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  • Among Digitized Manuscripts: Philology, Codicology, Pale-ography in a Digital World by L. W. C. van Lit
  • Kelly Tuttle

Manuscript Studies, digital humanities, digital manuscripts

L. W. C. van Lit. Among Digitized Manuscripts: Philology, Codicology, Pale-ography in a Digital World.

L. W. C. van Lit’s latest book, Among Digitized Manuscripts, is a welcome addition to discussions of digitized manuscripts, which he calls “digital documents with a strong relationship with material manuscripts that interact in a complex way with print publications” (101). The first half of the book approaches digitized manuscripts from a theoretical point of view, providing some valuable context for thinking about the interactions of the manuscript, print, and digital worlds. In its second half, the book offers practical suggestions for ways of working with digitized images, with each chapter focusing on a classical aspect of manuscript research: paleography, philology, cataloging, and codicology.

The first chapter, “Manuscript World, Print World, Digital World,” defines and explores the interactions of the three worlds of “manuscript material, paper publications and digital documents” (9). Van Lit analyzes these worlds using three lenses: surfaces, institutions, and habits, each of which has several subcategories. The first two subdivide between society-based and object-or individual-based, whereas the third category subdivides into “possession, engagement and product” (13). Three tables summarizing how each world works and highlighting the ways in which they are similar to and different from each other precede the discussions of each topic, but are best understood after having read the analyses. The chapter is quite theoretically dense. Since the author recognizes this, there follow, in the second half of the chapter, three short case studies that neatly demonstrate the ways in which the manuscript, print, and digital worlds overlap: manuscript and [End Page 177] print, then print and digital, and finally manuscript, print, and digital together. The first chapter complicates the relationship between manuscript, print, and digital and reminds the reader of the “vastly different world views these different worlds entail” and of the false assumptions or missed opportunities that may arise if those differences are not kept in mind when working with digital manuscripts (50).

Chapters 2 and 3, “The Digital Materiality of Digitized Manuscripts” and “Digitized Manuscripts and Their Repositories, an Ethnography,” form one conversation. The set begins by asking why, if one is using digital surrogates to do research, one does not usually admit this in one’s publications. This question leads to an in-depth discussion of the struggles to future-proof digital assets, to counteract the problem of siloed projects, and to encourage researchers’ admissions of use of digital assets. The chapter also probes the idea of “the intangible aura of material manuscripts,” which, van Lit argues, is “largely a projection of our own experience onto the manuscript” rather than any actual aspect of material manuscripts (61). The author convincingly denies claims that “this aural, ineffable experience of handling a real manuscript” is somehow necessary for research or superior to a digital manuscript experience (62). The experience of working with digital surrogates is simply a different experience, neither superior nor inferior. Once researchers know how to evaluate the quality of a digital surrogate, they can determine whether the work they want to do can be completed using it. If it can, and researchers do complete work using digital surrogates, then they should cite the surrogate rather than the material manuscript.

The author then leads the reader through ten aspects of assessing “digital materiality”: “(1) size of the collection; (2) online availability; (3) ability to download; (4) the portal; (5) the viewer; (6) indication of page numbers; (7) image resolution; (8) color balance; (9) lighting; and (10) how the image is cut” (70). Using these ten ways of evaluating digital materiality, van Lit uses the following chapter to evaluate twenty repositories that hold digital Islamic manuscripts. He discusses the various strengths and weaknesses of online repositories as well as listing desiderata for any online repository that is still in the making. This analysis of the state of affairs, though rapidly going out of date, provides one useful method of self-evaluation for those repositories that are at the beginning or in the middle...


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pp. 177-181
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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