15cBOOKTRADE project launched at Weston Library

15cBOOKTRADE project launched at Weston Library

June saw the public launch of the 15cBOOKTRADE project at the Weston Library, Oxford, with a host of presentations by the team on the history of the project and its fascinating insights into the distribution and usage of incunabula (books printed in the 15th century) throughout Europe.

The project uses material evidence from the c.450,000 copies of surviving books printed between 1450 (when modern printing was invented) and 1500, as well as documentary evidence (such as a Venetian bookseller's ledger from the 1480s), to address fundamental questions relating to the introduction of printing in the West. Including reading practices, contemporary market value and circulation/re-use of images, these questions have so far eluded scholarship, partly because of lack of evidence and partly because of the lack of effective tools to deal with existing evidence.

The project has many technical components, including a database called Material Evidence in Incunabula (MEI), which allows scholars around the world to record historical and present day evidence relating to the movement of these early books. An Oxford e-Research Centre team led by Professor of Scientific Visualization, Min Chen, has been advising on and applying visualization techniques to the MEI data to track the distribution and use of 15th-century printed books.

A tool developed specifically for the project, 15cV, was launched alongside the project last week and is available for use by anyone interested in the project.

Dr Simon Walton, Research Associate in Visualization at the Oxford e-Research Centre, worked with project scholars to develop the web-based visual analytical tool, which is used to visualize the distribution and use of books within the project's MEI database through space and time.

Scholars can use the tool to find details of a particular edition or book, seeing where and when it was printed and how many copies survive today. They can discover who owned the texts originally and how and why they were distributed later - for example, books owned by a high ranking civil servant at the court of the King of Naples, whose library was confiscated and part of his collection moved to Valencia after he was accused of treason.

Dr Walton has produced this demonstration video, which tells the story of the project through narration, screen recordings, interviews and footage of Oxford.


15cV: The 15CBOOKTRADE Visualisation Suite from Dr Simon Walton on Vimeo.