Grant aids project by IU, other institutions to digitize medieval manuscripts

Indiana University Bloomington and a consortium of higher-learning institutions have received a three-year grant for The Peripheral Manuscripts Project: Digitizing Medieval Manuscript Collections in the Midwest, which will create a digital repository and catalog of medieval manuscripts across Midwestern collections.

An example of a medieval manuscript in the Lilly Library collection, Ricketts B:16 verso. A leaf from a missal. Germany, 12th century. This leaf was repurposed as a wrapper for another volume. Photo courtesy Lilly Library

The Council on Library and Information Resources awarded $281,936.10 for the project. IU Bloomington will serve as host for the grant, which was one of 18 projects receiving more than $4.1 million that the Council on Library and Information Resources announced Jan. 9 for its 2019 Digitizing Hidden Special Collections and Archives awards.

The project involves digitizing and cataloging 78 codices, or books, and 406 medieval manuscript fragments from a consortium of 22 Midwestern institutions, including IU Libraries’ Lilly Library. The project focuses on distinct collections that the holding institutions have not found it economically feasible to digitize and catalog on their own. A full list of partners is available at on the project’s website.

“Every surviving medieval book and fragment has the potential to tell us more about medieval book arts, textual traditions, individuals’ lives and libraries — and even, through their physical qualities and materials, things like animal husbandry and commerce,” said Elizabeth Hebbard, the project’s primary principal investigator and assistant professor of French and Italian in the College of Arts and Sciences at IU Bloomington. “This is why it is so important to continue to locate and describe unstudied and understudied manuscripts.

“Because they have traveled so far from where they were produced, medieval manuscripts in the United States have particularly interesting stories that span the centuries between their production and their entry into a library or museum collection. We are grateful to CLIR for the opportunity to learn more about medieval material culture as it survives in the Midwest, and to celebrate the role that Midwestern institutions have played in the conservation of this important cultural heritage.”

IU Libraries will scan or photograph the manuscripts, and researchers at IU Bloomington, Loyola University Chicago and Saint Mary’s College, with assistance from partner librarians and subject specialists, will catalog these objects, including many manuscripts unrecorded in previous bibliographical surveys.

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