There are many useful online repositories cataloguing medieval manuscripts and early modern printed books in French collections. While each is important, the multiplication of such catalogues has created a fragmented landscape of digital resources. Every platform has a different interface, many are old-fashioned in design and function, each offers different search capabilities, and the data among them vary. Trying to find information about a manuscript often involves going back and forth among these websites. This is where Biblissima comes in.
Biblissima is a French project funded by the Agence Nationale de la Recherche’s “Investissements d’Avenir” and is run by the Campus Condorcet. Its aims are to provide an online data facility for historians focusing on the history of ancient and modern collections and the circulation of books. By sharing information from research communities in France and beyond, Biblissima has created an indispensable online library of medieval manuscripts and early modern books for researchers.
Ten founding partners across France participate in the Biblissima project.1In 2013, the Biblissima Consortium was formed from a group of twelve research institutions acting as supervisory authorities to the founding partners. Since then, the project has collaborated with international institutions, including the University of Oxford, the University of Padua, and the University of Mississippi.
The main goal of Biblissima is to federate digital libraries that contain digitized medieval manuscripts and early printed books. The project has clustered the data from existing collections and created a digital image repository, bringing information from as many as forty databases from across French institutions. These data have then been linked to the online platform documenting digital editions and a digital image repository.
This platform, known as the Biblissima portal, provides unified access to the digital data of medieval manuscripts, incunabula, and early printed books produced by the partners of the Biblissima consortium. [End Page 331]
The portal regularly receives updates every three to four months. The ever-growing database contains nearly 124,000 manuscripts, more than 300,000 illuminations and decorations, 7,000 editions, and more than 19,000 early printed books. Its interface is straightforward to use. Via a search bar on the homepage, one can comb through key sections, such as “Manuscripts and Early Printed Books,” “Places,” “Historical Collections,” and the “Iconographic Thesaurus.” These can also be accessed directly below or in the dropdown menu “Explore,” via the tool-bar at the top of the page.
The IIIF embedded Mirador viewer is a fantastic workspace for researchers, allowing users to view individual pages as an open book or in a gallery format. The “My Selection” option appears at the top of individual manuscript pages. This organizes your manuscript selections into a basket and allows you to open them in a new Mirador viewer and compare them with one another. You can then save and share these workspaces.
Another useful feature is the Iconographic Thesaurus, which uses metadata from the Mandragore (BnF) and Initiale (IRHT-CNRS) databases. Its interface is a vast improvement on the existing Mandragore website. That site was published online in 2003 and remains outdated and difficult to navigate and offers only low-resolution images. In contrast, the Biblissima Thesaurus contains more than 160 thematic categories and about 27,000 descriptors. There are thirteen main categories, which are further divided. They include Arts (divided into Architecture, Textiles, Painting, Illumination, Stained Glass, etc.); Bible and Apocrypha (Old Testament, New Testament, etc.); Geography (Africa, Germany, Asia, Oceans, etc.); and Science (Astronomy, Meteorology, Optics, etc.). Within these secondary divisions are associated descriptors that provide further avenues for searching. For example, in Architecture, one can find descriptors of abbey, architect, non-specific architecture, baptistry, trilobed arches, and flying buttresses. (Note: all of the descriptors are in French, even when you are using the English version. In future updates, it would be helpful to make these available in English and other languages.) Searching by using iconography terms is simple. You can either make your way through the different lists or use the toolbar at the top of the page. When searching for words...