Sunday, December 14, 2008

Digitized Medieval Manuscripts

Matthew Fisher of UCLA recently posted to the Digital Medievalist list this excellent news of a new site which indexes and links to complete digitized medieval manuscripts in many different collections.

It is with great pleasure that we would like to draw your attention to the Catalogue of Digitized Medieval Manuscripts. Hosted by UCLA's Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, the Catalogue seeks to provide a technological solution to a simple and rather delightful "problem": the breathtaking increase in the number of medieval manuscripts available on the web in their entirety, but in a bewildering range of venues and formats.

Currently, almost one thousand manuscripts, digitized and available in their entirety on the web, have been entered into the Catalogue. Users can search the Catalogue on basic information about manuscripts, such as the location, language, or date of a codex, or browse through the complete Catalogue.

We welcome feedback on your experience using the website, and particularly welcome suggestions for sites not currently represented in the Catalogue.

The Catalogue can be accessed at: More information about the project:, or by contacting Matthew Fisher at fisher[at]humnet[dot]ucla[dot]edu.

The site currently links to 37 institutions hosting digitized manuscripts. Although most of the full records include at least a brief note of the contents in the manuscript attributes section, in a random check of about 30 I found three in the St. Gallen collection (Mss. 18, 902, and 722) that do not, and although all the other links I tried worked, the one to the manuscript images for St. Gallen 902 redirected to a 404 message. Fortunately the URL for the error page was specific to that manuscript and simply going up the directory to worked.

I noticed one minor oddity of the interface related to navigation of multipage search results. Page numbers at the bottom of the page link as one would expect, but "Next" takes you to the next span of 10 pages rather than to the page after the one you're at.

Some collections I know of that are not among those indexed are the Codices Electronici Ecclesiae Coloniensis in Cologne, the Royal Library in Copenhagen, the St. Laurentius Digital Manuscript Library at Lund University, the Olomouc Research Library, and the Irnerio Project at Bologna (although the images there are too small to be of much practical use, I suspect).

A good page of resources on medieval manuscripts can be found at Georgetown's Labyrinth site.

Monday, July 28, 2008

More on Codex Sinaiticus

Back in May I posted about some of the pages of Codex Sinaiticus held by the University of Leipzig being made available on-line. Recently, a cooperative project by the four institutions that own parts of the codex has put up a larger number of leaves from Leipzig and the British Library, including parts of I Chronicles, 2 Esdras and Lamentations, and all of Esther, Tobit, Jeremiah, Psalms (including Ps. 151), and the Gospel of Mark.

The pages are nicely photographed in color, with choices of views with standard light and "raking light," in which illumination is nearly parallel to the page. Even at the highest resolution the images are clear; a transcription is provided, and there's a frame for translations into your choice of English, German, Greek, and Russian, although in spot-checking the only passages for which I found translations were Psalms 1-35, and those only into English.

The first phase will end in November, 2008, and the implication is that after that more leaves will be made available.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

The Internet Archive and Microsoft Live Book Search

A recent episode of Leo Laporte's TWiT podcast, number 144 from May 25th, has Internet Archive founder and director Brewster Kahle as the featured guest for the first 50 minutes. He talks about a number of issues, including Microsoft's decision to cease scanning and pull out of the Open Content Alliance, the victory over the FBI in the National Security Letter request and its associated gag order, and other matters related to book digitization.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Evaluating the Quality of Electronic Texts

Lisa Spiro, director of the Digital Media Center at Rice University’s Fondren Library, has an excellent blog Digital Scholarship in the Humanities. A few weeks ago she posted a clear and detailed comparison of 5 collections of digital texts (Google Books, the Internet Archive, Project Gutenberg, Early American Fiction, and Making of America), concentrating on 6 factors that determine the usefulness of each for purposes of scholarship:

  • Quality of the scanning
  • Quality of the OCR/text conversion
  • Quality of the metadata
  • Terms of use
  • Convenience
  • Reputation in the world of scholarship

Presciently she omitted the soon-to-be-shuttered Microsoft Live Book search service.

Her posts are always worth reading, but this one is particularly recommended.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Microsoft Book Search Closing its Cyberdoors

Microsoft announced today that it had advised its partners that its Live Book and Academic search services will be shutting down next week, and that they're going to stop scanning entirely. Fortunately, the content already scanned will continue to be available through Microsoft's general search interface at

This is quite unfortunate, because they had done at least as good a job with their interface, provision of metadata, and search capabilities as Google has done with their book search — and often better — and their quality control has been excellent, far better than Google's. The collection made available through Live Books never extended beyond English-language titles (at least I've never seen anything there in another language) and was nowhere near as comprehensive as Google's, but it was a useful supplement.

Some reflections can be found at the Search Engine Land blog, and additional links to related news stories at Techmeme. Peter Suber also provides some extensive quotes from other blogs at his Open Access News blog, and Peter Brantley, executive director of the Digital Library Federation, has posted his thoughts at his blog.

ResourceShelf last year provided a useful set of links to other large digitization projects. Oddly, neither it nor the more comprehensive British Columbia site linked there includes Gallica at the Bibliothèque nationale; Gallica is an excellent source of not only French works (including not just books but maps, images, music, and manuscripts), but also of works in other languages, Latin in particular but yes, even some in English. Its interface is less than ideal, but it's usable.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Paleography Resources

Dave Postles of the English Department of the University of Leicester recently announced on Mediev-l the news that he has made available on-line (both directly and as downloads) some resources previously only on CD-ROM, including two tutorials on medieval and early modern paleography (with a self-assessment test; sample question: "Try to convert the regnal year 7 Edward I into the year of grace"), information on the history of the urban development of Leicester, and a book about Oseney Abbey, a medieval Augustinian establishment in Oxfordshire.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Latin at the Vatican Web Site

The Vatican web site has added a seventh language to its six previous interfaces (German, French, Italian, English, Spanish, and Portuguese): Latin. This just came up on the Latinteach list but according to a Catholic News Service story, the Latin section went on-line on May 9th.

The contents includes documents of the last five popes, the Nova Vulgata translation of the Bible (which is a slightly cleaned-up Clementine Vulgate), the current version of the Code of Canon Law, the documents of Vatican II, and an assortment of curial documents, with a link at that page to information about the Latinitas Foundation (also in English), with a link there to a page with some entries from the Lexicon recentis Latinitatis published a few years ago by the Vatican. The selection includes:

pastillus tórtilis

práedium rei pecuáriae curandae

máizae grana tosta (pl.)

renovātus fascálium motus

mountain bike
bírota montāna

memóriae amíssio

punkianae catervae ássecla

Most entries at the page are in Italian, with a few in English or German.

Those wanting a more comprehensive list and who don't want to put out some or all of the $168 (plus shipping) that the Vatican Bookstore is asking for the full-length book should visit Florus' English-Latin page for a much briefer but still very useful word list.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Codex Sinaiticus and Microsoft Silverlight

Wieland Willker, owner of the New Testament Textual Criticism list, recently posted there that the 43 leaves of the important 4th century manuscript Codex Sinaiticus housed at the University of Leipzig have been made available on-line. He added, "You have to install a little Microsoft tool for the zooming functionality first" and then provided a link to the site.

Besides my interest in main subject of the posting, I was curious about this "little Microsoft tool" and quickly discovered from a response on the list that the site requires a Silverlight browser plug-in, Microsoft's alternative to Adobe's Flash. The author of the response lamented that Silverlight requires relatively recent versions of either Microsoft Windows or Mac OS X, with no provision for Linux, only a few browsers are supported, and the plug-in's proprietary nature ties it to Microsoft, which can't be trusted.

I responded to the list with some comments which I present below in edited form for those who aren't subscribed to that e-mail list and who might be curious about Silverlight.

Although Professor Willker referred to the plug-in only as required for zooming functionality, in fact the entire site is inaccessible without it. The specific OS and browser requirements can be found at Microsoft's web site. With some exceptions, it's currently supported only on Windows Server 2003, XP, and Vista on Internet Explorer and Firefox, and on Mac OS 10.4.8 and up on Firefox and Safari. Linux users are expected to be able to view Silverlight content sometime around the middle of this year via Moonlight.

Ars Technica has published a few articles about Silverlight and Moonlight, and this recent one about a presentation by the developer of Moonlight talks about some of its advantages over not only simple image presentations but even over Flash. In at least some cases, though, as at the Library of Congress money figures into the equation:

You're probably wondering why the LOC is using Silverlight instead of something more widely supported, like Adobe's Flash. The answer is, of course, money. As we reported back in February, Microsoft gave the LOC $3 million to put exhibits online using Silverlight...

The FOSS community in general is not fond of Silverlight. A couple of examples of arguments against it can be found here and here, although a response to the latter by Moonlight's developer should be read.

One Windows Vista user reported to the list that his computer showed a runtime error with both Internet Explorer and Firefox, but an XP user had no problem with it.

I was not able to install the Silverlight plug-in on my Mac OS 10.2 machine; as the system requirements I linked to above show, the minimum on that platform is 10.4.8 (the current version of 10.4 is 10.4.11; the most recent version of the OS is 10.5.2).

I succeeded with my 10.4 machine, although with a minor glitch. My main browser is Firefox, and after a quick download and painless installation of the plug-in, I restarted the browser and discovered on trying the site again that I was offered the same "Download Silverlight" semi-error message I'd been getting before I installed it. I logged out of my account and logged in and tried it again without success. I thought to check the site with Safari before restarting the computer prior to another attempt and it worked perfectly.

I had a guess the responsibility for the problem with Firefox might lie in an add-on. My first instinct was to suspect NoScript, but I don't run it on that computer. Scanning my other extensions I noticed Flashblock. I disabled it and restarted and that time the site loaded perfectly. It was ironic but reasonable that something designed to block the use of Flash also blocked Microsoft's "Flash-killer" (as Silverlight is commonly called, with greater likelihood of eventual accuracy than the Zune becoming an iPod-killer, as Microsoft had hoped).

A curious side-note is that Safari took me to an English-language interface for the web site and Firefox to the original German-language version. Neither seems to provide the capability to switch to the other language, although presumably anyone interested in the MS images wouldn't be likely to be seriously handicapped by that.

Unfortunately (although unsurprisingly given the few browsers explicitly supported) Silverlight doesn't work in Opera, nor in the last version of IE for Mac, now 6-1/2 years old and exceedingly long in the electronic tooth.

Friday, May 2, 2008

A Few Interesting New Testament-Related and Other Early Christian Titles at the Internet Archive

A recent post to the B-Greek list about the availability at the Internet Archive of the first and second volumes of The Grammar of the Greek New Testament by Moulton et al. reminded me that it had been a while since I'd done trial searches there for some keywords of interest (Latin, Greek, lateinisch*, griechisch* — and one nice feature of the site is that an asterisk works as a wild card).

Moulton and Milligan's useful study of the Vocabulary of the Greek Testament (1914-24) in light of the language of the papyri discovered in the late 19th and early 20th century and Moulton and Geden's Concordance to the Greek Testament (1897) are also available.

I was delighted by how many titles seem to have been added since I last poked around there, some (like Karl Staab's 1933 Pauluskommentare aus der Griechischen Kirche: aus Katenenhandschriften gesammelt und herausgegeben) still under copyright (published 1933). This is particularly surprising since it's currently in print. That title and quite a few other 19th and early 20th century German works have a notation "microform" or "microfilm," suggesting they've made their way to the Internet with film or fiche as an intermediate step. The page images I've seen are uniformly quite high quality, whether they've gone through filming or not.

Angelo Mai's edition of Codex vaticanus: Novum Testamentum graece ex antiquissimo codice vaticano (1859) is also at the site.

When I return to the Internet in a week or so after a trip to points north I hope to take some time to explore more extensively.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

A Glossary of Provincial Words & Phrases in use in Somersetshire

Thanks to the good services of Project Gutenberg, A Glossary of Provincial Words & Phrases in use in Somersetshire by Wadham Pigott Williams (London: Longmans, Green, Reader, & Dyer; Taunton: F. May , 1873) is now available for use in enriching your everyday vocabulary. It includes useful entries like:
_s._ mole-track [want or wont being dialectal words for a mole]

_adj._ nice in eating

_s._ the whole number of eggs laid by a hen before she becomes broody, ex. She 've laaid out her laiter

clotting, clatting
_s._ fishing for eels with a knot or clot of worms, which is also called reballing

Although the book is fairly short (xii, 42 p.), the definitions are typically as brief as in the samples above and there are many, many choice words included. (Thanks to Dan Goodman, who posted the news and a link to the book on the American Dialect Society e-mail list.)

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Maps & Geography in Biblical Studies

A few days ago, David Instone-Brewer posted to his helpful blog, Tyndale Tech, a good summary of geographical resources for Biblical studies which might be of interest to classicists as well.

While perhaps not as useful as some of the more recent works mentioned there, David Rumsey's excellent on-line collection of maps includes some beautiful maps of classical interest.

Keyboarding Polytonic Greek

A question that comes up sometimes on e-mail lists devoted to matters related to ancient Greek is how to use a standard Latin character keyboard to write Greek characters and diacritical marks.

In Mac OS X there are a number of relatively easy ways to do this. Since version 10.4, a polytonic Greek keyboard has been included with the operating system. An excellent illustrated guide for installing and using it is available at Bryn Mawr's web site; they also provide similar instructions for Windows XP.

I personally prefer the free keyboard layout SophoKeys (Mac OS 10.2+), which uses the Beta Code transcription scheme of the Thesaurus Linguae Graecae. Beta Code is a widely-used standard and quite complete, including critical marks like the underdot (for a tentative reading of an unclear character) along with the conventional diacritics.

A widely-used package of fonts and keyboard layout for Mac OS X and Windows XP and Vista is GreekKeys. The price is $40 for non-members of the American Philological Association, which isn't unreasonable but obviously costs more than the free alternatives.

Adventurous Mac users can use SIL's free Ukelele application to create their own keyboard layout. Microsoft offers their own Keyboard Layout Creator for the same purpose, and Linux users can apparently use XKB.

Although it's been over a year since the site has been updated, Alan Wood's Unicode and multilingual programs and utilities is an excellent resource for more information on keyboards, fonts, and text editors/word processors.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Rome and Environs: An Archaeological Guide

The University of California Press has just released Rome and Environs: An Archaeological Guide by Filippo Coarelli, translated by James J. Clauss and Daniel P. Harmon.

The publisher's blurb says,

This superb guide at last brings the work of Filippo Coarelli, one of the most widely published and best known scholars of Roman archeology and art, to a wide, English-language audience. Conveniently organized by walking tours and illustrated throughout with clear maps, drawings, and plans, Rome and Environs: An Archaeological Guide covers all of the city's ancient sites, and, unlike most other guides, now includes the major monuments in a large area outside Rome proper but within easy reach, such as Ostia Antica, Palestrina, Tivoli, and the many areas of interest along the ancient Roman roads. An essential resource for tourists interested in a deeper understanding of Rome's classical remains, it is also the ideal book for students and scholars approaching the ancient history of one of the world's most fascinating cities.

At list $24.95 for a 575 page trade paperback ($70.00 for the hardcover) it's quite reasonable in price, too. I'm absolutely unqualified to evaluate it, but it looks potentially very useful for real-life and armchair visitors to the city. The book's page at the publisher's site includes more information about the book, the author and other people involved, and a link to a .pdf file of the bibliography.

Thanks to Lindsay Wong of UC Press for posting the notice to the Classics-l mailing list.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Migne's Patrologia Graeca

Although there are better editions of many of the more prominent Greek patristic and Byzantine authors, the fullest collection — and for many works the only edition — is in J.-P. Migne's Patrologia Graeca.

People with access to large academic libraries can walk in and pull the appropriate volumes off the shelves, but those who don't have access or who would prefer an electronic version have several options.

  • Mischa Hooker at Loyola University in Chicago has a very useful set of links to Google Books scans of not only the PG but also many other works useful for the study of Christian and Jewish origins and history. I originally started to write about the benefits and drawbacks of the Google Books project at this point but decided that would be better left for another post. For now, be aware (if you're not already) that there are serious quality control problems with many scans, sets — including the PG — are frequently incomplete, poor cataloging makes searching of titles incomplete, word search results are unreliable, and much of the collection is inaccessible outside the United States without skirting Google's IP detection by using a proxy server.

  • Twenty-two main authors (and possible some minor ones included in their volumes) are represented in whole or part at the Bibliothèque nationale's Gallica site. On the whole, Gallica scans are free of the quality control problems of Google Book Search. (Electronic files of early books are sometimes from microfilms, though, and those tend to be somewhat less legible.) The interface leaves something to be desired, but it's improved over the years.

  • The entire set is available in image form from the Religion and Technology Center with on-line access or on DVDs or an external hard drive. The cost starts at $400 for a set for an individual and goes to over $3,000 for institutions in North America and Western Europe. DVDs of individual volumes can also be ordered by individuals for $25 each plus shipping. It's expensive but complete.

  • Page images of the PG are apparently included in Logos Bible Software's Seminary Library collection, a large collection of scanned theological books in the public domain. A subscription to this costs $150 per year. (Unusually, perhaps even archaically, Logos hosts a number of Usenet newsgroups at; this doesn't seem to be accessible via Google groups or Gmane, but if you're curious, you can use the Opera browser and simply paste in news:// and retrieve articles that way; otherwise you can add the server manually to a newsreader.)

  • The Greek texts from many volumes are available in .pdf form from a European academic institution and subsequent to that site going live were downloaded from there to at least one other. I had linked to both in the original version of this blog post but I've now omitted them because Maria Pantelia, director of the Thesaurus Linguae Gracae project, has informed me that the versions of texts provided at that first site were pirated from the last TLG CD-ROM, 1800 files and over 800MB (many more texts are now available through the TLG web interface). Although the contents of the TLG and PG are not identical, where they overlap the editions used by the TLG will be superior except in the relatively few cases where the TLG reproduces the PG (as for example with the Pratum Spirituale of John Moschus, although in this particular case there are some related texts from more modern editions). The price to individuals for access to the TLG is not quite nominal enough for casual use — $100 for a year or $400 for four years — but for the selection and quality of the texts it's certainly well worth it if you're active in the field; there's also a demo version with a handful of works from 34 authors.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Version Control

If you've ever saved multiple versions of a file over time just to keep track of your progress on a project and what you added when, Subversion might be of interest to you.

Subversion is a free and open source multi-platform program that lets you keep track of revisions in a document, easily on a single computer and with some effort from multiple computers and with multiple contributors.

The Unofficial Apple Weblog recently added a post with a link to exceptionally clear and detailed instructions by author Rachel Greenham on installation and basic use of Subversion on a Mac OS X system, with a note that it will be similar in Unix/Linux machines. (Windows users can find instructions through lifehacker.)

I downloaded the pre-built binary installer she linked to and ran it and was able to use it in less than a minute. One caveat about her instructions: code is shown as white text on black background boxes and in Firefox (on my machine at least) it doesn't wrap properly and to see all that you need to enter you may need to highlight past the right edge of the box. This wasn't a problem with Opera or Safari, though, and given the mysteries of browser rendering may be a quirk of this machine.

I didn't experiment with more than a minimal example (and that in the Mac OS X command line interface, Terminal, rather than using one of the graphical front-ends she writes about) but it was enough to demonstrate that it worked as promised and wasn't too difficult to use.

One of the particularly nice features of Subversion is its ability to be run on a server and thereby allow multiple people to work on the same document at the same time and still allow changes to be tracked, or the same person to work on a file from different computers. Setting this up seemed significantly more difficult and not something quite as useful to me, but for further details, try the links at this post to the Mac OS X TeX list, in particular the one to the entire free (!) O'Reilly book on the subject.

A final caveat which unfortunately will probably make this less tempting for many readers: Subversion works well only for files using plain text (.txt, .html, .tex, etc.). Open Office, MS Word, and other similar binary file formats are less well served, according to Greenham, and some applications that appear identical in function to the user but in practice work differently (like Pages, part of Apple's iWork application bundle), apparently won't work at all. For the file formats it supports, Google Docs might be a better choice for tracking revisions and use from multiple computers and by multiple authors.

And a note to my early audience: although it's quite likely future postings will be similarly esoteric (or, as some might see it, boring), I think few will be this technical (or again as some might see it, geeky).

Inaugural Post

After months of encouragement from family members, I've finally started a blog. I hope to share here interesting and perhaps useful information about resources and tools for those working in the humanities. My interests are broad, but I expect to concentrate on classical philology, Biblical studies, patristics, and medieval history, with forays into language and linguistics, technology — in particular the use of LaTeX — and other matters that I run across that I think potential readers might also find of interest.

Those disappointed by the lack of substance in this first post will find an edifying alternative in A. E. Housman's 1892 Introductory Lecture at University College London on the value of the humanities, supplemented if desired by St. Basil the Great's brief address on the value of Greek literature. (If the lines of text at those web pages are too long for comfortable reading on your monitor, narrow your browser window to shorten them to a reasonable width.)