Wednesday, October 01, 2008

John Rylands University Library to put medieval materials online

Medieval treasures go online
University of Manchester
23 Sep 2008

Some of the world’s greatest medieval literary riches are to be made available on the internet – giving the public free unlimited access for the first time. The treasures include one of the earliest existing manuscripts of the complete Canterbury Tales by Chaucer, 500-year-old translations of the Bible into English and one of England’s oldest recipe books.

The University of Manchester’s John Rylands University Library will use cutting edge technology to digitise their internationally renowned collection of over forty Middle English manuscripts thanks to funding from the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC).

A rare copy of the ‘Forme of Cury’ – a 600-year-old recipe book compiled by the master cook of Richard the Second – will be available free of charge, along with the other treasures on the John Rylands Library website. The book contains recipes for dishes such as ‘blank mang’ – a sweet dish of chopped meat, milk, rice, sugar and almonds – and ‘custard’, an open pie resembling a modern quiche.

The project will also reunite fragments of a fifteenth-century manuscript of Chaucer’s ‘The Miller’s Tale’ in an online collaboration with the Rosenbach Museum and Library in Philadelphia. Other key works to be digitised and uploaded to the John Rylands Library website will be John Lydgate’s two major poems, the ‘Troy Book’ and ‘Fall of Princes’.

The work, which will be carried out using a state-of-the-art high definition camera, begins in October this year and will be completed in late 2009. Jan Wilkinson, University Librarian and Director of the John Rylands Library, said: “The Library’s Middle English manuscripts are a research resource of immense significance. Yet the manuscripts are inherently fragile, and until now access to them has been restricted by the lack of digital copies. Digitisation will make them available to everyone. For the first time it will be possible to compare our manuscripts directly with other versions of the texts in libraries located across the world, opening up opportunities for new areas of research. We hope that this will be the beginning of a wider digitisation programme, which will unlock the tremendous potential of our medieval manuscripts and printed books, for the benefit of the academic community and the wider public.”

The Library holds fifteen fifteenth-century copies of the New Testament translated into English by John Wyclif, the fourteenth-century radical and church reformer. Wyclif is seen as a forerunner of the Protestant Reformation and attacked the wealth and worldliness of the Church, and translated the Bible from Latin into English, to make it accessible to the people. He was denounced as a heretic during his lifetime and forty years after his death the Pope ordered his bones to be dug up, burnt and the ashes scattered.

Assistant Librarian Carol Burrows said: “The project, entitled ‘In the Bigynnyng’ will act as a pilot for an ambitious Manchester Medieval Digital Library – ‘Incipit’ – which will contain digital versions of the Rylands’ outstanding collections of medieval manuscripts and early printed books. An exciting element of the project is the virtual reunification of a key manuscript of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, fragments of which have been separated by the Atlantic Ocean for over a century. Leaves located at the John Rylands Library and at the Rosenbach Museum and Library in Philadelphia will be digitally stitched together and viewed on a joint website.”

High quality images are available of:

*Lydgate's 'Troy Book'
*John Rylands fragment of Chaucer's “The Miller’s Tale”
*The 'Forme of Cury'
*Wyclif New Testament

Recipes from the Forme of Cury are available