The Digital Vercelli Book provides universal access to extremely high-quality scans and machine-readable texts of Vercelli, Cathedral Library, MS 117, the manuscript that contains, among much other poetry and prose, “The Dream of the Rood” (for this reason the Digital Vercelli Book is a partner with the Visionary Cross Project: <visionary-cross.org/>).
A clean, intuitive and attractive interface allows readers to view the images at multiple levels of magnification (21%–135% is the range of the sliders in the dual-page view) and to pair an image with a facing-page edition or to compare two editions to each other. Both purely diplomatic and “interpretive” (i.e., critical) editions are available, the former preserving not only special characters such as Tironian note, high-e, long-s, runes and various abbreviations, but also the manuscript spacing (or lack thereof). There is also additional information about the manuscript and the texts that can be displayed on either of the facing pages, allowing the reader to choose the particular combination of approaches most valuable for a given type of research. For example, a manuscript image on the left can be paired with a diplomatic transcription on the right or a diplomatic transcription on the left with the interpretive edition on the right. The display of images is of very high quality, the text for the editions and interpretive materials is crisply rendered and readable, and the font (Peter Baker’s Junicode) and color scheme of brown and sepia are visually attractive, so that the reader can take great aesthetic pleasure not only in the manuscript images but in the transcription and edition itself.
The interface of Digital Vercelli is strongly icon-based, and a new user may require some trial-and-error before realizing what precisely each button does; there are explanatory tool-tips triggered by mouse-overs, but these are somewhat telegraphic (i.e., it is not intuitively obvious from the name precisely what “bookreader mode” is, but a single click will show that this is a way of having the manuscript page open on the screen as if the codex itself were in front of the reader). Navigation [End Page 247] is very intuitive, with pull-down menus that are keyed to folio using modern recto/verso conventions for foliation (rather than the obsolete a/b convention used by the Anglo-Saxon Poetic Records). There is very little nesting of pages or menus, so readers always know where they are on the site and how to get back to where they have been. Images can also be viewed as thumbnails, allowing for more visual navigation. For instance, if you do not remember the folio number of the start of “The Dream of the Rood,” it is a simple matter to search visually for the opening lines among the thumbnails. There is also a fully functional search engine that includes a virtual keyboard that contains all of the unusual characters that appear in the manuscript—a very useful feature.
At its current stage (second beta), the Digital Vercelli Book includes all manuscript images as well as diplomatic and interpretive editions of The Dream of the Rood and Soul and Body poems plus homilies I, II, III and XXIII. Sample collation against the manuscript images shows that the editing is impeccable. I did not find any errors and, furthermore, could not identify a single place in which a contentious or disputed interpretation had been silently integrated into the text. This fair-minded and judicious approach will make the Digital Vercelli Book that much more authoritative.
My only quibble is that it is not easy to extract the text, which is encoded to TEI XML v. P5, from any given page for the purposes of textual analysis. It might be useful for some scholars to be able to track the frequency of, say, high-s or the use of runes, but the process for getting the text requires cutting and pasting, installation of Junicode font, and then some additional processing. A “download xml” button...