Mapping Manuscript Migrations

Navigating the network of connections between people, institutions and places within European Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts

Medieval and Renaissance manuscripts are much-studied and much-loved witnesses to the life and culture of pre-modern Europe. Their rarity and beauty place them among the greatest treasures of museums, libraries and galleries today and they also provide crucial evidence for research in disciplines such as textual and literary studies, palaeography, history, cultural heritage and fine arts.

However, as the result of changes in ownership over the centuries, European manuscripts are now spread all over the world in diverse library, museum and gallery collections.  Information relating to their often complicated histories is dispersed and fragmented across numerous sources, compelling historians and other researchers to make painstaking and time-consuming searches of printed and online catalogues.

The “Mapping Manuscript Migrations” project will bring together more than 500,000 records from key databases, including the Schoenberg Database of Manuscripts at the University of Pennsylvania and the Medium database from the Institut de recherche et d’histoire des textes.  For the first time, researchers, curators and the community will be able to explore this vast body of data, visualizing the travels of manuscripts over many centuries and navigating the network of connections between people, institutions and places involved in their history.

The project is directed by Dr Toby Burrows with the e-Research Centre’s Dr Kevin Page and Pip Willcox (Centre for Digital Scholarship, Bodleian Libraries) as Co-Investigators. Dr Burrows explains, “This project will bring manuscript studies into the world of ‘big data’, using innovative approaches to visualize and analyse manuscript history and provenance”.

Bodleian Librarian Richard Ovenden says, “The Bodleian Libraries hold one of the most significant collections of medieval and Renaissance manuscripts in the world, and it is our mission to make them accessible for scholarly research and teaching, and to the wider public. This proposal will greatly benefit the Bodleian and our audiences by facilitating new approaches to and discoveries concerning the manuscripts and their provenance and history.”

Oxford e-Research Centre Director Professor David De Roure explains:  “We are very excited by this project, which builds on our unique interdisciplinary strengths and international collaborations, using innovative techniques for large-scale data analysis. The project should have significant impact in a wide range of disciplines including digital humanities, library and museum practice, manuscript and historical studies and Linked Data research."