- Digital Archive of Medieval Music (DIAMM)
Unlike digitization projects whose principle of organization is a particular text (such as the Roman de la Rose Digital Library) or library (such as the Parker on the Web project) the DIAMM website allows access to select digital folios from a broad category of manuscripts—those containing medieval English and European polyphonic music before 1550. The site’s mandate now goes beyond the original goal “to digitize fragments of Medieval music” and includes music appearing in complete books as well. This inclusiveness is a solidly good idea and is one reason why DIAMM has flourished since 1998 with generous if intermittent funding from various sources, the collaboration of academics around the world, and its continued housing at Royal Holloway College and the University of Oxford. The inclusiveness means that DIAMM both serves and invites collaborations from a vast number of scholars. In its omnivorous approach and emphasis on public, free access, DIAMM recalls other genre-based digitization projects, such as the Broadside Ballads Online Database (30,000+ printed ballads from the Bodleian library collections) or the British Library’s Newspaper Archive (searchable for free). The scopes of those projects are within particular collections, however, whereas DIAMM aims to enable access to images of music manuscripts in all libraries and archives, a tantalizing glimpse of what digitization projects might someday allow. In addition to this valuable public access, DIAMM has also published several medieval music manuscript facsimiles, such as the Robert Dow Partbooks, published in association with the Viola da Gamba society (DIAMM Publications, 2010).
Such a broad grouping brings with it intellectual and practical challenges as well. DIAMM lets users consider the importance of aggregate data; it lets us ask about the relationships between manuscripts as well as what is inside them. After all, presumably one of the points of having [End Page 297] access to images in many manuscripts from many institutions is the scholar’s desire to make comparisons between them. Other challenges are more humdrum: although the BL’s Newspaper Archive is limited to those papers within its collections, the continued existence and financial support of their Digital Archive is facilitated by the entire administrative machinery of the BL, whereas DIAMM maintains a “Donate to DIAMM” page stating that they are “under constant pressure to find funding” and to keep the resources free. Probably DIAMM would benefit from a generous patron, or from being taken under the wing of one of its directors’ institutions. Two of DIAMM’s directors, Elizabeth Eva Leach and Julia Craig-McFeely, are at Oxford, while Thomas Schmidt is at the University of Manchester. Both universities have digitization projects afoot—at Manchester the Middle English Manuscripts site (http://www.library.manchester.ac.uk/inthebigynnyng/) and the Rylands Cairo Genizah Collection come to mind. But such institutional centralization may not mesh with the crowd-sourcing philosophy of a site such as this—one which houses information from very many different institutions.
The DIAMM home page presents a horizontal navigation menu with familiar items: “Home,” “About,” “Website Help.” Other links that appear on the site-wide navigation are “MS Database,” “Advanced Search,” “Publications,” “Resources,” “Discussions,” and “Services.” The “Resources” page includes links to online editions of sheet music and PDFs of musicological dissertations, and a Virtual Learning Environment for those who can read modern music and wish to learn fourteenth-century notation conventions. The “Home” page has no search box, perhaps because the designers expect the user to navigate to the “MS Database” page itself before beginning a search of manuscript images. A colorful image of London, British Library Additional MS 57950 adorns the front page, which will attract medieval manuscript scholars. Some news items are included in a column to the right. The latest news, about the addition of Bob Mitchell’s printed music editions, is over three months old at time of writing, which indicates what DIAMM is not, an online community or news outlet, as well as that the site’s audience...