – “si. Le immagini devono essere autorizzate anche se non ci sono scopi commerciali“
As you might have read in our previous post concerning the DMMapp 3.0, one of the best features is that now we can easily see which links in our database are broken, along with quickly adding what we receive via the missing library form.
Now you see me…
Let’s start with the good news: It took us a while, but we are happy to have added the Ruusbroecgenootschap and Universiteitsbibliotheek Antwerpen to the list. Previously we had already a link for the University Library of Antwerp, but we were kindly provided with a better links to the catalog, where you can access digitized versions of the manuscripts from both the collections. We have also removed a duplicate link we noticed, always from Antwerp.
But wait! There’s more!
We have also added nine new repositories:
Medievalia: Fundamental texts of medieval Romanian culture
Pomeranian Library of Szczecin
Christ Church College
University of British Columbia
St Catharine’s College
Univerzitná knižnica v Bratislava (University Library, Bratislava)
Durham Cathedral Library
Rakow Library, Corning Museum of Glass
…now you don’t!
Repositories are like organisms: they evolve, they change, they improve, they move. Sometimes, unfortunately, they simply disappear. This month we noticed ten broken links in our database, and we went on to fix them.
In five cases we had no problem: we found where the new links were and we restored the accessibility (301 Redirect, webmasters!) In the remaining five cases we were unfortunately unable to find the new links to digitized manuscripts and we were forced to remove the links from the DMMapp [ 1 ]The change is documented on our GitHub
These are the repositories we were unable to find any longer:
• Uppsala Universitetsbibliotek
• Greenslade Archives and Special Collections
• Museum Plantin-Moretus
• Benediktinerinnenkloster (Neuburg a.d.Donau)
• Moravian Land Library
We are especially concerned for the Plantin Moretus Museum in Antwerp. The website reads: “The library of approximately 25,000 old printed books and 638 manuscripts can be explored in Antwerp’s Anet library network.” [ 2 ]Stated on their website This usually means that access to the digitized books is restricted to the people who are within a limited network, while the rest of the world can’t see the content. There is a highlight page where a single folio of three (out of 638!) manuscripts are shown. [ 3 ]The other three folios are here That’s quite little.
We did find some manuscripts in their online catalogue with a link to the digitized item, which, unfortunately does not load.
But we might be blind so, please, if you know where the digitized manuscripts from the repositories mentioned above can now be accessed, do let us know!
The code update is visible as always on GitHub. You can follow this specific file to be notified every time we update the DMMapp database.
We have been working hard, and we are super-proud to announce that the DMMapp 3.0 is out there and available for everyone to explore and enjoy!
“It’s the best DMMapp yet!” “It just works!” “10/10 would DMMapp again”
No they don’t, but we like to imagine they do! Let’s go and see what has happened in the past months.
What has Changed in the DMMapp? And Why?
What we wanted to address in this release were two things: maintainability and usability of the DMMapp.
We’ll start with the latter: the DMMapp 2.0 worked fine; but “fine” was not good enough in our opinion.
We believed that there was no need for two different tabs [ 1 ]“Data” tab, and the actual “map”, but rather we thought that there should be a single tab where the user could choose what to see and explore. In our vision, the data and the map should have been in a single page, interacting with each other. Furthermore, we considered the filtering tool inadequate and rather clunky.
With these two problems in mind, we went to work: we implemented an omni-search box that replaced the old, clunky, filtering method: just type any text in the search box, and the app will start filtering instantaneously the results as you type: Searching for libraries in “London”? Type it in, and magically the list will display only the libraries from that city. Want to know which libraries are from Italy? Type “Italy”, and ta-daah! – only the libraries in Italy are displayed.
That took care of the filtering, but what about the “Single tab” dream? We addressed that too: The table interacts with the map now! [ 2 ]Datatable and Google Maps simply didn’t like each other. Google Fusion Tables is also a non-Mobile Friendly solution. A good 15% of the traffic ...continue After you find the library you want to browse in the table, you tap on the table and you will be taken to the map. The link to your library will appear, zoomed in and highlighted, on the map. All that is left to do is tap the button and off you go to the manuscripts from the institutions you chose!
“We are dedicated to making digitized collections as easy to access as possible.” That’s the objective of the DMMapp Beta. Since its release, the DMMapp has been linking digital repositories to it users; but we believe it can always be better. That is why we have been reworking the app and are now releasing a public beta version for users to test and give us feedback.
With this release we particularly wanted to address various issues, mainly regarding performance and usability.
The Map and the searchable database
The map is awesome, and we have lots of fun in randomly clicking on the pins to (re)discover a collection; but it can be impractical for users that are searching for a specific library (or city, or anything.) Yes, there are filters, but it is not the fastest, nor handiest way to go around. This is why we created the “Data-page” some time ago: no fancy graphics, but a super-fast filterable table.
The issue with the current version of the DMMapp is that its two souls (map and data pages) behave like two different entities: when you go to the DMMapp, and then click on “Data”, the page has to reload, instead of being a streamlined experience. A far from perfect. Plus, we are not on the fastest servers ever, and it can take quite some seconds before the page loads, and every reload means that server resources are being used, and that the whole blog will be slowed down.
Therefore, in the DMMapp 2.0 we have made it so that map and data load simultaneously, and that switching between map and data is instantaneous!
“You get to contribute! You get to contribute! Everyone gets to contribute!”
The DMMapp has been on GitHub for years, but we have never really promoted its presence there until now. GitHub is a place where people share their code. It’s where the base for the DMMapp was found.
Well, let it be know that it is there and it’s for you to play with. There are issues that you can help fixing (typos, dirty code, bugs…) We have dropped the foundations for the tool, but it is open to everyone to improve, like it should be! So, come and have fun with the code of the current DMMapp branch!
Even if you love codices more than code, you can give a look at what we are doing and where the DMMapp is going.
CDNs for a faster DMMapp
We have outsourced some the scripts necessary to make the DMMapp 2.0 run (jQuery, for example.) Again, we use dirt-cheap servers and we cannot use many resources from them (remember, we are just two guys with no founding from anyone!). In the original DMMapp we used our own scripts coming from our own server, now these are delivered by CDNs (content delivery networks) in order to put less strain on the server and leverage on their speed. The downside is that, in case of an update on these scripts, the DMMapp might break. This possibility is remote, and we believe that the advantages of using CDNs outweigh the risks, for now.
Desktop, tablet, and mobile
We want the DMMapp to be usable on every device: are you at special collections and need to check if another library has a digital version of a manuscript? IPad next to you? DMMapp! At home, bored, and feel like exploring some digital collections? Laptop? DMMapp! On the train, sudden urge to see how many libraries have digitized manuscripts in Spain? IPhone? Android phone? Windows phone? DMMapp!
That is the goal. We are almost there, but not quite. What’s not working? You can see it on GitHub, and try to fix it if you want!
“DMMapp 2.0? Cool, I want to try it!”
Feel like giving the DMMapp 2.0 a try? Please visit the public beta and let us know what you think about it!
The Biblioteca de la Universidad de Barcelona one of the many new digitized libraries to the DMMapp (we are now at 500+!). The link to the Barcelona University Library was given to us through a tweet from @Archivalia_kg (he also has an excellent blog in German!)
The Biblioteca de la Universidad de Barcelona website
This is the second digital library from spain we review, with the first one being the Biblioteca Nacional de España. The Universidad de Barcelona (here) is home to 69 digitized manuscripts dating from the 10th century until the 18th. The interface is excellent: The link we provide takes you directly to the manuscripts. Here you can choose to have a “thumbnail” overview of the manuscripts along with the standard list. Manuscripts are completely digitized from front to back, and you are able to download them in rather high-resolution (1500×1200 circa, depending on the manuscript). The images present, in my opinion, an evident “blue” tint, meaning that the there is “too much blue channel” in the digital pictures. The images you see in this post have been processed. Something to keep in mind when looking at the miniatures for research purposes. Furthermore, there is no indication of which folio is being looked at, or being downloaded; only a generic indication of a “page”. The website is available in Catalan, Spanish, and English. The available metadata is quite standard and nothing more: no description of what is being looked at except the title, author, call name, copyrights, etc. A little description on significant folios or miniatures would have been nice to see, but it would be huge quantity of work to be done.
Copyright the Biblioteca de la Universidad de Barcelona
The images from the the Barcelona University Library are public domain, that means that images can be downloaded and used for any purpose.and that’s always a welcome sight! You can share the images on your blog, publish them in your book or thesis, make videos out of them, or anything that comes to your mind. Very good!
Highlights from the Biblioteca de la Universidad de Barcelona
The Universidad de Barcelona digital collection is full of interesting manuscripts to be explored. Here are some examples:
That little jewel in the in the center of Cambridge that is the Fitzwilliam Museum is home to an extraordinary collection of paintings, engravings, and most importantly for us, digitized medieval manuscripts. These manuscripts are available online (and linked in our app) so we went to give a look to see what wealth is available to us.
The Fitzwilliam Museum’s website
Following the link in on the DMMapp, you are taken directly to a list of all the digitized objects made available from the Fitzwilliam Museum that contain the keyword “manuscript”. As you will notice, on the left there is the possibility to further refine this search by showing objects that contain images, by maker, production place, etc., giving you plenty of control over what you would like to find.
Manuscripts are partially digitized and in most cases you will not be able to browse from front to back cover, but you will still be able to look at more than 700 digitized and described objects. The metadata is of alternating quality. In some cases you can read through a detailed description of a manuscript (MS McClean 172 is a perfect example), in others you might find the title and some basic information only (see MS CFMurray 15).
The technical problem with the images is that they are “responsive”. This means that the smaller your screen is, the smaller the digitized image shown will be. Furthermore there is no direct way to view the images full size, or to zoom in and out. That is a bit inconvenient; although a user-friendly solution (you will always see a good image, no matter on what device you are on), it doesn’t help a researcher that might be interested in the small details.
Finally, the size of the images themselves are not amazing. They are actually rather small: with the long side hardly ever going above 720 pixels, one could say they are “HD Ready” more than “Full HD”.
Although rather small and not perfect to navigate, the digitized pages are still an excellent starting point for both researchers and manuscript enthusiasts.
What can I find there?
Fascinating to us is the presence of an inhabited letter attributed to the Master of the Murano Gradual. If you have visited the Getty Museum’s collection after reading our post about it, you will note a striking resemblance to one of the digitized images available there. To prove the quality the descriptions available there, we strongly recommend that you give a look at the notes available on the Fitzwilliam Museum’s page regarding their initial. It narrates a very fascinating story about miniature painting in Italy in the late 14th century.
Overall, the Fitzwilliam Museum’s website and its digitized collection is most certainly worth more than a visit. There is a lot of content worth viewing, and navigating through it is a pleasure. Go and see for yourself!
As someone who loves manuscripts and medieval culture, you might one day end up in Belgium, exploring Flanders, and you might go to Bruges, which was flourishing in the Middle Ages. The area has produced countless beautiful manuscripts with a very typical and recognizable style of illuminations now preserved at the Public Library of Bruges.
Bruges’ golden days were in the Middle Ages when it was a very prosperous harbor city that attracted many merchants. The historical city centre today is still much like it was in the Middle Ages which makes it an amazing place to visit for every medievalist (or everyone. Period).
While you are there, there is also a library you should visit: the Openbare Bibliotheek Brugge (OBB) – Public Library of Bruges and its extensive collection, which you can visit here or here.
About the Openbare Bibliotheek Brugge – Public Library of Bruges
Situated in the city center, the OBB is home to volumes that once belonged to various monastery libraries in the area; in 1798 the French government gathered these books into one collection and in 1804 this was handed over to the city of Bruges, where it is now housed in the Public Library of Bruges. The library also possesses manuscripts from the Cistercian abbeys of Ten Duinen and Ter Doest not too far from Bruges.
The Public Library of Bruges is currently doing an excellent job digitizing their manuscripts, and many of these are already available online. Unfortunately, at the moment the databases can only be consulted in Dutch because of government decrees, but worry not! We are here to help you on your way navigating through the collection and find awesome manuscripts!
As always, you can access the Openbare Bibliotheek Brugge via the DMMapp, or you can start by looking at the manuscripts on this page, clicking on them and discovering the rest of the collection on their website. There are various places where you can view the manuscripts, and find information about them:
Flandrica (digitized Flemish heritage from various institutions)
Over at Flandrica, if you are viewing the full entry of a particular manuscript you can click the images on top to view them bigger. Or you can also view it online if there is the orange button with “Bekijk online”.
The viewer for the manuscripts gives a nice thumbnail overview in the left sidebar to make it easier to navigate and find what you are looking for. It gives a bit the experience of ‘leafing’ through the book. Unfortunately, at the moment the images can be only zoomed to a small degree (click right to zoom) and the images cannot be downloaded or directly shared.
What is very good about the library’s own website is that they give a direct link not only to the digitized manuscript but they also refer you to various other sources about the book such as books, articles or blog posts. Also, the full descriptions of the manuscripts are rich, and in the future they will be expanded with iconographical descriptions.
Under ‘media’ you can see some pictures of the manuscripts, the complete work can be seen through the “Bekijk hier de digitale versie” link. The images in ‘media’ are of good size and quality and can easily shared and/or saved.
In this library you will not only find beautiful examples of the best of medieval Bruges illuminated books of hours. For instance they also preserve a manuscript of the Liber Trotula (work on women’s medicine), an early printed edition of Ovid’s Metamorphoses with illuminated borders, a work by Augustine, De Natura Rerum (by Thomas of Cantimpré), a legal manuscript (Justinian) possibly from Bologna, and much much more.
The collections of the Openbare Bibliotheek Brugge are a beautiful showcase of the treasures from this part of Flanders and are certainly worth visiting, both in real life and digitally.
We are extremely proud to communicate that the DMMapp has now reached (and surpassed… we are adding a few in the next days!) the 400 links milestone! This means that, thanks to everyone’s submissions, we can link to more than 400 libraries, archives, repositories, etc. that are home to digitized medieval manuscripts! You can find the latest additions on our tidy list. Also, here’s a short list of the latest additions:
Does this milestone mark the end of our project? Does the DMMapp project ever end? No and no. The DMMapp is fueled by passion and not by money and that makes all the difference in the world. We managed to create a system that allows us to update the links very quickly and effortlessly, so it is easy for us to update the DMMapp when we receive a new link or an update. It’s very cheap to support and works well. The development of other projects (iPad / iPhone app, Android app, world conquest) takes more time; unfortunately Sexy Codicology and the DMMapp are not our full-time jobs and many things can get in the way.
The DMMapp: made by its users!
But thankfully we are not in this alone! If you are an active user of the DMMapp, you will have noticed that there are broken links here and there. That is unavoidable as repositories often change web addresses or disappear. We do our best to keep everything updated, but you can help too! If you encounter a broken link, please report it. We will take care of either removing the link completely (since the digitized manuscripts are gone, for example) or update the link with the new address. We are working on creating a button just for that purpose!
Remember, the DMMapp is a crowdsourced project. My colleague and I added the first few links but the ones who made it a really useful resource are its users; it’s you!
How does one describe an amazing experience that involves history, Italy, pizza and a ton of amazing medieval manuscripts coming from the most famous monastery in southern Italy? Let’s try starting from the beginning: From June the 29th until July the 3rd we had the privilege of attending the first Cassino Summer School, or better, the first International Summer School in Cassino (Italy): Trends in Manuscript Studies – Sources, Issues and Technologies, organized by Liber, Libro e Ricerca. It was great, and we would like to share the experience with you readers.
Let’s start from the basics: where did we sleep? We stayed at the hotel “La Pace”. A perfectly fine hotel not too far from Cassino’s town center, decorated with memorabilia from the battles of Cassino during the Second World War. Our room was rather big, with a window pointed directly at the monastery. It was rather special to wake up every morning and see Montecassino up the hill, shining in the sun. A beautiful sight to wake up to. Our only complaint was the Internet connection: We guess everyone was trying to connect to the Web at the same time, but it was super slow, and most of the time we were unable to connect at all.
Hands on experience
Although for many Cassino is a synonym of World War Two battles, as the hotel testifies, but for us manuscript lovers it is synonym of Beneventan Script and beautiful books. And that’s just what we got during the Cassino Summer School. It is difficult not to emphasize how extraordinary the manuscripts we had the chance to view, touch, and admire were. In front of us were the most extraordinary treasures of Montecassino. Not behind glass cases, not unturnable pages, not slides. The real, amazing deal. Nowhere else have we had such a display of precious manuscripts only a few centimeters away from our eyes, ready to be explored and studied. It is difficult to describe the emotions and feelings these books bring up. Not only were the manuscripts amazing, but also the locations where the viewing would take place. Imagine this: a warm, sunny summer day in southern Italy, in a monastery full of history, with the sound of cicadas coming in from the windows overlooking the valley down below where you could spot wild boars. All of this while masterpieces a thousand years old lay on a long desk, with passionate lecturers explaining them in every detail possible. It was, and there is really no other word for it, a great experience. Let us stress though, the manuscripts were there to be inspected and browsed (of course, with all the precautions necessary.) Manuscripts that very few people have had the opportunity to see in their lives!
Cassino Summer School’s Classes
Viewing manuscripts during the mornings was awesome, but it is called Cassino Summer School for a reason: there are classes you must attend. They took place at three in afternoon at the Facolta’ di ingegneria in Cassino, at the Aula Magna. The first lecture was given by Francis Newton, author of The Scriptorium and Library at Monte Cassino, 1058-1105, essentially the bible about Beneventan Script and the scriptorium of Montecassino; a wonderful person who keeps on inspiring us in many aspects of our lives. The lectures we placed directly after lunch while everybody had either a pizza or a good lunch into them, in the warm south Italian climate… very high risk of falling asleep! But the lecturers were spoken with true passion which kept us awake. The only real critique that can be made to the Cassino Summer School is this: some of the classes were in Italian only, without a complete translation available, therefore a couple of the classes were difficult to follow for the non-Italian speaking audience. But in any case, the lecturers made sure that everyone could follow the lessons: other lecturers present during the classes in Italian would help translating, and also the students were very helpful to each other.
We were given a super-handy 8gb USB key containing all the materials for the course (readings, images of manuscripts, links, contacts, etc.) The only problem was that many had no laptop or a device that could have a USB key connected to it. Some were therefore unable to view the materials. Nothing dramatic in any case; the contents were very interesting but not essential to the enjoyment of the course. We were also given two books for free, maps, and a CD containing interactive eBook on the Desiderian age at Montecassino. Again, in this case, most people didn’t have DVD reader and could not enjoy it.
OK, this has really nothing to do with the Cassino Summer School itself, but it might be interesting to know for people that might be interested going there next year: the food in Cassino is, well, divine. You’ll have to find your eating places by yourself. We were given a handy list of places with an indication of prices. We can’t give a better example than the pizza that some of us students had the last evening: a margherita pizza, Neapolitan style (with the thick border, opposed to the Roman style with the thin crust) which costed only 3 euros. Sandwiches and other local specialties were also available for cheap. A dinner was organized on the first evening in the neighboring town of Atina at a restaurant called ‘Le Cannardizie’, a lovely restaurant with a panoramic terrace over the Comino Valley. We will not start talking about the wine and the food… The dinner really helped break the ice between us students.
One of our team members being Italian himself and having little faith in the way Italian things are organized, he was truly pleased about how everything was handled by the Cassino’s hosts. No issues whatsoever as far as we can say: The trips up to Montecassino, the dinner at the excellent restaurant on the first evening, the classes, the visit at the museum of the Abbey, etc. they all flowed and, except the broken air conditioning on the first day, there were no problems at all.
Until next year!
It was an amazing experience. The quantity, quality, and rarity of the manuscripts you have the occasion to look at closely during the Summer School is extraordinary. We repeat ourselves: Nowhere else did we have the possibility to admire such rare pieces from so up close. Yes, it can be better, and having this been the first edition, we have no doubts it will be next year. We strongly, strongly recommend it. Not only if you are a fan of the Beneventan script, but also if you love manuscripts of every kind, along with miniatures and art history. It is such a unique experience that expands beyond the manuscripts themselves: you are in Cassino, in Italy, a place with kind people, where a divine pizza still only costs 3 euros. You get to meet amazing teachers and people coming from all kinds of fields: digitisation, codicologists, palaeographers, etc. It will enrich both your culture and your network. If you get a chance to go, do it!