- Digitizing Medieval Manuscripts: The St. Chad Gospels, Materiality, Recoveries, and Representation in 2D and 3D by Bill Endres
manuscript studies, digital humanities, digitization, imaging, Chad Gospels
When I was a postgraduate student, I spent my days in the Public Record Office in London grappling with the massive and unwieldy [End Page 338] vellum rolls, sometimes too heavy for me to lift easily, produced by English law courts in the fourteenth century. Now I can readily access these rolls by means of digital images wherever I am in the world at any time of the day or night. The provision of hundreds of thousands of online images of manuscripts and archival documents is one of the most dramatic changes to have occurred in humanities scholarship since the Second World War. Libraries and archives, urged to widen their audiences and demonstrate engagement with modern technology, seek to maximize digital image coverage of their collections and produce as many digital images of manuscripts as funding and resources allow. While this reduces the need for scholars to travel to consult manuscripts, the stress on maximizing digital coverage has unfortunately meant that the possibilities offered by digital imaging for a more in-depth examination of a manuscript are often overlooked. Digital representations of manuscripts are sometimes no better than color microfilm.
A number of projects have shown how the most exciting feature of digital imaging is the way it can reveal different layers of evidence in a manuscript and help probe its history more deeply. These projects, embodying what Lorna Hughes and I have called a "slow digitization" approach, include Kevin Kiernan's Electronic Beowulf, the work of Will Noel and others on the Archimedes Palimpsest, and the Codex Sinaiticus Project. Among the most energetic advocates of this more forensic form of digitization has been Bill Endres of the University of Oklahoma, who has undertaken a long-term project using a range of imaging techniques to investigate the eighthcentury St. Chad Gospels, Lichfield, Cathedral Library, MS 1. This new book by Endres provides a clear and accessible introduction to the methods he has used in his work on the St. Chad Gospels, forcefully demonstrating how a slower approach to digitization, gradually uncovering the different archaeological strata in a manuscript, can be more uitful than the mass coverage of a one-size-fits-all imaging approach.
The three chapters at the heart of this book describe the methods used by Endres in his investigation of the St. Chad Gospels. This is not a "howto" book, but Endres's clear descriptions encourage scholars to think more analytically about how they use and manipulate digital images of manuscripts and will help scholars move beyond simply playing with contrast and brightness buttons in standard image viewing packages. Among the most [End Page 339] exciting techniques of digital imaging is the use of different light wavelengths to fluoresce ink traces, so that faded and damaged text can be recovered. In Chapter 1, Endres describes these methods and illustrates their use in recovering water-damaged and erased text. Endres reminds us that image processing can be just as useful as lighting under different conditions in recovering text and illustrates how this can be accomplished with his preferred ImageJ package and its Fĳi and DStretch plugins. Endres has made use of DStretch to investigate the fading of pigments in the St. Chad Gospels.
Chapter 2 discusses the use of Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI). This is a technique whereby many shots of an object are taken om different angles, then consolidated to create an image that can be manipulated to simulate the object's appearance when lit om different angles. Endres has been a pioneer in the use of RTI for the study of manuscripts. RTI has hitherto involved the use of a dome, which is impracticable for many manuscripts, but Endres makes use of a rig that does away with the need for a...