Thursday, April 02, 2009

Virtual Manuscript Room Launch in July

As many of you know, the Virtual Manuscript Room (VMR) - a major digitisation programme that will be of great significance for New Testament textual criticism - is under construction. The lead institution is the Institute for Textual Scholarship and Electronic Editing (ITSEE) at the University of Birmingham, and the partner institution is the Institut für Neutestamentliche Textforschung (INTF) at the University of Münster. (For me, this combination implies that the project will be a major success.)

We have reported previously on the VMR here, and here, and here . Jan Krans (VUNT blog) has a detailed post on the VMR here.

The VMR web-site hosted by ITSEE in Birmingham is actually already up, but some links do not work properly yet. According to the ITSEE conference page there will be a conference to launch the VMR in Birmingham on 8 July 2009. More details will be posted later.

For a very detailed description of this project, you can access the official project plan here.


  1. This might be really interesting to a lot of people. But in all the gobbledegook, I can't quite make out what is actually planned. What mss are going online? Only NT? Mingana?

    Could we have a couple of sentences which explain what this is, for someone who knows nothing about it?

    The idea seems to be a project to do something with manuscripts, and have some bit of software and a database to store user-input.

    But if manuscripts (NT only? Syriac?) are going online, so that we can access them, that really matters. That would be incredibly exciting. That would affect scholars in all sorts of disciplines. Are manuscripts being photographed? What sort? By whom?

  2. Perhaps I am not the right person to answer (I hope someone from ITSEE or INTF can give a better reply), but here are my thoughts:

    Any MSS can be made available in this environment in the future. The work that is now being done is 1) to create the environment and standards; 2) to input some manuscript images and accompanying data. Since the Mingana collection is located in Birmingham, as is ITSEE, it is not surprising that this particular collection will be entered into the system from the start. Also, as I said, the partner institution in Münster, the INTF has a vast collection of NT MSS on microfilm which may be scanned and entered into this environment (which is of course not as good as color images). The extent to which the images can be made available depends of cours on copyright issues.

    However, this is just the start. The idea, I think, is to create an open environment where other holding institutions can make their material available by themselves, and where scholars can work with the material and add descriptions and transcriptions, etc.

    One important and time-consuming step in this process is to index the MSS one by one. This is done by going through the pages of a manuscript and note which verse it begins and ends with. So in the end, when the user will click on a certain verse in a certain MS they will see the right image displayed. This indexing is described by Jan Krans in the blogpost I referred to (VUNTblog).

    But, as I said, the official launch of the VMR is in July so we cannot expect that web-site I referred to to work properly until then.

  3. I've got a better handle on this now, and I think I can answer my own questions.

    The project is to create a kind of online workbench, where you can display a text and link it to manuscript images. So first they have to get manuscripts into the system.

    The manuscripts can be for any text, and they're uploading a bunch. Thus a great mass of Syriac and Arabic Christian mss will be uploaded by the Birmingham people, since they have access to them. The German institute will upload their microfilms of biblical mss. The latter will allow work on the NT text.

    Obviously it will be easier to work on the NT than on some unpublished Syriac text, since (a) there is an electronic NT text available and (b) a lot of mss will be available and (c) a lot of people will be available to tag the manuscript page images and link them to the text.

    But in principle the same can happen on any text input into the workbench, where there are images to use. It's up to participants what they want to work on.

    So it sounds as if all the Mingana mss will be uploaded, as an initial tranche. This is very good news, and should have the desired effect of encouraging scholars to work on these texts.

    I don't recall offhand whether the Mingana collection includes manuscripts of any of the biblical commentaries of Dionysius Bar-Salibi, but if it does, you can link them to the NT text being referenced.

    It's a great idea, in short. It should snowball, once it gets going.

    Of course if I have misunderstood, we'll all find out in due course!

  4. Speaking from the occasionally-beating heart of the VMR project: it's pleasant (and a little daunting) to see that we are already the subject of attention. Tommy, and Roger in his second post, have this right. We are NOT going to do masses of digitization ourselves. We hope to make it easy for ourselves and others to add information to manuscripts already digitized, in the form of statements such as 'this page contains John 1: 4'. This will enable something like that which Tommy describes -- 'find me all the mss pages which contain John 1:4". We'd hope this will make existing images much more useful, and will encourage others to add more information -- including transcripts etc -- and indeed more images, in a kind of virtuous circle. It is early days yet: the site we have as of now is very preliminary (though already it offers quite a lot of images). Please keep looking...

  5. Thanks Peter for the comment right from the VMR heart. I am glad I got it right.

  6. I think the snowball effect should happen.

    The risk seems to be that most collections will not upload manuscripts. That is a project risk that needs addressing.

  7. Dear everyone
    The Virtual Manuscript Room site is now up and running, with digital images of 71 manuscripts in all. It is at