Scholars at Harvard University have been working on a very special project. A cross-department cooperative effort between students in a course from the Committee on Medieval Studies and Harvard Divinity School and those in a course at the Program in General Education has produced some intriguing analysis as well as records preservation.
Harvard’s libraries have many incredible items in their collection, some dating back millennia. Among their collections are scrolls from the Middle Ages. The students got together to work on some of these scrolls.
The students from “Scrolls in the Middle Ages” and “Making the Middle Ages” met with the Curator of Early Books and Manuscripts to examine and select a scroll to research. Digital images of the scrolls were taken for the students to use. According to a story in the Harvard Gazette, Library Technology Services is working with HarvardX (a group dedicated to implementing new technology at Harvard) to crate better image viewing and annotation tools.
“Next-generation digital images are made using archive-quality, high-resolution photography that precisely reproduces the color of the original object on-screen. The images show close detail, such as brushstrokes and texture. They are presented as panoramic, stitched-together graphics, rather than pages, so that students can focus on particular areas but also see the larger context of a piece.”
The end result of the students’ work was twofold. First, an exhibit of scrolls was prepared for display at Houghton Library. One of the students, Emerson Morgan, is a fourth-year Ph.D. candidate in historical musicology. He worked with a scroll that details the genealogy of ancient Kings of England. Part of his work was to prepare the scroll for display. Unfortunately, the scroll is too long to fit in the case if completely unrolled. This meant that he had to decide which sections to display. He said that the process “ . . . raised interesting questions about stories and how they are chopped or parsed.”
Those same questions often face genealogists. When we are telling our family stories, we must sift through all of the information we have accumulated. Which land transactions to we include? Do I include this part of the story, or omit it for something more (or less) provocative? And how will those decisions impact others’ views of our ancestors?
The second result of the students’ work is online versions of the scrolls that are free to access. Some are available in on online Museum exhibit. Others are available through the Page Delivery Service offered by Harvard Libraries. You can read more about he students’ work and the scrolls in Scrolls and Scrolling: Digital Tools Key to Projects in Medieval Studies.